The Cost of Making a Printed City Map

The Map - Kigali

Anyone who’s been reading along for awhile will know that I’ve been working on a printed map of my adopted home city, Kigali, for a long, long time. You may also know that I’ve finally finished the God forsaken thing. Yay!

This has been a drawn out labour of love type project that was started over three years ago and, while I haven’t been slaving away on this thing all day, every day for three years straight, I have put a fairly insane number of hours into the project. It’s been a crazy journey, I’ve loved the whole process, and I’ve learned a lot about Kigali, design, maps, printing, and project management in general. Looking back on everything I’m pretty amazed that I pulled it off pretty much as a one-woman operation. Besides a bit of help early on with design and then at the end for packaging for printing, I’ve pulled this huge project off on my own and I’m pretty proud of myself for it, if I may say so myself!

So now the time has come to look back and figure out what costs were actually involved in this whole process so I can attempt to determine whether doing another one makes any financial sense at all. Actually, I’ve loved the process so much that it won’t matter if it makes financial sense… I’m going to make another one anyway! But it would still be very interesting to know the costs, not to mention that it’s just good business. Plus I know I love reading about these sorts of things so you might find it interesting as well.

I’m a bit scared to see how much this actually cost me! But here goes…


I spent the first year of this project attempting to do the design work myself without really knowing how to use any of the Adobe Suite programmes very well. I can struggle by in Photoshop but that’s about it. My problem is that I can draw and design things on paper and am pretty creative, in general, but transitioning from paper to digital isn’t easy –  as I soon realised. But that didn’t stop me from trying… for a really long time.

The Map

I eventually gave up trying to do things myself (having wasted a lot of time and becoming discouraged more than once and abandoning the project altogether) and headed on over to Elance in search of a map-specialist designer. As it turns out, while he was able to put me on the right path, he never did ‘get’ my artistic vision and he wasn’t able to complete the full project for me, as I’d hoped. However I was able to reverse engineer the work he did do and teach myself in the process so I was able to complete the project myself. That was invaluable! Plus we’re still in touch and he’s been very helpful in this entire process and continues to be on hand with answers to my questions.

But before I decided to take the reigns myself, there was a lot of back-and-forth and attempts to get things ‘just right’ which resulted in some hefty fees. The original work price is what we agreed from the start. The second round was to compensate him for going way above and beyond what we agreed. And the printing prep was for helping me shrink down and package up the files for printing as well as tweaking a bunch of small things that I wasn’t quite sure how to do myself. All up it cost a lot to get to a point in the process that was only about 40% done, but getting me to that point was critical in allowing me to learn it and move on myself. So… money well spent, even if there was still a long way to go after enlisting the help of the designer.

Original Design Work – $1,622
Extra Bonus Design Work – $376 (£240)
Follow Up Printing Prep – $544 (£361)

Local Transportation

This section details the costs for transportation around town which ended up being a huge expense since I pretty much visited every little nook and cranny of this entire city and I don’t have my own car. So I was always zipping around here and there, sometimes several times a day, often to the far reaches of Kigali.

Fortunately, transport here comes in the form of motorbikes that are pretty affordable. Unfortunately, when you start using them constantly, the costs add up. But it could be worse… I could have been getting around by taxi which is about 10 times the price. So I guess I should count myself very lucky that this affordable, fun form of transport exists in Kigali. These moto taxi drivers aren’t in a habit of giving out receipts (and I’m not in the habit of remembering to ask for them), so this is a total guess at the cost. To give an idea of the method to my madness, the average cost for a trip in the city is about $1 and I took motos everything for over three years.

Estimated Local Transport Costs: $700


The project’s printing costs include the obvious one of actually getting the final product printed and the less obvious cost of printing proofs and data collection maps. Printing in Kigali is both expensive and super shitty, so having the final product printed here wasn’t an option. I certainly could have done more research into finding a printer that was closer and cheaper, but I ended up just going with the first recommended company who were responsive with my questions called Victoria Litho. They specialise in large format printing and me designer suggested I give them a try. The fact that they’re located in the UK complicated my ‘shipping’ a bit (more details below) but, overall, I was reasonably happy with them. I decided to print 5,500 maps with the hope that they’d last around 10 months to a year.

The other side of the printing expenses were the A3 printouts of maps I used to walk around the city. I’d create maps using Google Maps and Open Street Maps just for the streets and then walk around tow physically marking places of interest as I encountered them. This meant a lot of A3-sized printed maps. Once the product started taking shape, I found that I needed to print actual sized proofs so that I could test to see whether fonts were large enough and get a better idea of the useability of the map as a whole. In Kigali, these large colour prints weren’t cheap and, while I didn’t keep an exact record of the costs, I suspect they added up to quite a bit over time.

Printing Costs – $5,680 (£3,629)
Estimated A3 Map Printing Costs – $100
Estimated Sample Proof Costs – $200


I’ve put shipping in quotations because I didn’t really ship anything anywhere… I muled the maps in myself in 10 giant duffel bags. All 5,500 of them. By myself. It was a hilarious (but stressful) time getting those bags checked in, but once they were with the airline a huge relief came over me. Well… until I hit customs on the other end, but more on that later.

As it turns out, Rwanda is one of the most expensive places to ship to in the world. I did make a half-hearted attempt at finding affordable shipping but I soon gave up mostly because it was an annoying process and also because I really needed to go to the UK anyway to send out my Indiegogo perks. Shipping into the country is difficult and expensive and so is sending out even a simple letter. So posting hundreds of Indiegogo pre-ordered maps and other perks would have been a nightmare. When I repeat this process or do a re-print, I’ll probably look more into cargo shipping but we’ll see what happens when that time comes.

5,500 Maps in Bags at Heathrow

I opted to fly to the UK, collect the maps, stash them into bags, pay for 10 extra bags (the maximum) on KLM, and carry the things in myself. Ridiculous… yes. But it worked!

Flight to London – $1,226
Extra Baggage Fees – $1,585 (£1,013)


I was hoping to sneak quietly by customs on my arrival into Rwanda but I think it was wishful thinking. I had 10 giant, heavy bags. I was on my own. Highly suspicious! Fortunately the customs procedure for me went pretty smoothly, even though it had me worried for a little while. I had to pay for a customs agent, pay a few more small fees that I forget, and then pay duty to havemy maps released to me once their value was assessed. I was worried they may be trapped in customs for an eternity but, as it turned out, I had them back within four days.

Customs Agent – $100
Duty – $350
Other Costs – $70

Total Project Costs

The grand total, after figuring in design, printing, transport, and shipping comes to a whopping $12,553 for 5,500 maps which works out to a very reasonable $2.26 per map. Well… maybe reasonable, who knows. I studied business in university but I’ll be damned it I remember anything!

But wait! There’s more! I also ran and Indiegogo campaign which went a long way towards subsidising these initial costs. Here’s the rest of the story…


I figured that these maps would be in demand and, because I already have a loyal website following, I thought that a crowd funding campaign would be a good way to subsidise some of my silly costs (mainly, the flying to the UK part). The campaign was a lot of work but it was very successful and gave me a good idea of how well received the maps might be. Plus it was a fun experience and I learned a lot in the process so it was an all around good ol’ time.

Indiegogo Contributions (Donations) – $6,754 (£4,515)

Indiegogo Campaign

But, alas, Indiegogo and Kickstarter don’t offer up 100% free money. Aside from taking into consideration all of the time spent making sure the campaign will be a success (which is a lot… and not something I would even be able to guess at a cost of, so I’ll ignore this part), there are also the costs associate with making good on your perk promises.

This isn’t an exact science due to fluctuations in exchanges rates, but it’s close enough, I think.

Indiegogo Fees – $270 (£180)
Paypal Fees – $40 (£27)
Shipping Costs – $662 (£442)
Shipping Materials – $73 (£49)
Perk Purchases – $100
Cartoon Printing – $20

Net Indiegogo Earnings – $5,589

Cost Summary

Up above you have all of the gory details. Down below is a summary of all of my costs… you know, just in case you want to make a printed map of a city one day.

Design – $2,542
Transportation – $700
Printing – $5,980
Shipping’ –
Customs – $520

Total Project Cost – $12,553

Indiegogo Revenue – $5,589

Actual Amount Spent – $6,964 ($1.27 per map)

Going Forward – Sales & Future Maps

I have completely, totally, 100% loved this entire process. Sure, it’s been frustrating at times, especially early on when I really didn’t know where to start and how to process. I got completely stuck several times, discouraged, intimidated by the process, and frustrated but I learned a huge amount and made a product that I’m proud of and I can’t wait to do it all again! Plus, if I’m able to sell all of these maps within about 10 months to a year as planned (and I’m on track), then it looks like this experiment of mine will be quite lucrative! Doing it all again with another city is a no-brainer… I just need to decide where (any ideas for me? Partnerships?).

Map On Sale

I’ll be able to do things so much more quickly and more cost effectively than the first time around. I’ll be able to do 95% of the design myself (I’ll likely bring the designer on again to give the whole file a once-over before I send any future maps to be printed), I have a benchmark to compare everything against for shipping and printing so I’ll be able to hunt for better deals, and there’s no possible way that any future maps will take nearly as long as the Kigali one. I’ll probably have additional costs for content from city experts, but I can do the mapping work myself and it gives me a fun excuse to check out new cities.

I’ve love to get several of these maps out there and become the person who maps the word’s obscure, map-neglected cities. There are plenty of them n Africa alone and I want to change that! Sure, many of these cities might not get droves of tourists but they do still get some. Plus a lot of these places have large communities of foreigners and that’s really my target audience, anyway. Making a product like this doesn’t have to mean having a huge print run. It looks like 5,500 for a year of Kigali maps will work fine… maybe Addis Ababa would need 7,000 and perhaps Bujumbura only about 2,000. It’s all a big experiment and as long as I’m smart about how I do the work, small print runs can work.

Plus there’s the great feeling of giving people a super useful product that helps them get around and also directs them to some of the city’s lesser known businesses, to boot. People have been kind of gushing at me over the map – they love it and tell me how helpful it’s been to them and that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. I put a crazy amount of work (and love) into this thing so it’s super exciting to see it so well-received.

Sales have been going very well without much effort from me (just how I like it) and with a wholesale price of $7 to $9 and a retail price of around $15, it’s going to be a nice payoff at the end. More on my sales strategy and updates in another post but things so far are going amazingly!

If you want to get your hands on a copy of this little beauty, send an email to I’ve got a stockpile with my mum in Canada ready to send out. They’re $18 if you’re in North America and $20 for anywhere else.

About Kirsty