A Boston Map’s Long Road to Laser Cut Perfection

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Matt Hobbs has been a regular at Fab@CIC for the past year, and the evolution of his laser cut maps of Boston has delighted the team as we’ve witnessed his progress. Here is Matt, in his own words, to tell us more about his art.

What’s the story behind the Boston maps?

I’ve always seen maps as beautiful for a few different reasons. I think they offer us a way to immortalize favourite places we’ve visited and have them as visual cues in our personal spaces for us to reminisce on the great memories we’ve made wherever we’ve been. Plus, with all the different twists and turns in the roads and rivers, you can just stare at them and find a new feature each time you look at them.

With Boston being a new home for me (I’m originally from across the pond in the UK), I wanted to experiment with making an artwork of the city that felt truly personal and unique to what already existed on the market. I really wanted a map which provided some tactile feedback and depth, rather than just a modern day print.

How did you decide that using the laser cutter was the right approach for this project?

Personally, I really like clean lines and minimal aesthetics, so the precision of the laser cutter really appealed to me as it offered me a way to make reproducible designs with pin-point accuracy. Plus I always like a method that is a little trial-and-error and produces outcomes you might not initially expect. As you often have to work with inverted designs (for where the laser deletes/ removes material) half the time I forgot to convert my designs so it was exciting to see what would happen and that novelty of the laser kept me having fun and learning new solutions to my intentions.

“The laser is so much fun - arguably the best outcome is always derived from trial and error and a lot of surprises. It helps push you creatively to think about what design you actually want and how to achieve it.”

“The laser is so much fun – arguably the best outcome is always derived from trial and error and a lot of surprises. It helps push you creatively to think about what design you actually want and how to achieve it.”

 Describe your process. Did you have to reconsider your approach at any point? 

My current process is a billion miles off my first intentions – driven by two complementary factors of laziness and perfection to detail.

When I first started using the laser my whole concept was to speed up making wood-block prints of different artworks. I have a real passion for lino-printing and wood-block printing, its just a beautiful method and outcome. However finding the time and patience to sit down and manually create my designs just wasn’t happening fast enough for my ambitions (plus, my own artistic competence didn’t always result in what I wanted).

So initially, I hoped to digitize my designs, laser cut them into wood, ink the wooden block and then use that to print onto paper. I had some initial success, but the lines just weren’t as clean and precise as I personally hoped for. One time I got frustrated, placed the dry-inked piece of paper in the laser cutter instead, and experimented to see if the laser itself could remove the inked layer into my intended design. Voila – it worked a charm (well, at least I knew it theoretically had potential once the laser settings were further refined).

Then I took to sourcing dual-tone paper, where the top layer differs in colour to the middle part of the paper, and I finally found a mechanism for creating my precise laser-made posters! After hours and hours of experimentation, lots of burnt paper and about 30 different illustrator designs of the same map, I finally found the specifications that worked.

What’s next for this project, or you as a master laser-etched map maker?

So with the dizzying number of times I’ve spent watching a laser create Boston maps over and over again, I’m finally excited to get my teeth sunk into making maps of other cities I’ve visited, as well as popular ones for other people too!

In addition, I’m going to branch out beyond just maps and test out some other artwork and typography designs now that the method seems to work well and I’ve found a range of suitable materials.


Matt’s maps of Boston can be purchased online at www.lasermadeposters.com.