Hand Drawn Map Association: Oodles of Love for the Hand Drawn Map

An all-time favorite site of mine is the Hand Drawn Map Association. As I dole out love for the hand drawn map, I’d be remiss not to feature this fav.
Hand Drawn Map Association
The Hand Drawn Map Association (HDMA) is an ongoing archive of user submitted maps and other interesting diagrams created by hand. The HDMA website features a clean and easy to explore gallery and collections of maps. In addition, “Connect” provides notable happenings such as the September HDMA lecture and book signing at the New York Public Library.

The HDMA is also about to release From Here to There: A Curious Collection from the Hand Drawn Map Association a new book available for pre-order (only $11.80 USD) from Amazon. The book features an exclusive collection of maps and will be available this September.

For map lovers young and old, this site is just plain fun.

MollyMaps: More Love for the Hand-Drawn Map

MollyMaps is a cartographic project devoted to celebrating the places that matter to us both as individuals and as communities, through the engagement of hand-drawn mapping practices.

Watercolor maps add a texture rarely seen in maps today. They provide a visceral quality that draws readers in as much to explore the artistic craftsmanship as the content of these beautiful maps. On the MollyMaps website you can view a gallery filled with watercolor maps representing a wide range of purposes and contexts.


Atlas of Explorations for the Pacific Railroad: Giving Some Love for the Hand-Drawn Map

Who doesn’t love the artistry of a hand-drawn map? I’ve been looking at some fine examples lately and wanted to share a few of my personal favorites.

I’m starting with Elbie Bentley’s “Atlas of Explorations for the Pacific Railroad” because it represents a mastery of hand-drawn cartographic technique – particularly hachuring – seldom seen today. I’m also a big fan of multi-media when it comes to mapping, and Elbie seems to effortlessly merge her hand-drawn maps and digital cartography with much artistry and clarity.

Akin to the fine tradition in architectural drawing, combining hand-drawn techniques with digital should (in my opinion) be more common practice in modern cartography. I was first introduced to Elbie’s work this fall at NACIS. Elbie was kind enough afterward to share more of her work with me. This talented young cartographer has produced an integrated narrative piece of expedition through a beautilfully illustrated, self-published, “Atlas of Explorations for the Pacific Railroad” (see a preview of the Atlas on sale at Blurb). Okay, I’ve been officially sucked-in by the multi-media maps and narrative approach of the Atlas. I find it refreshing and inspiring, not only by the well designed content and articulation of the narrative, but also the craftsmanship and technique employed.

Here is a summary from the Blurb website: “The Gunnison-Beckwith expedition for the Pacific Railroad (1853-1854) produced a particularly intriguing report containing adventure, illustration, and topographic presentation. The intensity of the stories and the beauty of the artistic products contained within the reports remain, however, largely unknown. This atlas represents this significant historical event in an a set of maps organized to be read like a novel. The cartographic language of the nineteenth century topographic explorers is also mimicked in each map to recreate their world of incorporated illustrations, observation, and text.” Elbie is a recent graduate of Ohio University – Department of Geography.

Ortelius Map Design Software for Mac: We’ve Launched!

A big thank-you to all of our testers and reviewers – we’ve made it! Check out our new web site for all the details on Ortelius, including a downloadable trial version. We’ll continue to add tips & tricks and screencasts to our web site to maintain it not only as our product site, but also as a rich educational resource for map making. To celebrate, we are offering an introductory special of $79 until September 30th. Development continues and we’d love to hear from you.

Ortelius Will Be at AAG: You’re Invited to Learn More

Does your mapping software inspire creativity? Ortelius is a new breed of mapping software designed to make your mapping easy, fun and beautiful.

Come find out how Ortelius can help you create publication-quality maps without the high learning curve or costs associated with other software.

In this workshop we’ll introduce Ortelius and demonstrate its capabilities. Attendees will learn how to create custom maps from scratch and with templates. Learn about Ortelius’ robust tools and palettes, and how to create unique and inspiring symbols in a flash.

Attendees will receive a FREE Public Beta copy of the Ortelius software for evaluation. Come learn how Ortelius can work for you.
Location of the 2009 AAG Conference
Association of American Geographers
Workshop Details

10:00 AM – 12:00 PM
March 25, 2009
Capri Meeting Room 108
Riviera Hotel, Las Vegas

Ortelius is Powerful Map Illustration Software for Mac OS X
Learn more at www.mapdiva.com

Walkscore.com Using Free Zillow Neighborhood Boundary GIS Data

I’ve been very interested in the news stories I’ve read about neighborhood boundary data and its usefulness. About a year ago Adena Schutzberg, Directions Magazine, wrote about neighborhood data offereings and the announcement by Zillow.com that they would provide their neighborhood GIS shapefile data freely through a Creative Commons license. First of all, I am very interested to see the CC licensing being applied to geospatial data – this alone is worth following. And I applaud Zillow.com (which I love) for making their data available in this way. So I was really interested when I came across another very excellent site providing my home’s walkability score (which alas is moderately low) and my office (which is very highly walkable).



Walkscore.com is a site worth visiting. “Walk Score helps people find walkable places to live. Walk Score calculates the walkability of an address by locating nearby stores, restaurants, schools, parks, etc. Walk Score measures how easy it is to live a car-lite lifestyle—not how pretty the area is for walking.” The Walk Score algorithm awards points based on distances to the closest amenity in a number of categories. I especially love the heat maps showing the most walkable neighborhoods in the top 40 U.S. cities. And certainly turn around is fair play… Zillow is already leveraging the benefits of having made its neighborhood data available (in February, Zillow.com added WalkScore to each of their 87 million properties).

Map Font Basics (Article 1): Typography

Font FamiliesTypography is the art and methods of arranging type, type design, and modifying type glyphs. 
Type glyphs are created and modified using a variety of illustration techniques. The arrangement of type involves the selection of typefaces, point size, line length, leading (line spacing), letter-spacing (tracking), style, effects, and kerning.  In typography, kerning is the process of adjusting letter spacing in a proportional font. In a well-kerned font, the two-dimensional blank spaces between each pair of letters all have similar area.

Unaware Readers = Happy Maps

In traditional typography, text is composed to create a readable, coherent, and visually satisfying whole that works invisibly, without the awareness of the reader. Even distribution with a minimum of distractions and anomalies are aimed at producing clarity and transparency.  The goal is legibility and readability. Typography for Cartography can be more complex than traditional typography because of complex text placement and potential density of features, visual hierarchy, overall look and feel, the fact that text often represent features as symbols in their own right, and the interplay between text and other multi-layered map features such as symbols, background colors, and textures. However, the overall goal of legibility and readability remains the same.
Felix Arnold (2004) lists several ways in which cartography differs from traditional typography: 


  • On maps and plans, text competes with the graphics. In books and magazines, they normally work alongside one another.
  • Cannot be placed over backgrounds that share the same color as the letters.
  • Typically placed over many various types of backgrounds – which are usually dark – instead of a common white background
  • Small text can be difficult to read when placed over complex, textured backgrounds.
  • The eye reads text on a map letter-by-letter, instead of through word shapes.
  • Single lines of text often run across the page diagonally, or on a curve.
  • Type size and style changes quite a lot on maps.
  • Much map text is set in quite small point sizes.

Legibility of Type on Maps

Legibility is the quality of the typeface design and readability with the design of the printed page. Place names should be set in a typeface of normal weight in lower case with an initial capital. However, very difficult names need to be copied accurately, capitals are recommended(1).  As cartographic methods became more mechanical in the mid-20th century, the Leroy Lettering System was developed to help cartographers produce consistent, legible text. The Leroy type style is popular on maps of that era.  Today, the font “Sublime” closely mimics the Leroy style. 


(1) Phillips, R. J., Noyes, L. and Audley, R. J. (1977). The legibility of type on maps. Ergonomics, 20, 671-682.

Type Basics



Serifs are semi-structural details on the ends of some of the strokes that make up letters and symbols (also known as Roman). 



A typeface without serifs is called sans-serif, from the French sans, meaning “without” (also known as Gothic). In traditional print, sans-serif fonts are more typically used for headlines than for body text. Sans-serif fonts have become the de facto standard for body text on-screen, especially online. 


Font Families

A font family is a group of fonts, designed to be used in combination and exhibiting similarities in design. One member of the family may be italic, another bold, another condensed or using small caps.

Font Variants

The font variant specifies whether the text is to be rendered using a normal, bold, italic, or oblique face.

Weight, Stretch, Size

The font weight refers to the boldness or lightness of the glyphs used to render the text. The font stretch indicates the desired amount of condensing or expansion in the glyphs used to render the text. The font size refers to the size of the font from baseline to baseline.

How to Font

Digital fonts are created using specialized software.  A basic understanding of how fonts are created can help the cartographer in their understanding of typography. While font creation is beyond the scope of this lesson, an excellent tutorial is available from [Divide By Zero] Fonts and the Tom 7 Institute of Computer Knowledge (TICK).  Divide By Zero is my favorite site for free and very fun fonts.

Map Font Selection

Cartographic convention says to pair a Sarif type family and a Sans-sarif type family on your map. Within each family different variants, sizes, and colors are applied.  Most professional cartographers have their favorite pairings.  For example, on the CartoTalk forum, the following were listed:

Frutiger with Meridien
Rotis and Univers
Myriad (sans) and Kepler (serif) and/or Adobe Jensen (serif) (traditional look)
Nueva (serif) and Tekton (sans) (modern look)


The following cartographic conventions should be considered in your font selection (Arnold, 2004):
  • The typeface must be legible in small sizes
  • Typeface must also be slightly narrow, to avoid line lengths running too long
  • Different styles and weights of the typeface must be clearly differentiated from one another
  • Individual letters must also all appear different from one another, to help minimize misreadings and misunderstandings
  • Typeface must be able to form good word shapes, which will also directly increase legibility

TypeBrewer is a highly recommended place to begin your selection of type for your map.  In the TypeBrewer system, “Formal-B” and “Informal-B” are good choices if you are using pre-loaded system fonts.  “Formal B” is a good choice for web fonts.  Other listed type schemes require that you obtain fonts from external sources. These provide excellent solutions for cartography, though they can sometimes be expensive.
There are many sources of fonts available for free and for purchase via the web. Some designed specifically for cartography are: www.fontcraft.com/mapmaker/ and Cisalpin (the “ideal typeface” for cartography). 


The following table presents the lettering conventions of a few cartography publishing houses (The Guild Handbook of Scientific Illustration, Second Edition): 

The next article in this series “Map Fonts” deals with the conventions of text placement in cartography.

Mapdiva to Make New Mapping Software for the Mac

I’m pleased to announce the launch of Mapdiva, LLC, a partnership among Graham Cox and Jill Saligoe-Simmel, to develop Ortelius™ – powerful map illustration software for Mac OS X. Ortelius is characterized by its ease of use and beautiful graphics capabilities for which Macs are known. Our new company anticipates the release Ortelius in the first quarter of 2009.

Role of Sketching in Map Design Layouts

Sketch map figure from Slocum 2005

Hand-drawn sketching plays an important role in the digital arts. The larger a project is, and the more concepts a client will need to see, the more sketching will prove its worth in your design process. Consider using rough sketches for composition or layout options in your next project. Or push yourself to do a handful of thumbnail sketches before firing up your cartography software of choice. Create ten well thought out map design options (not seven to make three look good).  Select three and refine each.  Select one for final design.

In Role of Sketching in the Design Process, Sean Hodge discusses sketching for rapid concept development in traditional design.  This same process should be considered in cartography.