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, 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.