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!

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!