Cartographer's Toolkit

Map Making Tips, Tricks, and Inspiration

Announcing GIS Appreciation Day 2016

February 5th, 2016

Wednesday, March 2, 2016 will be our first GIS Appreciation Day!

It will be a day to post your fantastic map finds, funny GIS memes, and just about anything that you can think of. Just be sure to use the hashtag #GISAppreciationDay with your social media posting! I’ll be participating on twitter but I assume it can be extended to Instagram and Facebook or wherever you’d like.

It was inspired by the very successful (seriously) Squirrel Appreciation Day that happened back in January. For example:


Here is the history behind the making of GIS Appreciation Day:

So let’s all celebrate GIS Appreciation Day on March 2, 2016 by posting at least one GIS fact, one great map, one photo of your colleagues or whatever you come up with. I’m looking forward to this!

Loveland Heart Map

February 4th, 2016

I whipped this up the other day in response to a suggestion by @williamscraigm. Ever on the look-out for map themed gift ideas, I had found an Etsy shop that was selling little heart-map cupcake picks and tweeted about it. Craig suggested they must be maps of Loveland, CO. Well, they weren’t, so I made one for anybody who wants to print them out and make cupcake toppers of your own this Valentine’s Day.


Let me know if you want the SVG file.

Valentine’s Day Printable

January 22nd, 2016

I’ve updated my Valentine’s Day printable this year! Please feel free to share and distribute. The intent is to provide a map coloring page for a Valentine’s Day school activity that could be paired with a lesson on map projections. This printable is aimed at early elementary or pre-school students.


Download the letter-size pdf here: ValentineMapPrintable.

The same sheet, but without the explanatory text here: ValentineMapPrintableNoText.

Download the pdf with the link above for full-size.

Download the pdf for full-size.

Everyone Hates Your Colors

January 14th, 2016


The color palette is without a doubt the most divisive topic that will come up regarding the majority of your maps whether you make them for the public or for a single client. General complaining about the colors and admonishments to change the colors will invariably out-compete any complaining regarding interactive functionality, included or not included datasets, load speed, scale bar specificity, legend descriptions, layout design, or any number of items that we cartographers think are just as important as color.

Brian Timoney says that the reason that our map readers get so worked up about color, indeed why everyone these days seems to be a color critic, is because it is the thing we all know most about and therefore feel the most confident in discussing.


Think about it. What was it that we had to put on those kindergarten bio posters? Our favorite color. We are encouraged to pick out a favorite color and have an opinion about color from very early childhood. This makes the general public much more aware of color than of any of those other important aspects of the map that they may have honestly not even noticed.

Heck, people don’t even agree on what colors are.

Exhibit A)

Exhibit B)

XKCD did a color survey a while back where volunteers were asked to name colors. The results are definitely worth a look. One volunteer ended up saying:

—Anonymous, Color Survey*

Now what do we do about these map readers who hate your colors? How do we know if their critique is warranted or if maybe they just have a different sense of style? How many of us use the exact same color schemes in our clothes or our decor? Does the fact that we like modern, dark style colors on maps (black background with a few bright colors, say), mean we can’t appreciate a map that’s more subdued?


Should we, as cartographers, present our clients with a style board much like interior decorators do, in order to get a sense of what the clients like color-wise, before the project starts, and then once a palette is agreed-upon then the client has to pinky-swear that they will not complain about colors from then on out?!

I don’t know, those ideas could work. I may even try it out sometime. However, what I can tell you is that over 16 years of doing this my method is to assume that colors will change as we go and I try to give great respect for my client’s color needs. I also have learned the hard way that time for color changes absolutely has to be built into the time estimate. And occasionally you must build your own maps along the way so that you can build up some work that really says “you.”

Of course these ideas are really most applicable to cartographers who do client work. Those who work in just one style, for a newspaper, for example, have a whole host of other color issues, I’m sure.

*Hey, it’s a PG blog.

The Song Dynasty and the First Topographic Map

January 12th, 2016

Thanks to Rachel Stevenson’s tweet here:

I purchased and have begun reading The Geography of Genius, which is so far a very good book (though I’ve had a few questions concerning some contradictions I’ve found in the author’s musings but I don’t need to get into that here).

The book’s second chapter concerns the Song dynasty, a time period and place which I didn’t know much about at all, and in that chapter the author explains that the very first topographical map, shown below, was created during this time period*, as well as the compass as a tool for navigation. The time period? 960 to 1279.

The Yu Ji Tu, or Map of the Tracks of Yu Gong, carved into stone in 1137, located in the Stele Forest of Xi'an, Shaanxi, China. This 3 ft (0.91 m) squared map features a graduated scale of 100 li for each rectangular grid. China's coastline and river systems are clearly defined and precisely pinpointed on the map. (From Wikipedia)

The Yu Ji Tu, or Map of the Tracks of Yu Gong, carved into stone in 1137, located in the Stele Forest of Xi’an, Shaanxi, China. This 3 ft (0.91 m) squared map features a graduated scale of 100 li for each rectangular grid. China’s coastline and river systems are clearly defined and precisely pinpointed on the map. (From Wikipedia)

*Stone carvings count as “print”? :)

Friday Humor: What, You Think I Built This Whole Business on Fake Maps?

January 8th, 2016

I’m figuring this little snippet of Modern Family, which my map-attuned ears instantly picked out while watching the episode yesterday, will come in handy someday. Especially as a good Slack or IRC retort. And here, my friends, I share the little gem with you:

Link to the video

Hey, look. Everybody loves stars. We could take him on a tour.
Driving around looking at houses isn’t much of a birthday fun day.
. . .
Charlize Theron, Harrison Ford, Halle Berry… None of these seem very Uncle Mitchell.
What does Uncle Mitchell like?
. . .
Barbra Streisand! Perfect!
Okay, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.
How do we know these maps are real?
You think I built this whole business on fake maps?
What business? You got a sign and a lawn chair.

Cartographer's Toolkit

Map Making Tips, Tricks, and Inspiration