Printing a big map from OpenStreetMap for cheap

This is a followup from this post back in August 2013. The instructions described there no longer work, but this new way is easier and uses an open-source map. That last post got quite a few comments on it, asking for tips and telling me it no longer worked. I’m glad to provide an alternative.

I’ve recently needed to create large map images again, so I looked around for a new solution. I found it in the wonderful community around OpenStreetMap. From the About page:

OpenStreetMap is built by a community of mappers that contribute and maintain data about roads, trails, cafés, railway stations, and much more, all over the world.

Local Knowledge

OpenStreetMap emphasizes local knowledge. Contributors use aerial imagery, GPS devices, and low-tech field maps to verify that OSM is accurate and up to date.

Community Driven

OpenStreetMap’s community is diverse, passionate, and growing every day. Our contributors include enthusiast mappers, GIS professionals, engineers running the OSM servers, humanitarians mapping disaster-affected areas, and many more. To learn more about the community, see the user diaries, community blogs, and the OSM Foundation website.

Open Data

OpenStreetMap is open data: you are free to use it for any purpose as long as you credit OpenStreetMap and its contributors. If you alter or build upon the data in certain ways, you may distribute the result only under the same licence. See the Copyright and License page for details.

I particularly like the “free to use” bit, and because it’s free, people have built some amazing tools that extract and format the data in useful ways. All we want is a big exported image of a certain area, so here are the steps.

  1. Use the Firefox browser. (You can probably duplicate these steps in other browsers, but I’ll leave that up to you)
  2. Install the Easy Screenshot add-on. (There are probably equivalent add-ons for other browsers)
  3. Go to BigMap 2, which is a tool created using the open data from OpenStreetMap.
  4. Click and drag and zoom to find the rough area you want a map of. You don’t have to be exact – go bigger than you need.
  5. Select the map display type using the buttons on the right. This is very cool – as well as the regular types you can have a watercolor effect, cycling map, Russian language map, or (my favorite for the work I’m doing at the moment) the toner and toner-lite versions. Play around and see what you like. Another advantage of the open data model is that people are free to create new display types.
  6. Once you’ve selected the area and the map type, click Submit.
  7. In the new screen, you can see a nice big map. But this map is made up of a grid of map tiles which make up  the whole map. If you right click in the map, and save the image under the cursor, you’ll only be saving one small tile. A control panel at the top left allows you to manipulate the map. I’ll try and describe what the controls do. Play around, you can always click on ‘BigMap’ in the control panel to go back and start again.
    • The information line at the top shows the number of map tiles shown, the total map resolution, the zoom level, and the aspect ratio.
    • EXPAND lets you expand the area covered on each side, without affecting the zoom level. It adds map tiles to do this – you can see in the information line.
    • SHIFT lets you shift the view one tile width up, down, left or right, without affecting the zoom level.
    • SHRINK lets you shrink the area one tile width up, down, left or right, without affecting the zoom level. It removes map tiles to do this.
    • The ZOOM controls are as follows:
      • in/double size zooms in on the map, and makes the size of the map area bigger as well, by adding map tiles.
      • in/keep size zooms in on the map without making the size of the map area bigger.
      • out/keep size zooms out while keeping the map size the same.
      • out/halve size zooms out while halving the map size.
    • The bottom row of controls include the ‘BigMap’ link which takes you back to the first screen, and the ‘hide this’ link.
    • The controls below that allow you to save special scripts to generate the required map, but I’m bypassing those. I think there is a function to ‘Enqueue’ the map for generation and download, but I don’t think it works on huge images, and a huge image is what we want.
  8. Using the controls, find the area and zoom level you want. I found that zoom level 13 gives nice street- and building-level detail. As you zoom in, notice that the image grows bigger than the browser window and scroll bars have appeared. Scroll around and enjoy your huge map!
  9. Click hide this to hide the control panel. If you need it back, just click the map.
  10. Using the Easy Screenshot add-on, click Capture Whole Web Page. The add-on has some editing tools, but I just click the save button to save the image to the desktop, or copy to put it on the clipboard.
  11. You now have a huge map image you can print, edit, or otherwise use. Enjoy!
  12. If you want to print it on a presentation board, follow the instructions on the old post here.

Open data, people creating free tools, it’s great. If you have need for maps in your business, check out Switch2OSM for information about using this stuff commercially.

I’m using these maps to semi-automatically generate cover art for my podcast, The Coiled Spring. Check out Episode 15 here.