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Cartographer Chronicles: Hans van der Maarel

Hans van der Maarel has been a passionate cartographer for over 20 years. He works out of Zevenbergen, Netherlands where he operates his company, Red Geographics. To Hans, cartography is a passion that extends beyond the office, becoming more than just a career path. Through this passion, Hans has developed a level of expertise found only in the most dedicated of map-making professionals. As an expert MAPublisher user, Hans has been a frequent contributor to the Avenza Resources Blog. You can see some of his latest work through his Georeferencing Techniques Video tutorials released as part of Avenza’s Mapping Class blog series. To read more about Red Geographics, and see more of Hans’s work, visit

From a young age, Hans always had a keen interest in maps. His found himself drawn to old atlasses, spending hours looking at old maps, and geography was always his favourite subject in school. This interest persisted into high school, where at a job fair he found out you could actually study map-making as a career. 

Continuing his studies, Hans pursued a program in Geo-Informatics at Hogeschool Utrecht (a four-year bachelor’s level course offering a mix of geodesy, GIS, and cartography). There he was introduced to various kinds of mapping and surveying, learning the techniques necessary to plan and design meaningful effective maps. During an internship at the National Spatial Planning Agency, he was first introduced to the MAPublisher plug-in for Adobe Illustrator. After graduation he started working for his local Avenza partner, doing tech support, training, consultancy, and commercial map production processes. This is also where he was introduced to Safe Software and their product for data transformation, also known as Feature Manipulation Engine (FME).

Hans developed a niche within the Dutch cartographic community that leveraged FME to prepare raw source data before using MAPublisher to visualize and create the final high-quality map products. This type of workflow, combining a mix of both FME and MAPublisher functionalities is now fully realized by the FME Auto add-on for MAPublisher.

“I was doing my first internship and was tasked to produce a poster-sized map of The Netherlands in Adobe Illustrator, but all the base data was in Shapefiles or ArcInfo coverages. Gathering base data and generalizing it was done in a traditional GIS, but getting that data into Illustrator and making a finished map required MAPublisher.”

In September 2004, Hans decided to continue on his own and founded Red Geographics. Working largely with Avenza products, two years later, he became an official Avenza partner and reseller. As his customer base expanded and more projects came in, Red Geographics developed a reputation of being “the one for the difficult projects”. Reflecting on the early years of Red Geographic’s operation, Hans mentioned some of his more memorable, fun, and eye-catching projects.

“There was the Oolaalaa Globe, a 5 ft diameter “beanbag” globe with beautiful maps printed on spandex. We received several custom orders of the globe map from other clients, including ones for Air France-KLM with the complete route networks of all their partners, and another from National Geographic Benelux and the City of Amsterdam, with a map of the city projected onto the globe.” 

Also eye-catching, but for a completely different reason, were a series of simple basemaps created for Buienradar, the most popular Dutch weather website, and app. Millions of people have seen Hans’s maps when they checked the weather.

In the early years of Red Geographics, Hans became involved with the Cartotalk forum, first as an enthusiastic user, later on as a moderator, and finally an admin. Through Cartotalk, he also got involved with NACIS, the North American Cartographic Information Society. He attended their meeting in Salt Lake City in 2005 and he’s been to every meeting since. When NACIS took over Cartotalk, Hans became an ex-officio board member for several years before being formally elected a board member at large. He still serves on the board to this day and is currently in his 2nd term as secretary. Through NACIS, Hans was able to expand his network of international contacts, allowing him to contribute to several large-scale mapping and atlas projects. He created island maps that can be found in the Millennium House “Earth” atlas and more recently, several full-page maps for the 11th Edition National Geographic World Atlas released in 2019.

Building on the success of his earlier globe projects, Hans then created a new map whose design is displayed prominently on a new product called BalancePlanet, a globe-themed, fully functional yoga-ball that Hans considers a spiritual successor to the Oolaalaa globe bean bag chair.

In 2019, Hans expanded his team, adding two members to become a team of three. With more resources now available, Hans and his team can now tackle larger, more complex (mapping) projects. His team took on the momentous task of producing a nationwide 1:20,000 scale topographic base map of the entire country of Luxembourg. The finished results were used as a cartographic base for tourist maps showing hiking and cycling routes all over the country.

“The Avenza products have been a major factor in my development as a cartographer, as well as the development of my company,” says Hans. Many of his projects use a combination of FME and MAPublisher, and Hans has utilized the interoperability between these two programs to implement significant workflow automation. With a single base dataset, multiple maps can be made with the same style, and automating this process means he can produce a high volume of maps in just seconds, without needing to manually configure shared thematic elements.

“With automating some of the map production processes, I now only have to focus on the parts where my cartographic skills are most needed. MAPublisher allows me to do that. I want to find the right balance between quality and speed when it comes to producing maps, and with automating the data processes I have found just that.”

Aside from the traditional mapping products Hans has become known for, he enjoys working on smaller projects with interesting stories around them. “The maps I get the most joy out of these days are, interestingly enough, not those big ones. Over the past ten years or so I’ve been asked to produce greyscale maps for several academic publications, a lot of them focusing on the Arctic and Antarctic regions. Limited in terms of visual variables and often a need to show a lot of information on a small surface area, these kinds of maps are a very interesting challenge. One thing led to another, word-of-mouth is a great promotion tool, and we now find ourselves in the middle of producing about 30 maps for an upcoming publication by Cambridge University Press, chronicling the state of research in those areas. Wonderfully esoteric subjects which often lead me down a Wikipedia rabbit hole!”

Hans continues to use his cartography skill set to explore new ways of making maps more prominent in everyday life. Hans began introducing his colleague, Inge van Daelen, to the concepts of satellite imagery and Photoshop (using Tom Patterson’s great tutorial on how to process Landsat data). Branching off of this, they founded Blue Geographics, which originally started as a fun side-project but quickly grew into a full-fledged business. Through Blue Geographics, Hans designs and produces a range of sportswear and lifestyle items displaying beautiful satellite images derived from Landsat and Sentinel data.

“Looking ahead, I just want to make beautiful things,” says Hans, “One of my hobbies is photography, specifically cycling and cosplay. A few years ago, when I did a photoshoot with two cosplayers, I saw a sticker with that text in their workshop and it struck a chord with me. I’ve long had ‘doing awesome work for people I like’ as one of my goals and I want to keep on doing that. I also want to keep on challenging myself by trying out new techniques and new ways to map things. There’s still a lot to learn and I am very happy to know a lot of people in the cartographic community who are happy to share their knowledge and experiences.”

Mapping Class: Georeferencing Techniques Part Two – Working with Scanned Maps, with Hans van der Maarel

Welcome back to another exciting edition of Mapping Class, a video-blog series where we curate tutorials and workflows created by expert cartographers and Avenza power users from around the world. Today we release Part Two of our Georeferencing Techniques tutorial with Hans van der Maarel, owner of Red Geographics. In Part Two, Hans demonstrates some techniques he has developed for working with more challenging georeferencing tasks, including dealing with unknown projection information and working with scanned maps. If you missed Part One, in which Hans covers the basics of Georeferencing in MAPublisher, check it out here.

Hans has produced a jam-packed video walkthrough detailing his georeferencing process. The Avenza team has produced video notes (below) to help you follow along.


Georeferencing Techniques Part Two: Working with Scanned Maps
by Hans van der Maarel (video notes by the Avenza team)

As we discussed in last month’s Mapping Class, georeferencing is the process of taking imagery or map data that lacks geographic location information and associating it with specific coordinates on Earth. Previously, Hans showed us how MAPublisher provides a few tools that make georeferencing simple vector map data a painless process (Check out part one here!). Best of all, using the built-in georeferencing tools, this can be done entirely within the Adobe Illustrator environment.

However, what can you do if you are working with historical maps or scanned images that lack spatial referencing or detailed projection information? This can present a challenge for many cartographers, as the projection information is necessary to create an effective cartographic product that will minimize distortion and maximize the spatial accuracy of the final result. To tackle this problem, Hans shares a series of tips and tricks that he uses for working with scanned historical maps. He uses a beautiful historical map of Northwest Africa to demonstrate his approach.

Right away, Hans identifies a few obstacles. First, he notices that the scan is not a perfect copy of the original map. Due to natural curves and bends in the physical paper version of the map, there is minor distortion in the digital image that arose when the map was scanned. This could create problems for georeferencing the image, as the “fitting” process can be susceptible to image distortions, even when a suitable projection is determined. Thus it is always a good idea to examine your scanned map prior to beginning the georeferencing process. Becoming aware of potential issues with the scanned map data can help inform decisions on the data’s suitability for a particular mapping task. Acknowledging that the distortion is relatively minor in this scanned map, Hans chooses to proceed with the georeferencing process.

Hans notices that the scanned map image does not provide any details on the original projection information. Instead, Hans must make an “educated guess” on which projection was being used. With a bit of research, he discovers another map from roughly the same era and displaying a similar region. Recognizing the similarities between this map, and his scanned map, Hans decides to implement a Lambert Zenithal (Azimuthal) Equal Area Projection.

Hans discovered this map from 1968, which displays approximately the same area. He chooses to use the projection information from this map to help with the georeferencing process of his scanned map.

Hans can begin his georeferencing process by first setting up a new MAP View with the Lambert Azimuthal Equal Area Projection, a conical projection used in many atlas-style maps. To help with the georeferencing process, Hans has used the Import tool to display a vector line layer of coastlines using Natural Earth DataHe can use this coastline data as a guide to help align his scanned map during the georeferencing process.

Before moving on, Hans brings up two important things one must consider when working with conical projections: the central meridian and the latitude of origin. When working with scanned maps that include graticule lines, a quick and easy way to help identify the central meridian is to look for the meridian line that closest approximates a straight line. Using the graticules on the scanned map, Hans can approximate a central meridian of about 11 Degrees. In the MAP View Editor, a user can open the projected Coordinate System Editor and modify the definition for the lambert azimuthal equal-area projection to have a central meridian that matches his estimation.

Placing the scanned map layer onto his newly modified MAP view, Hans can then begin the process of manually aligning the map image to match his projected coastline data. One of the easiest ways to support this process is to configure the MAP View editor panel to display layer thumbnails. With this configured, a user can begin manually adjusting the MAP layers until they are suitably aligned.

Hans reiterates that this process is not an exact science. He has made several assumptions on the projection parameters, and the overall accuracy of the original map. He indicates that a user should spend some time trying to get the best possible result, however it will be difficult to achieve a perfect match (especially given the distortions that can occur when a map is scanned from a physical copy). This process can take anywhere from minutes to hours, and requires a lot of manual adjustment, trial and error, and most importantly, patience! The result, however, is that the finalized scanned map layer is correctly projected and georeferenced into a MAP view. From here, adding data layers, annotations, labels, or tracing vector layers from the scanned map can all be completed in a spatially aware mapping environment.

Providing a second example using a slightly different approach, this time Hans uses a map of the Arctic Region. He indicates that although he has been provided with a map of the entire polar region, the client is only interested in the area surrounding the Bering Strait (between Russia and Alaska). As with the previous example, the first step is to identify the best projection to use. Hans correctly guesses that the map provided likely uses the Polar Azimuthal Equidistant Projection based on visual inspection. However, it should be noted that there is room for trial and error here, and users should not be afraid to explore the large coordinate system and projections library included with MAPublisher to try out and test different projections to help narrow down one that fits best.

The first thing Hans notices is that the scanned map image is rotated about -90 Degrees from what is displayed in his reference coastline data. Once again, by visiting the MAP View Editor, Hans can rotate his Map layers without breaking the spatial referencing information of his original map data. By doing this, Hans assures that his map layers are aligned on the same rotational angle, and can then begin to focus on scaling the layers.

Hans uses the MAP view editor panel to apply manual adjustments to the map layers. He notes that a cartographer should always consider the area of the map they are most interested in. For example, although his map covers the entire polar region, Hans indicates the final product will only display the regions surrounding the Bering Strait. Given this, the georeferencing process should be primarily concerned with accurate alignment in the Bering Strait area, while distortion in other areas is seen as acceptable.  In the example below, you can see how Hans has achieved a suitable level of georeferencing accuracy in his primary area of interest, despite the non-important areas (i.e the Canadian Polar region, eastern Siberia, Greenland) having relatively low georeferencing accuracy.

With his newly georeferenced scanned map layers. A cartographer can now use the information contained within these scans to supplement a larger cartographic process. For example, Hans can now use the scanned maps to digitize boundaries, or geographic features that may not be present in modern digital datasets (for example, historical boundaries for different countries, or terrain features that are no longer present)


About the Author

Hans van der Maarel is the owner of Red Geographics, located in Zevenbergen, Netherlands. Red Geographics is a long-time partner of Avenza and Hans is a well-known power user of both MAPublisher and Geographic Imager. He uses the products for a wide range of cartographic projects for several international organizations and offers training courses and consultancy expertise aimed at developing workflows for clients. In addition to that, he is currently a board member of NACIS. To find out more about Red Geographics, and to see more work by Hans, visit

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