Laminating the maps that you create for your game is a great way to increase their lifespan — and it’s cheap, too!
So when should you consider laminating your maps? There are 4 scenarios in which laminating your maps is a good idea.
For games that benefit from using miniatures/counters (like D&D), I like to use two different mapping options in the same campaign: One for mapping on the fly, the other for mapping in advance.
For locations that benefit from being mapped out in advance, I draw them on large sheets of 1″ square graph paper (which comes in big rolls). I usually roll these up after the session, and keep them on hand for future games — and that’s where lamination comes in.
When to Laminate Your Maps
When you plan to re-use the location more than once or twice: Some campaigns really lend themselves to recurring locations, and they’re a great way to reinforce the campaign’s theme — as well as cut down on prep time.
My last long-running D&D campaign was based in a large city, so there were plenty of opportunities to reuse locations. Laminating these maps (which I actually didn’t do for that game — I should have!) makes it much more likely that they’ll hold up to regular use.
If the location is likely to come up in another game: If you play the same game again a few months or years down the line, chances are you’ll be able to work in some of the same maps you’ve already drawn.
Substantial maps usually take me an hour or two to draw — even when they seem fairly simple — and that’s work that can be avoided if you can reuse those maps. If they’re laminated, they’ll last longer without showing their age.
If things on the map are going to change during play, and you might want to use it again: When I’m thinking about an upcoming encounter (most often, a battle), I look at whether or not map elements are likely to change or move around during play. If they are, I usually just use my Tact-Tiles and draw the map on the spot.
But if there are lots of moving parts and the party is likely to return to the same location, I prefer to draw the map on paper and then laminate it. I did this for the party’s airship in my last Eberron campaign, which allowed us to mark off who slept in which cabins and other useful bits of information.
When your maps need to travel frequently: If you run games at a friend’s house, at cons or in your dorm’s lounge, taking your maps along can lead to them wearing out fairly quickly. This is especially true with the graph paper rolls I use, since the paper is fairly thin. Again, lamination neatly solves this problem.
Tips on Lamination
I laminate my maps at my local Kinko’s, which only costs a few bucks. They have two kinds of lamination available: the stiff kind, and the flexible kind. Larger pieces can only be laminated with the more flexible variety of plastic. Both options work well with grease pencils (sometimes called “China markers”); I’ve never tested them with anything else.
If you want to be able to roll up your laminated maps, make sure you opt for the flexible option. If your map is smaller, though, the stiff laminate will save you from having to weight down the corners during play (which is nice).
Either way, I always take one last step with a freshly laminated map: I round off all of the corners with a pair of scissors. Laminate most often peels at the corners, and if you round them off this is a lot less likely to happen (plus it looks nice).
Do you laminate your maps? Did I miss any tips or tricks that have worked well for you?