Cartographer's Toolkit

Map Making Tips, Tricks, and Inspiration

Tools for Making Webmaps

April 25th, 2018

 

You call yourself an expert. You call yourself a consultant. And then you get a call asking how you would put together a web map for a small organization without much in the way of resources, that doesn’t know a lot about geo. And that’s when it hits you: sure, there are the big companies and products that come to mind like Esri’s AGOL, Mapbox, and Carto, but what else is out there? Could something new have popped up that I should advise they use instead? With an ever-changing landscape of products, both paid and open source, and all with varying nuances in terms of their limitations and strengths, how can we possibly know what the answer is with 100% surety?

Thanks to social media (not an oft-heard phrase these days, granted) I now have a great list of potential ways to make this map that I can pass along to the client. It seems this was a popular topic as the thread garnered quite a lot more discussion than most in the geo niche and as such, it feels like there is a need to put them all into one place in a post. Prefer to read the thread? Here you go:

 


Prefer a list? Here you go:

 

  • umap – open source and based on OpenStreetMap.
  • Google MyMaps – looks like it requires a google login. Upload a csv with latitudes and longitudes or addresses of up to 2,000 records. Or just plot straight on the map. Embed code provided.
  • Carto – make maps with on-the-fly analysis capabilities. Their site says they support educators (the field my client was in) with free plans.
  • Esri AGOL – you can probably do it all with AGOL and it isn’t too hard to get into even if you aren’t very familiar with geospatial technologies. The difficulty used to be in determining how much it would cost. But it looks like they may have changed their pricing plans to real dollars instead of points, so it might be easier. (Geoloket was mentioned as an example of an AGOL site that was built by one person for a small city.) Esri Story Maps were mentioned too, a sub-component of AGOL.
  • MapHub – upload via GeoJSON, KML, GPX and get embed code for the map.
  • MapMaker Enhanced – This is a WordPress plugin and hasn’t been updated recently.
  • mapzap – this looks pretty sweet. It provides a “builder” for making a map app and it is open source. Host on GitHub Pages for free.
  • QGIS – export from qgis to html, host on GitHub Pages for free. (Qgis2web was also mentioned.)
  • Someone who thought “doesn’t know much geo” meant that the person was a dev (they’re not) said “R, leaflet, and five lines of code.” But for a dev this is something to look into for sure. Someone else suggested the combination of Leaflet, QGIS, and json, which is along the same line in terms of needing dev expertise or at least geo expertise. While we’re mentioning these techs we should also mention GeoServer, OpenLayers, D3, Tegola, Maputnik, and Fresco! Again, expertise is needed for all of these (or a lot of time).
  • Astuntech’s iShareMaps
  • Geojson-dashboard – this looks pretty interesting. You need a GeoJSON file and I’m not sure what you do about basemap needs. 
  • Geopedia – this seems to be for satellite imagery?
  • Mapbox – you can definitely do everything needed with mapbox and they do have a free plan.
  • GitHub Gist was also mentioned.

 

Well, I’m exhausted. 

 

BTW: that list is in absolutely no order and I am not endorsing these or saying that any of them are better than any others. In fact, I know very little about several of these and it is very likely that good details have been left out. But it is always nice to have a handy list of potential tools to take a look at from time to time to keep the ‘ol consulting brain in tip-top order. 

Lastly, there is a wiki list of GIS software here. It does not contain all of the above ideas/options though and, indeed, a tool to make a webmap need not be a full GIS package and a full GIS package need not have the capability to create a webmap (it might instead do analysis and output static maps for example). So this list isn’t too helpful for the use case outlined at the beginning of the post but could be helpful to someone else with a different use case.

Creating Compelling Map Presentations: Borrowing From Web Design

April 17th, 2018

What if we used maps to “sell” an idea in the same way that newer websites are selling their products? This approach would be a hybrid between what some are calling “story mapping,” and small multiples, set up in such a way as to quickly convey your idea while visually explaining each component. You could argue it is also like a very simplified poster presentation.

Take a look at part of the AWS Lambda landing page:

awslambda

 

Here’s an example mock-up showing how we could apply the pattern shown above to a map project:

 

Mockup-Not For Decision Making

Essentially what it comes down to is a highly organized, static, presentation of complex data with annotations to help the map reader understand the issues while also giving them the visuals to absorb the information. You know what they say:

Give a person a map and they’ll click away; give a person a story and they’ll stay.

(Ok, I said that.)

Natural Earth Quickstart Style Implemented with Tegola

April 6th, 2018

 

NaturalEarthQuickstartStyle2

 

NaturalEarthQuickstartInspector4

 

Natural Earth came out with a newly updated version recently and the group I’m working with decided to be one of the first to use it in a comprehensive vector tile map. There is a “quickstart” style implemented in QGIS and ArcMap but we wanted one implemented in Mapbox GL JS.

Check out the new Tegola Implementation of the Natural Earth Version 4 Quickstart here.

We’re using the minzoom feature of the new data in the Tegola set-up so that only features that have minzooms less than the current user’s zoom level show up. It’s such an easy way to filter data it’s almost not even fair.

 

minzoom

 

The various files used in this implementation include the script to download the Natural Earth data into a PostGIS database, the configuration file that Tegola uses to configure that data, the style file that styles that data in Mapbox GL JS code, and of course the Tegola software itself (use the non “cgo” version for a PostGIS database, use the “cgo” version for geopackage data.)

 

I put together a quick visual guide on how Tegola can be used for those who maybe want to just see what it is all about without going through the process. 

 

There is some great, official, Tegola getting-started documentation to explore as well. And Eric Theise put together a Hello Tegola blog post that goes much more in depth.

 

See Nathaniel Kelso’s Natural Earth repo for more information on the data and to see the styling implemented in QGIS and ArcMap (the styling such as colors, line-widths and which datasets to show and how are all translated from those original Kelso styles.)

 
 

What are Sprites?

January 23rd, 2018

 

Sprites are a newish concept in the cartography world. I haven’t written about them here before as they didn’t really have a lot of relevance until Mapbox started using them in Mapbox GL JS. It turns out that sprites are a handy way to provide map icons to a vector tile project.

To be brief, a spritesheet is comprised of sprites, which are really just map icons. A vector tile map style displays map icons via a reference to a spritesheet. Spritesheets mush the sprites up into a very small amount of space to keep the file size small.

Here is an example of one portion of what actually is an unusually large spritesheet that will be used for icon-heavy nautical charts:

 

nautical_sprites

 

You may also see the term “spriteset,” which is referring to the two files that Mapbox GL JS spec uses to place these things on a map: the png file and the json file. The json file is really just a list of all these sprites by name and location in the png file. Something like this:

 

sprite_json_snippet

 

So you see the json file shows the location and size of each sprite and references them by name. As I’ve learned the hard way, the name is actually very important. You use the name in the json style to tell the map what to render. So for example:

 

power-tower_example

 

Here you can see that the we are symbolizing data where type=tower with a sprite that is named “power-tower-12” in the spritesheet json. However, it would have been much nicer if it had been called “tower” in the spritesheet json. Why? Because here’s another bit of that same stylesheet, where you see how it works much better:

 

variable_usage_in_icon-image

 

Here it will just go find whatever sprite in the spritesheet has a name that matches what’s in the type field (plus has the -18 on the end, which isn’t that important to know about for now but just is a way of referencing the size of the icon in case you maybe have two different icon sizes). The first way you would have to hard-code each and every icon name with whatever you are filtering for, the second way you simply name each icon/sprite the same thing as what it is referenced as in the data.

Alright, that’s it for this whirlwind intro to sprites. There’s a lot glossed-over here but serves to get us all acquainted I think.

P.S. I’ve been using TexturePacker to throw pngs and svgs into a spritesheet with a custom exporter I built for the Mapbox GL JS spec. There’s also spritezero to checkout for free.

P.P.S. Here’s a little view of TexturePacker and what looks like it should be my next corporate logo, the little green duckling.

 

green_duckling

 

Cartonotes

January 8th, 2018

Presenting a few random cartonotes from various digital maps I’ve been working on lately:

Indicate marine parks, preservation areas, and state beaches that extend into the water as transparent polygons with solid or dashed outlines. This allows the feature to be seen without giving the impression that it is solid land or some other solid feature.

State Beach

 

When symbolizing road features it can be easiest to simply use a single color for all road types. This is simple but effective.

Simple Roads

 

However, if you are interested in more complex road symbology using road casings and different colors for the different classes (e.g., highway, primary, secondary), then take care to make sure that bridges are separated and placed on top of the other road features.The feature order list will be something like this:

  1. highway bridges
  2. primary bridges
  3. secondary bridges
  4. highway, not bridges
  5. primary, not bridges
  6. secondary, not bridges

In other words, the bridges go above everything else that isn’t a bridge, even if the bridge is of type primary or secondary. You can see a secondary bridge (peach color) in the screenshot below that runs over a highway (purple color).

Complex Roads

 

It is pretty typical to use the same hue with a slightly darker value for polygon outlines, as shown in the airport outline below. Hexcolortool is handy for lightening or darkening a color by a given percentage. Of course you can also adjust the value in the HSV color system or the lightness in HSL color system to achieve this.

Typical Outine

 

Labels for features that are higher in order do not necessarily need to be darker in color. In the following example label hierarchy is achieved with larger state labels in a lighter color, while city labels are smaller but darker.

labels

 

Map Design Basics*

October 11th, 2017

It isn’t April Fools’ Day but this is one of my old workshop hand-outs that came across my desk again today. Spruced up and embellished, it makes some great points about how to be a good cartographer. Or, erm, it makes some points anyway. 😉

schooled

  • Neat-line boxes must surround every element. Think maximum containment and minimal flow.
  • Ignore figure-ground. Land can be white and water can be white. Why use more ink than you have to?
  • You don’t need to bother with labeling features but if you do, try under the line, on the point, and on all parts of multi-part polygons.
  • Definitely include a large row of clashing logos.
  • Legends don’t need to explain everything, let the map reader guess a little.
  • Spell-check is overrated.
  • Legends with underscores, cryptic numbers, and things like “z5” make you look smart.
  • Orient your maps in highly unusual ways.
  • Make sure map readers understand each and every disclaimer, including those that have never been tested in court, before they are allowed to even see the map.
  • Talented map designers only need about 30 minutes to turn out a good map.
  • It’s important to make the map for yourself not for the audience.

 

*Kidding!

Cartographer's Toolkit

Map Making Tips, Tricks, and Inspiration