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Digital Scholarship Innovation Studio

Layered transparency map of Santa Cruz paths   Layered transparency map of Santa Cruz birds

Cricut Layered Maps

By: O.A.
Project Status:  Complete

In making these maps, I wanted to translate information from shapefiles and delimited text layers into layers of transparency paper and lots of ink. I couldn't find a lot of projects similar to this online, so these maps were something of a proof of concept; I think people can make a lot of fun things with this method, so with that in mind, I wrote activity instructions that have a lot of leeway and extra advice built in. I started out with the bird map, but I realized that I also wanted to try something more complicated than simple points; the Santa Cruz map allowed me to experiment with lines and polygons as well.

Describe your project. What is it, and what were you hoping to achieve with your project?

These two maps depict amenities and pathways in Santa Cruz and common birds in the Santa Cruz area. The bird map uses data from the app and website to plot some of the most common research-grade bird observations throughout 2021, while the map of Santa Cruz uses data from OpenStreetMap and Santa Cruz County to show the bicycle paths, bus stops, drinking water locations, parking spots, footways, and hiking paths of Santa Cruz. I wanted to find a way to represent complex, overlapping information in a concise physical fashion. The layers are individually labeled and removable so that users can reorder and recombine the transparencies to focus on and compare layers more closely.

What materials did you use for this project? Did they meet your needs, or would you use different materials if you were to make this project again?

I used ultra-fine Sharpies in different colors, a 3D-printed Cricut pen adapter sized for ultra-fine Sharpies, paper, and transparency paper. These met my needs very well.

What equipment did you use for this project? Did they meet your needs, or would you use different equipment if you were to make this project again?

I used a Cricut Maker with a fine-point blade, mats, and tools. These met my needs very well.

What software did you use for this project? Did it meet your needs, or would you use different software if you were to make this project again?

I used QGIS, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, and Cricut Design Space; these all worked quite well for my project.

Is there a part of this project that you would like to explore more if you have the time? If so, talk about what that is and how you would go about exploring it.

I'd like to do this with other data, perhaps in collaboration or in a peer-support role with other people, as I figure people would have other really interesting ideas for what data to depict. For instance, if someone has an ongoing project involving geographic data, this could be an useful supplementary display project or resource to use.

Who do you think would be interested in learning about this project or using the final version of this project?

This project might be interesting to humanities and STEM students looking to represent data in a tactile and material way. For instance, these layers could be combined with historical, thematic, or otherwise informational maps. This project is as much a proof of concept as a final product in itself.

Did you iterate on any part of this project? If so, what was that process like? What were you trying to improve upon during the iterative process?

I first printed some of the bird map layers; since the bird observations were represented as points, these were merely tiny circles, squares, and plus signs, so they were quite uniform in the way they printed. When I started printing the "Streams" layer of the Santa Cruz map, I realized that it was printing too slowly and disjointedly. During the preparation of the print in Cricut Design Space, I had noticed that each segment was a separate layer in the layers panel -- like normal -- but when the Cricut drew with the Sharpie on the transparency paper, the tiny separate segments caused the pen to stop and start too often, leaving blots of ink. These blots of ink are inevitable to some extent, but the print was far too slow, and it wasn't turning out quite right visually. So I went back into Illustrator and figured out that it helped immensely to use the Simplify Path function. I tested different levels of the simplification scale to reach the strongest simplification that still maintained accuracy to the original paths. I ended up considering this step to be an essential part of the process when I wrote instructions for this activity, so I'm glad that I decided to fine-tune it. A positive side effect was that a minimal, conservative amount of simplification could cut the amount of points in half without damaging accuracy; thus, Cricut Design Space gave me fewer issues around importing large files.

What was something that you thought was particularly successful in this project?

I like how the layers printed with the Cricut, especially the more complex line and polygon layers that I needed to simplify and clean up a bit more. I also like the legend, with each item on a different layer but arranged so that they all line up vertically when viewed together; I think that this effect is appealing.

Now that you've gone through this process, what might you do differently next time?

I would probably think more critically about my color choices; during this process, I decided on colors by testing pens against a scrap of transparency paper and seeing how they showed up on the transparency against light backgrounds. I was less considerate of how they would look layered on top of each other and in particular orders. Now I have a good idea of how the colors interact with each other because I have these maps as examples, so I can use them to be more cognizant of my color decisions.

Is there anything else you'd like to share about this project?

I hope that these projects make you think about ideas, information, or places that you might like to map in multiple layers.