Very Large Format Maps (VLF Maps) – a new service offering at NZMS

Maps are a fascinating and important part of our heritage, tracking the development of our nation and recording conflict and resolution. Many of them date back to the settler days of New Zealand.  The draughtsmanship demonstrated in these maps are beautiful with fine details recorded by hand with such skill & accuracy that is rare today.
Maps were often produced on linen backed paper which with time has become very fragile.  This has created an urgent need to capture them in digital form so that they can be accessed by many before they can no longer be handled.  The fine detail requires expert control of tonal range and resolution and the size means that they require many component scans that can be stitched to recreate the original in eFormat.
Digitising large format maps requires carefully planning, special equipment rigs and meticulous execution.   A minimum of 3 work stations are needed for preparation and assessment, capture and for completed maps to be re housed after being scanned.  Each of these stations needs to be large enough to manage the maps without risk.  We have worked with maps 2.0 metres wide and up to 10 metres long (that’s a small driveway!).
NZMS has conceived and built a specialist capture rig for such originals.  An overhead, non-contact camera, ideally a high resolution medium format camera, is mounted on a gantry that enables the camera to be moved over the map to capture segments. The scan bed needs to be perfectly level and covered with a soft material that minimises stress to the map.  A glass plate is used to hold the map flat during capture but can be removed if we want to use the rig for works of art or fabrics.
The map can be moved across the bed with limited stress to the map, conservators, curators and operators are then able to manipulate folds and tears as the glass plate is lowered to ensure that as much detail as is available to be captured is fully legible in the electronic version.

Post-capture the images are then corrected and stitched together – a large map can take more than 80 stitches to complete.
Digitising these important heritage items can be challenging and not for the faint of heart, however with careful planning and the right equipment and experience the risks can be kept to a minimum and the outcome amazing.  We have printed the eFormats onto canvas and the results are outstanding, importantly where the zoom in features of the eFormat are wonderful for zooming in on the screen and effectively examining with a magnifier, with the printout individuals can get right over the original in ALL it’s glory and trace streams, paths, planting areas and land blocks in macro detail… you have to see it to believe it!
Please get in touch if you have any large format items to digitise.