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Map design and map making materials

The art of map making

Map making is an ancient art (see the History of Cartography) and the usefulness of maps is far from over. On the contrary, maps providing information, instructions and directions are more prolific than ever before. In a world where there is an increase in the number of people that are illiterate, ignorant or simply can't be bothered, a good picture still says a thousand words.


Cartography uses and map making

The uses of cartography and map making are endless. To get from one place to another, depending on distance, we can use a global map, a map of the region or country, city maps, public transport maps, a map of the layout of the store and so on.

Once you start to think about it, you spot maps everywhere. Directions on a train station or airport, inside a department store, in buildings showing exit routes, in books and other material to display features and events. On web sites, to help you get around.

Making a map clear and concise seems to be very difficult. Often the "Less is More" is essential, and what you leave out of a map more important than what you put in. Many map makers, however, fall into the trap of adding items to a map rather than removing them. Don't. Nothing is more difficult than a map showing so much detail or information that you can neither make heads or tails of it.



In practical terms this means that many maps are badly made. It is frustrating to have to use a map that isn't clear in its explanation, uses wrong colours and text and generally confuses rather than clarifies.

We love maps and it is a pleasure to find a clear and good looking map in a brochure or flyer these days. Even "professionally" made road maps and atlases which are sold commercially are often badly made. They are inaccurate, unclear in their symbology, and are often geographically unfounded.

Got a picture of a badly made map? We will be happy to post it here as an example how NOT to make maps. Mail us at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Map making materials and software

With the advent of the desktop computer too many businesses construct their maps and signage in-house using some graphics program which they happen to have and an employee who "knows how to make a map."

This doesn't necessarily mean that the map will be bad, even with the best of tools someone inadequate will create an inadequate product, but generally these maps are useless and confusing. Not to mention seriously ugly.

However, for making a little map for the B-Side of your business card or directions to your restaurant, it certainly is cheaper than getting a map maker or cartographic office involved. The expense simply isn't justified and most small businesses have little choice.

So what the world needs, and especially small and medium enterprises, is either a good book on how to make -simple- maps using traditional map making materials such as pencil and ruler, or software that doesn't cost thousands of dollars (or even hundreds, for that matter).


Map making materials and software

Dreamline Cartography
Versamap - software
Map Maker - A free and professional version for making (GIS-based) maps.
AutoREALM - AutoREALM is a freely available fantasy role-playing map making program. Includes utilities, symbol files, and sample maps.
Mapedit - a low cost straightforward map editing software package suitable for many purposes.
AGIS - a low cost GIS-based map making software with easy to learn manual.
MapCruzin - a free GIS resource page from the makers of MapCruzin.

Free (road)map generators (for viewing or downloading as image file)

MapQuest - Offers a free simple directional map service to most places and countries in the world.
Terraserver - free aerial maps of your town or region. Just enter name and country under the Search option.

Cartography companies, map makers and web sites

There is a big interest in the art of cartography and a good cartographer is born, not made, so it is said. But to make a good map you need to understand what the map needs to display and who it is for and, even if there are principles to follow, the best of maps are based on creativity and insight coupled with skill, rather than skill alone.


Commercial cartography and map making companies

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