After graduating from OSU, mechanical engineer Dan Linden got a job designing wooden roller coasters for a toy company based in Virginia. He largely got to work from home, setting up shop in the Short North. Linden’s love of the district’s arts culture and monthly Gallery Hops got his wheels turning.
“I wanted to create something that I could sell at Gallery Hop,” he says.
The initial idea was to create a drink coaster map in the shape of Victorian Village. He then thought how cool it would be to create another one to connect with it in the shape of Italian Village.
“Then I just kept tracing the whole city,” Linden says. “I spent the whole weekend tracing the entire map of Columbus by hand.”
It happened to be on a weekend he was in Virginia for work and had access to the company’s infrequently-used laser cutter. He cut the first map in about an hour and placed it on the messageboard.
“Everybody was like, ‘Where do I buy one of those?'” Linden says.
Steve Weaver from the Candle Lab chimed in and offered Linden space to sell the Cut Maps from his shop at the November 2012 Gallery Hop. The rest is map-making history.
Atlanta was the next city to be laser cut. When Linden posted a video of the process on reddit, “It went viral,” he says.
Suddenly he had orders from cities across the world.
“It grew organically and I just tried to keep up,” Linden says.
The press and orders from that video alone allowed the growing business to invest in more laser cutters.
Now, Cut Maps has mapped 400 – 500 cities across the world, from small hometowns to metropolises like NYC and Paris. Thanks to open source files, the whole tracing part has been nixed, making for a more time-efficient process.
Cut Maps offerings now go beyond cities.
“We’re always trying to figure out something that we’ve never seen before,” Linden says.
The company’s lineup includes wooden state maps and laser engraved cell phone cases. Cut Maps also meddles in metal with stainless steel city maps and ornaments. Linden’s latest offering sticks with metal, but switches from maps to skylines. It’s the first time the business has ventured outside of maps, but, “It’s still very relevant to that city pride,” Linden says, which is what Cut Maps is all about.
Bigger maps are in the works, too. Cut Maps just completed a 8′ x 16′ map for a hotel in San Francisco. With a recently-purchased larger laser, “We really want to get creative with the size of the things that we do,” Linden says.
That could include maps the size of entire walls. Linden says the plans are for bigger, more abstract, more grandiose.
Linden has embraced the arts scene in Columbus, and Columbus has embraced the wooden map.
Cut Maps participates in events like Gallery Hop and Independents Day. The art has seen support from popular small businesses like Jeni’s, Homage and Tigertree, who was one of the first to stock maps. Linden’s creations are big sellers at Elm & Iron and Celebrate Local. Cut Maps decorate the walls of Stauf’s and every August, curate a show at Brother’s Drake.
“I’ve built these relationships where people really enjoy what I do and I really enjoy what they do,” Linden says.
He’s felt the embrace from the maker community as well. Alex Traxler of Griffen Hollow Studio approached Linden about sharing a space, which Cut Maps still occupies at 1443 N. High St. and makes all of its local art from.
“That’s the small business community in Columbus,” Linden says.
The willingness to support someone local doing something cool, “I don’t think you get that in every city,” he adds.
Linden never expected Cut Maps to take off like it did, going from messageboard post to business in about a two-week span.
“That’s a cool learning experience though,” he says.
He’s found a mentor in his boss at the roller coaster biz who is now also his business partner. He’s provided the expertise in those necessary technicalities like hiring employees and paying taxes.
For more information, visit cutmaps.com.