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GIS (Geographic Information Systems): Cartographic Design Resources


For 3D Contour, Topographic, and Terrain model downloads:

  • Terrain2STL: create STL models of the surface of the Earth.
  • TouchTerrain: Easily create 3D-printable terrain models.
  • Contour Map Creator - download contour map lines as .SVG or .KLM files
  • Contours: download contour map lines as .GeoJSON, .PNG or .SVG files

Elements of Design

  • Line
  • Shape
  • Value
  • Color
  • Texture
  • Space
  • Typography

Selected resources for Map Design

33 Map Elements to Include in Cartographic Design: A 'How to' Guide to Map Making - GIS Geography

Design Principles for Cartography - ESRI ArcGIS Blog - Mapping

Cartographer's Preferred Typefaces - Somethingaboutmaps

Labeling and Test Hierarchy in Cartography - axismaps: Cartography Guide - A short, friendly guide to basic principles of map design

Modifying Colors and Symbols in ArcMap - MIT Libraries, By Jennie Murack

Elements of a Map

Map elements

Maps communicate using various visual devices. Along with balance, composition, and the effective use of white space, the following elements are often used to enhance map communication.

Borders or neat lines: A fine line often encloses a map, unless the map content itself provides a strong contrast with the page. Other lines may be necessary in the figure to emphasize hierarchy and focus.

Title: Include either on the map or in a figure caption. A subtitle is sometimes useful.  **The word “Map” in the map title is unnecessary (it is obvious that it is a map).

North arrow: A north arrow is useful on maps that are oriented in some direction other than north or for very large scale maps.

Graticule: The graticule is a representation of meridians of longitude and parallels of latitude on a map. The graticule is useful for orientation and for visualizing the projection used on the map.

Scale: A scale bar or verbal/numeric scale may be included on maps. Map scale varies throughout a map depending on the projection used, particularly on small-scale maps. A variable scale bar may be used on maps that have large scale variations, but omitting a graphic scale bar altogether may also be appropriate.

Inset maps: Inset maps are useful for providing a broader context to the information on the main map. They can be at a smaller or larger scale than the main map.

Type: Type refers to the labels put on a map. Typography is the process of selecting and stylizing labels. Changes in type family, typestyle, type size, lettering and word spacing, color, and orientation are used to create visual contrast between more important and less important typographical map content.

Legend: A legend explaining the map symbols should be included. The legend should be easy to understand, and self-explanatory. The following practices generally are applicable to legends for thematic data:

  • Legend symbols should match their corresponding map symbols exactly.
  • Items in the legend should be placed in a logical order based on the data.
  • Ranges of numbers can be separated by a dash or by the word “to,” which is useful for avoiding consecutively placed dashes when negative numbers are present.
  • Numbers greater than 1,000 should include commas; numbers less than 1 should include a leading zero before the decimal point.

**The word “Legend” as a legend heading is unnecessary (the legend is obvious).
**Do not neglect to remove ArcGIS default legend headings (e.g., “mort_rate_cvh_09”). Use something that is intuitive to all map readers.
**Using “Percent” in the map title and “Percentage” as a legend heading is not recommended. Instead, titles should use “Percentage” and legend headings should use “Percent.”

Other items: Data sources, dates, information about data processing, and, if required, map status (draft, final, etc.), should be indicated either in the legend or elsewhere. To achieve a unified look and instant recognition, CDC has developed a brand identity that requires the use of specific logos and other graphic elements. For more information, see Brand Identity Standards.

Taken from Cartographic Guidelines for Public Health PDF