So with all the lessons learned and as much information gathered as I could, how did I actually make it?
Step 1: Aerial photography
At work I have access to our GIS system which has aerial photography of our city and the local surrounds. I spent quite a while trying to find an area that when zoomed out looked something like Europe during WW2. Basically rolling hills, farms and small clusters of towns, nothing too modern. I got the system to export the map as a whopping huge JPG. At 200dpi the file is around 30mb and is 8,401x11,893 pixels in size. Which when printed should come out to at least 106.7cm x 151cm (42"x59.5"), I'll explain more about that in step 3.
Step 2: Hexes
I needed lots and lots of them, so how to put them in the image at the right size. I had decided on 1.5" hexes as I wanted as many hexes as I could get on the mat. I like playing big battles, 3 to 4 squadrons at a time big. Bombers fit nicely on the 1.5" hexes although I haven't got any of the big boys, you know the FW200, B17's and so on.
Initially I used The Gimp to put the hexes in with a plugin in aptly named "Hex Grid". There's probably other plugins that do it as well but this one was pretty easy. I tested it on an A4 image first and went through a few iterations of filter/print/measure/repeat.
In the end though we used AutoCAD to render the hexes and then imported them and the aerial photo into our mapping software. At that point we added a spiffy border and decided on a page size.
Step 3: Paper Size
We initially were going to print the mat on B0 sized paper but decided to go with "ISO B0 Oversized" or something or rather. Bigger the better I thought, this ended up bighting me in the arse later though. Before getting to far into steps 1 and 2, and assuming for the moment that money is no object here, I should have asked two vitally important questions:
- How big can I print this?
- And oh so more impartantly "at that size can I get it laminated?"
None of the copier places around town could laminate anything over 1m wide and/or 1.4m long. I was sunk in both areas. After a day of calling around I eventually found a print house that could do what they call cold press laminating. Laminating usually is the process of putting your work into a plastic pocket/sock and heating it up so that it seals both sides. Cold press laminating uses rollers and great pressure to press plastic onto one side of your mat. The plastic they used on mine was a matt plastic and didn't have the high gloss shine you usually get with laminating. This looks fan-freaking-tastic on the table.
Step 5: Using It
The guy that did the laminating for me told me that I could roll this thing up and that it would roll out flat again even after being in storage for a while. This is not the case. However I do find that all it takes is a bit of BluTac and some stick tape and the mat stays nice and flat on the table.
Ahh the biggest question of all, how much did it cost me? The printing cost me very little, but after asking around at work it would usually cost around the $20-$30AUS to print. The cost will vary though depending on the resolution and quality it's printed at. I went for 200dpi and normal quality, it doesn't need to be high-res or have lots of detail as that would just detract from your miniatures. The laminating cost me $25AUS.
So would I do it again? I don't know. I do need some naval mats for the Pacific theater but I'm thinking I'll just go with a couple double sided Hotz Mats. The felt makes them so much easier to store and just roll out on the table. I love my western town mat I got from them and their prices aren't that much more than what it would cost me to make my own.
So that's how I made my BTH mat. I'm sure I've missed something out or maybe just glossed over something to quickly, if so just leave a comment here and I'll do my best to clarify/expand.
Also if anyone wants a copy of the artwork or the completed mat files just drop an email to tcoombes @ bigpond dot net dot au.
Thanks for reading,