Pen Plotter Draws Maps Directly On The Wall

For map-lovers like [Christopher Getschmann], poring over a quality map can be as satisfying as reading a good book. Good maps can be hard to come by, though, especially at a scale worth looking at, or worth using as adornment on a dull, lifeless wall. The solution is obvious: build a wall-mount CNC plotter to draw maps directly on the wall.

[Christopher] began his map quest by scraping world map data from a number of sources, including OpenStreetMap, Natural Earth, and GEBCO. This gave him data for coastlines, terrain, and bathymetry — enough for a map of the world large enough to fill a wall. Since the scale of the map would preclude the use of even a large-format inkjet printer, [Christopher] set about building a wall-covering pen-plotter to render the map. The CoreXY-style plotter is large, but still light enough to hang on the wall while it works, and to be repositioned to cover a larger area.

The plotter runs on steppers driven by ultra-quiet Trinamic TMC5160 drivers, so the plotter wouldn’t be a nuisance while it worked. The map was plotted on eight pieces of cardboard mounted directly to the wall, filling the 2- x 3-meter space almost entirely. Landmasses and elevation contours were plotted as continuous lines in black ink, while bathymetric data was rendered in blue ink as cross-hatching with variable spacing, to make deeper oceans darker blue.

We find [Christopher]’s map breathtaking, all the more so considering the work that went into making it. It would be interesting to find alternate uses for the plotter, which reminds us a little of a cross between a draw-bot and a Maslow vertical CNC router, now that it’s done with its cartographic duties.

22 thoughts on “Pen Plotter Draws Maps Directly On The Wall

  1. I’d love to see a high really res satellite image style globe, so you could have a closer look with a magnifying glass and discern lots of detail.

    Haven’t found anything like that though. Does anybody know if such a thing exists?

    1. Yup! Just what I was thinking! It would be far easier to use a 2’ inkjet and wallpaper the wall. 4’ and wider printers exist, but hanging anything wider than 2’ becomes difficult.

      Alternatively, we got a large (something like 6x3m?) wall map done for a client on vinyl; it was printed and cut to land masses, with a backing sheet to keep the parts aligned. They rolled it on the vertical axis as a single 3m tall roll, and applied it to the wall. Note that applying a vinyl that size successfully requires expertise, it’s not for the faint-hearted or unskilled. Beautiful finish at the end though.

      Another approach if you don’t need lots of detail is a projector onto the wall, and trace it with a pencil, then paint it. Very nice effect.

      I guess if he’s happy with the plot on cardboard, he can redo it direct to the wall.

  2. One of the issues with using a pen plotter is that you can’t really draw dots with a ball point pen. They have to be short lines, or your dots will become faint after 2 or 3 dots..

    You could use a felt-tipped pen instead of a ballpoint. But felt-tipped pens don’t like to draw lines. After a thousand lines, you have to replace the felt-tipped pen because it’s tip became ‘blunt’. Exactly the opposite of ball points.

    As resolution doesn’t have to be *that* high, I think you could best use an inkjet head as a kind of plotter pen. So, take the inkjet head, and rig it in such a way that it draws a dot. Maybe 3 or 4 inkjet nozzles. Then you have your dots and could dither. If you want to draw lines, you just pulse the nozzles while drawing the line. But I’m not sure if the nozzles could overheat if they are pulsed for too long.

    I would guess that a mix would work great. A ballpoint pen for drawing lines, and an inkjet nozzle for drawing dots.

    1. If that really becomes an issue for whatever the pen plotter builder wanted it for a fountain pen type object is the solution. Can draw lines and won’t take any harm, dots every time reliably, can even use one of those draftsman style adjustable tips to change line thickness. The only downside is you would have to be more gentle on it (and probably re-ink it a few times per plot), so plots would likely take noticeably longer than with a ballpoint, unless you want ink splatters for artistic reasons…

        1. Indeed, its definitely a solvable problem – but just dropping in an off the shelf fountain pen in place will get the dot and line performance desired till the ink runs out – its the simple method. I don’t think any fountain pen has the endurance of a ballpoint in its ink capacity, though perhaps they would be sufficient for each plot – I prefer writing in pencil, but find fountain pens much easier to use legibly than ballpoints, so I have got a few kicking around, and none I remember lasting all that long before the ink is depleted.

          If I was building a plotter I think I would use one of the draftsman style ink pens – they are effectively a U shape with straight and curved blade side sprung apart with a screw to pull them closer together at the point. So the ink is just held by its own surface tension between the two sides – hence the need to be gentle with it, but I actually use my grandfathers ones a fair bit as they are very useful – having adjustable inking width in one stroke, a properly flat edge to run along the ruler, and any ink colour you like – just dunk it in!

          Adding an ink dropper and micro motor to keep it topped up and adjust line width would a relatively trivial challenge. Probably want a stepper for rotational control too – with the adjustable line width in that style of pen if you don’t rotate the pen to match direction of travel its going to vary in line width — its a cool effect, but perhaps not desired.

  3. Can any one get his code to make SVG of world map going?
    I’ve had a go with github repo, Still trying to work out where it starts and where all the files are?
    Do I need a postgres database or not and where do all the tiff files come from or go?
    Would be cool when I work it out.

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