Welcome to Map Practical, where the cartography gets done. These are the cartographic trenches, the domain of greasy hands, busted knuckles, and sore mouse fingers. This is the home of techniques, tutorials, and tricks of all things map. Here’s how we do it;
your job is to make it look good!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Symbols in Illustrator

Symbols are a great if you want to get ahead of the ball while mapping in Illustrator. They are a quick way to put a lot of information on a map fast. But you need to take the time to construct them or install them from 3rd party symbol libraries. One great library comes from the folks over at MapDiva and there Mac platform cartographic software, Ortelius. They have a really slick package that allows users to create symbol libraries and share them with the world via the web. One the coolest symbol sets consists of over a hundred classic mountain stamps for use on historic maps. Unfortunately, they’re only made for use in Ortelius. However, though the creative commons license and some NACIS networking, the converted symbol set for Illustrator can be found here. Enjoy!

Projecting Natural Earth Rasters

The folks over at Natural Earth Vector have created a great free resource for making maps at 1:10m, 1:50m, and 1:110 million scales. The beautiful natural color reliefs generated by Tom Patterson, of the National Park Service, have been complimented with a set of vector data that cover the entire globe. Nathaniel Von Kelso, of the Washington Post, has created world coverages of rivers, cities, borders, and much more. While the vector layers are ready to go, the raster layers require projection before they will align in the GIS. It’s a simple process outlined here in a lab from my Intro to Cartography class. Once the geographic coordinate system is set, the data can be reprojected to your heart’s desire from within the Data Frame, all at within a few clicks. Check it out!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Cartographic Workflow

One of the most often questions I’m asked is about workflow. At the NACIS 2009 conference I presented on the steps that we go through at Adventure Cycling to produce our bicycle touring maps. We are in the process of converting from old Freehand files to an ArcGIS, Illustrator, InDesign workflow. Needless to say, it has been a long process of trial and error, resulting in a specific set of steps unique to our organization. While this workflow has been designed for our needs, it has many pertinent tips that can translate to other means of cartographic production. Here is a write-up of what I found to be a reasonable set of best practices. I hope you can find something of use for your maps. Cheers.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Contour Masks in Illustrator

The standard convention for labeling contours is to knockout the line behind the label. Obviously we could cut each line and delete it, but in a small scale mapping project this would not be very efficient. In Illustrator, it is much faster to use a clipping mask to style all the contour labels. And thanks to a few tips from my friends at NACIS, it’s quick and easy. Here is a link to the text version, along with a little video tutorial.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Shaded Relief with Contours in ArcMap

One of the most common types of reference map is topographic with contours that represent changes in elevation. It is actually quite easy to produce this kind of a map using GIS programs such as ESRI ArcMap. All one needs is a Digital Elevation Model (DEM) of a landscape and within a few clicks you can have a decent looking model of the terrain. Generally, a pure USGS topo map just shows the elevation with the use of the contours set at intervals, and some simple symbolization for ground cover, such as green areas for forest. This exercise incorporates shaded relief, hypsometric tints, and contour lines to display the landscape in a more realistic fashion. Since we can, why not have the best of all worlds? The tutorial for this entire process can be downloaded here, and a great data source for the data is the GeoCommunity website. Also, after working on this, I found it easier to locate a given quadrangle at the USGS Map Locator website. So experiment with the techniques and the next time you go hiking, impress the partners with your own custom topographic masterpiece!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Illustrator Selection Tools

The Selection Tool and its partner, the Direct Selection Tool, are like wrenches for a mechanic: they’re indispensible. These tools let the artist manipulate artwork by selecting and moving the anchor points and lines that comprise a vector drawing. In this video, I go through the basic operations and reveal some of the hidden extras that the Alt and Shift keys add. One tip that got cut in the editing room (against the will of the actor!), was to hold down Shift and click on multiple anchors or objects to select more than one at a time. Then they can be moved all together, like a herd of cats. Take the time to learn the keyboard shortcuts as you use Illustrator, and you’ll be a wizard in no time.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Tracing In Illustrator - Common Cartographic Process

For this exercise, you will be tracing, styling and labeling a map of a fictional golf course using Adobe Illustrator. Tracing is a common practice in cartography; whether it’s an aerial photo, a satellite image, an existing paper map, or duplicating vector artwork as we will do here. In a commercial application, one has to be mindful of copyright before tracing other people’s work, but for an academic exercise, there is less of a concern.

Before you begin, please take the time to run through the tutorials linked here at this blog. The University of Michigan has a great Illustrator Reference Guide as well. Ignore these resources at you own peril!! Illustrator is a complicated and deep program that takes years to learn. However, the basics can be mastered fairly quickly if the initiative is taken to gain a thorough understanding of the most important tools and concepts. At a minimum, I suggest that you research the use of the Selection Tools, the Pen Tool, the Shape Tools (Rectangle, Ellipse, etc.), and the Type Tool. You should also learn about the Layers Panel, the Stroke Panel, the Character Panel, the Color Panel, and the Swatch Panel. Type any of these names into the Help menu within Illustrator to get an overview. Countless other tutorials on the web will broaden your knowledge. To get you started, I will walk through the steps to set up your document and trace the first layer. After that, get busy and get into it!

  1. Download the golf course map image named “Golf_Map_MP.tif” here.
  2. Open Adobe Illustrator and choose Create New → Print Document from the welcome screen.
  3. In the Pop-up, name the document, leave the default size at Letter – 8.5” x 11”, select landscape orientation, and click OK.
  4. In the Menu, go to File →Place, and then navigate to the “Golf_Map_MP.tif” image. Make sure the Link box is not checked and click Place.
  5. The Image of the golf course map will be placed in the center of the workspace. Lock that layer and name it "Map Template." Create a new layer above the first. Name the new layer “Background” and lock it. Draw the “Background” layers later so they don’t obscure the Template. Now create another layer and name it “Rough.” 
  6. Go to the Menu and click File → Save → navigate to your project folder → check the map name → use the default Illustrator (.ai) format in Save as Type, and click Save.
    Save your project frequently as you work!
  7. Set the Stroke to a dark green and the Fill to none in the Color Panel. Tip: Use the Swatch Panel to pick your colors at first. If there are no or few colors in the Swatch Panel, go to the Drop-down at the far right of the panel, (Small carrot with three lines) and select Open Swatch Library. There you will find more colors than you can imagine!
  8. Select the Pen Tool and start to digitize the shape of the “Rough” on the first golf hole. Once the polygon is closed, you can fill it with color. Finish tracing the rest of the “Rough” areas, then create another Layer named “Fairways” and start to draw those shapes from the Template. Note: You will have to make the “Rough” layer invisible by clicking the Eyeball in order to see the Fairways on the template.
  9. Continue to recreate the Golf Map by tracing the features on the Template. Make new layers as you move up the visual hierarchy keeping them in logical order. See the layer order in the screen capture for my final map. Yours should look similar to this. Remember that the hierarchy should go from areas to lines, then points, and finally text. Think about the concepts of Figure and Ground. What belongs on the bottom, what belongs on top? What would be the most important information a golfer using this map needs to know? Make the purpose stand out!
Alright! With that you should be well on your way. Coming up will be my two cents on the basic tools and panels that need to be in every cartographer’s quiver. Hopefully some of the tips will go beyond the tutorials and into best use practices I gain from everyday mapping. I know that this is starting at a pretty basic level, and if you are already far ahead of this, hang in there. Come back often as the gems will be unearthed as time goes on. Thanks, Kevin

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Adobe Illustrator Basics

Getting started in Illustrator can be daunting to the first time user, or even someone experienced in the raster world. As a vector program, we have to remember that it’s all about points and lines. Each line has a stroke color and weight, and if we connect them, they become polygons that can be filled with any color of our choosing. If it’s day one for you in this program, I would strongly advise watching a few tutorials on the Adobe TV site. “Must See TV” should include Starting a New Document, how to work with Layers, and the operation on the Pen Tool (click on Illustrator, then Pen Tool or Layers video). With those basics, one can get started on an empty page.

Following are my intro tips to the workspace with some of the lingo for various elements. This will help decipher all the “insider” explanations on the Adobe site.

Besides all the helpful stuff at Adobe, the web is full of great resources for learning a new program. This Blog has a super list of the top 20 basic Illustrator tutorials including a highly recommended one on the Pen Tool, and a Map specific one or Two as well. Please take a couple of hours to look these over, open the program, and just play. After that, we’ll get right to making a make.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Collaborative Mapping

The internet has really changed cartography over the last decade providing nearly everyone with the tools to make maps. Tools like Google Maps, Maker, and Open Street Map have democratized mapping in ways that no one could have predicted even twenty years ago. This plethora of mapping has been both beneficial and harmful to the profession of cartography. While it’s good to see the geographic knowledge of the general public increase, it’s also disheartening to witness the flood of trashy maps that poorly display information and pass for cartography. Some would say that cartographers are no longer needed, but I would counter that there is no time in history that they are needed more. We have to educate users and makers on what constitute acceptable cartographic conventions, what techniques best communicate information, and what pitfalls lurk when data is presented as truth, when in fact in may not be. I could write an entire post just on this subject, but let’s get back on track.

One of the most recent developments in online mapping has been the ability for multiple people to collaborate on a single mapping project. As shown in the video tutorials below, we now can all have our say and represent our opinions spatially. Imagine how useful these tools can be for professional and community decision making. Where should we put that new bike path? Do we need another liquor store near these five other locations? How many types of projects can you envision using this technology with? The tools are right at your finger tips; put them to good use!

And here are a few extra tips for working in Google Maps. I also did a video of the basic tools before I found Google's slick tutorial. It has some repeat information, but you can watch it HERE if you like. All this should be enough to get you started. Cheers!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Cartography Tools

The main tools of cartography in the digital age are all computer based. There are three types of computer programs that almost all maps are made with these days. Sometimes only one is employed, sometimes all three. Here is a short introduction.

The first are the vector drawing programs like Adobe Illustrator. They deal mainly with vector artwork, which consists of points connected by vectors, commonly known as lines. Vector artwork tends to have smaller files sizes and can be enlarged almost infinitely without losing quality. On a map, elements like roads, contours, rivers, etc. are usually drawn in vector.

The next group are tools like Photoshop that are designed to work with raster data, or pictures that are made up of many small pixels. Raster artwork can have very large files sizes and can only be enlarged to within the limits of the image resolution before degrading. Shaded relief on a map is raster data.

Raster vs. Vector

Finally there are the Geographic Information Systems. GIS programs like ESRI ArcMap deal with both vector and raster data. The big difference is that a GIS also stores the coordinates of all the map elements, locating their exact position on the earth. GIS programs are very good at analyzing spatial questions and organizing vast amounts of geographic data, but they lack precise drawing tools. Many nice maps are constructed entirely within a GIS, but for complete control of style and aesthetic appearance, most cartographers turn to graphics programs.

A common cartographic workflow would be to compile and organize all the map data in ArcMap, and then export the vectors and rasters out into separate files. The raster data would then be processed in Photoshop, while the vector data would be styled in Illustrator. Finally the raster could be placed beneath the vectors in Illustrator, and the map could be labeled and printed. Here is a map that was created in this way:

That’s one of the ways it’s done, so let’s do it!