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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 redgeographics.com.

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.”

Cartographer Chronicles: Steve Spindler

Cartographer Chronicles Steve Spindler Banner

Steve Spindler has cultivated a passion for cartography that has continued for more than 25 years. He operates Steve Spindler Cartography, which develops custom-designed cartographic pieces that can be seen in map products utilized by governments, city planning organizations, and nonprofits from across the country. He also manages wikimapping.com, a public engagement tool that allows city planners to connect and receive input from their community using digital maps. A passionate cartographer at heart, Steve considers map-making both a hobby and career. He strives to share his ideas, techniques, and truly captivating cartographic style with others, either through his previous teaching at Temple University or through his tutorials hosted on his personal website cartographyclass.com

Steve first began designing maps in the early 1990’s while at Temple University for graduate school. Pursuing a Master’s degree in Urban Studies, Steve found that the cartography lab at Temple was his favourite place to be. Before the widespread accessibility of digital maps, Steve recalls spending time at the Philadelphia Library, exploring map catalogues and manually tracing topographic maps before faxing them to his own computer. Later into his graduate studies, Steve joined a mailing list for digital cartography enthusiasts, and this is where he first learned about Avenza and MAPublisher for Adobe Illustrator. He quickly adopted the software into his map-making process, leveraging its suite of cartography tools to easily create maps within a design-focused environment. He continues to use MAPublisher for much of his work, and some examples, such as the Northeastern Pennsylvania trail system map shown below, are even available digitally on the Avenza Map Store for use in the Avenza Maps app.

Steves Spindlers map of NEPA trails

After graduating, Steve combined his passion for cycling with his love of map-making. He started designing maps that promoted bicycle transportation. His list of clients grew, and so too did his reputation in the cartography community. Soon his maps were published and shared over a wide range of platforms across the country.

“It was nice to see my maps posted in public places – in office cubicles, in a Congressional office, being waved around by a US Secretary of Transportation, in a Mac OS X keynote, in the subway, on TV shows, in newspapers – I was using MAPublisher to help create them all.”

After several years of high-paced freelance cartography work, Steve chose to revise his business approach to allow him to be more selective in how he engaged with potential projects. “I created an archetype that I wanted to serve, and put energy into solutions that would help this archetype”. Steve mentioned how he prefers to let a client place a value on what they want, first spending time with the client to conceptualize a problem and then delivering a proposed solution, only sending an invoice once it is appropriate. In his words, this requires a knowledgeable client that really understands what they need.

Steve Spindler's City of Ithaca bike map

Some years later, he returned to Temple University, this time as an instructor. He taught cartography to students within Temple’s Professional Masters of GIS program and stressed the importance of creating a balance between teaching concepts and teaching software. 

“Cartography is really about communicating with an audience, it’s not just about specific software. I think that teaching cartography using a single program (Illustrator with MAPublisher) would allow me to focus more on design concepts and communication. MAPublisher can still access large data sets, and the data is ultimately contained within the Illustrator file.”

His passion for teaching has continued beyond the classroom as well. In the last year, he has taken up a mentorship role for an up-and-coming cartographer. He provides direction and feedback on real-world map projects in what he describes as “learning with purpose”.

Steve Spindlers watercolour style map of rivers

Steve also believes it is important to take learning into one’s own hands. To help him evaluate and improve his mapping processes, he often records his work sessions, carefully documenting and annotating many hours of recorded work such that he can revisit and recall specific mapping steps later on. Many of these sessions are edited down into videos that Steve posts on cartographyclass.com, a personal website for sharing his thoughts, ideas, and techniques on creating maps. He regularly shares maps that he creates for fun in his spare time, drawing inspiration from nature, photography, and artwork to create elegant visually engaging map pieces that exemplify the balance of art and science that is cartography. His recent work has explored the use of graphic styles and MAP Themes to create artistic map pieces that mimic the effect of watercolour paintings. Other posts show his use of the elevation profile tool to create unique maps of recent cycling trips.

Steve Spindler's trail map of Valley forge

Steve Spindler's Valley forge elevation profile

In addition to the many MAPublisher focused tutorials hosted on his personal website, Steve is also an active contributor to the Mapping Class tutorial video series hosted on the Avenza Resource Blog. His contributions demonstrate unique and innovative workflows that leverage a wide range of MAPublisher tools. 

These days Steve continues to take on map-related projects. His approach has allowed him to develop a career that leverages a personal passion and directs it into a successful business. He continues to learn and explore new techniques in cartography in his free time, sharing his thoughts and processes with readers of his blog. After more than 25 years of freelance cartography work, Steve feels his perspective on mapping and business has changed, “Cartography and business are not the same things for me. I want to make maps and don’t need a contract to do this.  It’s just a matter of practicing daily. When the right client comes along, I can help out. I like to be helpful.” 

Steve Spindler's watercolour map of Pennsylvania watershed

Steve Spindler's map of U.S. territories in the Caribbean

Mapping Class: Importing OpenStreetMap data using Overpass Turbo with Steve Spindler

We are back with another exciting addition to our Mapping Class tutorial series. The Mapping Class tutorial series curates demonstrations and workflows created by cartographers and Avenza software users. For this article, we are welcoming back Steve Spindler, a longtime MAPublisher user, and expert cartographer. He has shared with us an excellent tutorial on creating a map from scratch using openly available geographic data from OpenStreetMap, and accessed through Overpass turbo. Steve shows how you can create query statements to filter and export the data, and demonstrates how you can import the data into MAPublisher before using a selection of cartographic styling tools to create a visually appealing map.

Steve has produced a short video walkthrough detailing his map-making process. The Avenza team has produced video notes (below) to help you follow along.

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Importing OpenStreetMap data using Overpass Turbo
by Steve Spindler (video notes by the Avenza team)

Finding and accessing good quality data is often the first challenge for any cartography project. OpenStreetMap (OSM) can be an excellent source of open vector data describing land cover features (roads, parks, rivers, buildings, trails, infrastructure, boundaries). Once collected, cartographers can use OSM data to create highly detailed maps using the MAPublisher plug-in for Adobe Illustrator. Steve will demonstrate his process of collecting raw data from OSM and using it to craft a beautiful map of the Niagara Falls Area. The following video notes summarize Steve’s approach. 

First, you will need to extract some data from the OSM database. Since OSM is a massive repository of geographic data, you’ll need a way to filter through and extract only the data needed for your specific map project. Overpass turbo is a web-based data mining tool that can make querying and exporting OpenStreetMap datasets easy. The tool allows users to apply query statements that filter the OSM database based on attribute and location information. Using the Overpass turbo “Wizard”, a user can enter simple queries (i.e. “water”) and automatically filter and select all features that match the query statement, making it easy to export specific data for your map.

Steve uses a simple query to obtain all map features that are considered “water”. This includes both natural and man-made features

The tool allows the user to export the filtered datasets into geoJSON format, an open standard format for storing and representing geographic data and attributes.

The geoJSON datasets collected from Overpass turbo can then be imported directly into MAPublisher for styling into a finished map. Use the Import tool to load the data onto an Adobe Illustrator artboard. From here, you can open the MAP View editor to adjust the scale and projection information for each map data layer. For this map, reproject the data into State Plane NAD 83 to preserve an accurate spatial scale. Set the scale option to 25,000 and customize the position of the map data on the artboard.

If needed, use the Vector Crop tool to trim the map data down to a specific area of interest, and simplify the layer to create smoother lines by removing excess vertices.

Back in Overpass turbo, you can build more specific query statements to extract individual features from larger data categories. Use the statement: name = “Niagara Falls”, to select polygon features specific to the waterfalls in that area.

Import this new data into MAPublisher, and drag and drop it into the same MAP View as the water layer. The data will be automatically scaled and projected to align with the water layer. Apply a graphic style fill for the water bodies and waterfall area.

Next, we can go back to Overpass Turbo and extract road and highway data. You can build out more complex query statements using basic database operators (i.e. and/or). For longer, complex query statements it helps to create saved queries that you can re-use. This map uses a saved query statement called “selected roads with residential” to extract line features covering most road types:

(highway=primary or highway=secondary or highway=cycleway or highway=path or
 highway=motorway or highway=trunk or highway=tertiary or
 highway=neighborhood or highway=footway or highway=service)

 

Import the roads data into the same MAP View as the other datasets. If you look at the MAP attributes you can see the road data is split into several different types. Steve use’s MAP Themes to create rules-based stylesheets to visualize the different road lines based on their road-type attributes. Steve designed a rule-set that made minor roads more subtle in appearance, while major roads and highways became more prominent. He also used colour to distinguish between pedestrian and vehicle network links.

Repeat this process with a building footprint layer and crop all layers in the final map to the artboard extent. The finished product is shown below (top). Some final touch-ups in photo editing software can be used to create a more stylized appearance (bottom).

Exported map from Illustrator

Stylized version modified with Photo editing software

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About the Author

Steve Spindler has been designing compelling cartographic pieces for over 20 years. His company, Steve Spindler Cartography, has developed map products for governments, city planning organizations, and non-profits from across the country. He also manages wikimapping.com, a public engagement tool that allows city planners to connect and receive input from their community using maps. To learn more about Steve Spindler’s spectacular cartography work, visit his personal website. To view Steve’s other mapping demonstrations, visit cartographyclass.com

Labelling Made Easy with MAPublisher Label Tools and the MAPublisher LabelPro Add-on

Maps are a fusion of art and science, presenting complex geographical data in a way that is both visually appealing and informative. Cartographers use maps to convey a story, drawing attention to important information using carefully crafted design choices and curated map elements that engage the viewer. Although cartographers employ a variety of specialised techniques to present this meaningful information on a map, one of the simplest, yet most effective methods is through map labels.

Quite simply, map labels are symbols or texts strategically placed at specific locations on a map to identify important geographical features, locations, or areas of interest. To a map viewer, labels are a quick and easy way to know exactly what is shown on a map. To a map maker, however, the task of creating labels is not often quick and generally isn’t easy. This is especially true when there are a large number of labels that need to be placed, or when labels need to follow complex paths such as roadways, rivers, or trails. Map-makers must also consider the issue of label crowding and collisions, ensuring labels are not overlapping each other, covering or distracting from other important features of the map. Combined, these challenges can be a significant time-sink in the map-making process, requiring both time and effort on the part of the cartographer.

Labelling doesn’t have to be difficult though, and in this blog, we will show you how built-in MAPublisher label tools and the MAPublisher LabelPro add-on can make labelling simple.

Let’s start with our unlabelled map. We have taken a collection of openly available geo-data depicting the small mountain town of Ouray, Colorado (home of National Geographic Cartographer and last month’s Avenza Cartographer Chronicles feature, Mike Boruta). We have stylized the data to show rivers, parks, streets and trails all throughout the town, but we feel labels would help a user to better understand the information being shown. We are going to approach the labelling process in a few different ways.

Manual Label Placement with the MAP Tagger Tool

For small labelling tasks, where a map maker might need to place only a handful of precisely located labels, the MAP Tagger tool is perfect for the job. MAP Tagger allows us to configure a basic set of options that control the character style of our label as well as general label placement rules. From there, we can simply click on a map feature and have the tool automatically detect and apply a label from attribute information contained in the selected layer. As we have direct control over the placement of every individual label, we can be extremely precise in choosing label placements that work for our map. Best of all, the tool automatically detects and applies text pathing for line features, meaning text labels can follow the form of any road, river, trail in your map!

When working with a small number of map features, the MAP Tagger tool is often just what you need to add well-placed labels to your map. For larger labelling tasks, such as our Ouray map, where there are many layers and several different features to be labelled, a manual approach such as this would be very time-consuming. Instead, we need to implement a more automated, batch labelling technique to speed-up the map-making process.

Batch label placement with the Label Features Tool

When you are working with several map layers, or have a large number of geographic features that each need to be labelled, it can be more efficient to create your labels all at once. The Label Features tool comes built-in with MAPublisher, and can handle batch labelling of map features with only a few clicks. The tool is designed similarly to MAP tagger, and automatically populates the map with precise, path-aligned labels, while offering the flexibility to define unique character styles for each map layer.

Taking a look at the tool, we were able to quickly generate over a hundred labels, for every road, trail, river, and park layer in our Ouray map. By nature, the tool will present you with a large number of labels for each feature, allowing us to examine and choose the labels we wish to retain and remove those that we don’t. With a little bit of clean-up to remove those extra or unwanted labels (see the animation below), we can already see our labelled map is coming together!

The Label Features tool is great for getting a head start on large labelling projects, but you might notice that the output of the labelling tool still requires some manual intervention to clean-up the output. For example, notice how “4th Street” and “5th Street” labels are repeated several times over the length of the street, with some labels colliding with others to create an overlap. This is a common problem in many labelling tasks and is due to the way our input data is structured. The dataset we obtained presents each road in the town as a line, but rather than present each road as a single continuous feature, it breaks up each street into several linked segments. Although this can be corrected with manual editing, it can still be time-consuming when working with a high number of labelled features. To avoid this, we need a method of achieving smarter batch label placement that can detect and reduce instances of label collision or redundancy. 

Fortunately, we have one last trick up our sleeves that makes even the most complex labelling tasks a breeze. We can use MAPublisher LabelPro for collision-free, rules-based label placement.

Better Labelling with MAPublisher LabelPro

The MAPublisher LabelPro add-on allows the user to customize a wide variety of enhanced labelling options that result in smarter, more efficient label placement. LabelPro comes with a powerful purpose-built labelling engine that handles not only label placement, styling, and pathing, but also optimizes the grouping, fitting, and collision avoidance of labels to reduce crowding, avoid label overlap, and eliminate label redundancies. 

Remember those overlapping labels we ran into with the Ouray map? With LabelPro we can set rules that treat street segments as contiguous features in a single line, meaning the labelling engine will efficiently place labels that are representative of the entire street, rather than just for each segment. The intelligent collision and fitting rules mean we can also prevent labels from overlapping each other or crowding the map, saving us time and effort by letting the tool handle precise label placement with minimal clean-up. By setting layer priorities designating certain layers as obstacles we can make sure our important labels are unobstructed, and other labels do not cross other features in a way that would confuse the map viewer. 

With LabelPro, we can also create expressions to apply conditional character styles and rules based on attribute values in the data. In our map, we created label filters for “Residential Roads”, “Service Roads”, and “Alleyways”, allowing us to label (or not label) certain road types differently, even though they are all contained in the same “secondary roads” map layer. These are only a few examples of the robust collection of configurable rules and smart labelling options available to tackle even the most complex labelling tasks.

With our rules set up and all character styles defined, in very short order we could automatically generate labels for all rivers, roads, highways, parks and trails in our Ouray map. The smart placement with LabelPro means we spend less time manually correcting label placement and allows us to produce maps more efficiently and easily. If you want to read a more in-depth, tutorial style article that shows you the exact steps we used to easily create our simple map of Ouray, check out this great workflow article produced by our support team – Here!

 

Data sources: All datasets were obtained from OpenStreetMap and the Ouray County Open Data portal.

Cartographer Chronicles: Robert Simmon

Rob Simmon for Avenza Systems

The visual portrayal of quantitative and qualitative data is a process that requires the right tools. You want your audience to be able to make sense of the data you are sharing and be able to weave that data into a compelling and inspiring story. Here is how Avenza MAPublisher and Geographic Imager assisted Robert Simmon, Senior Data Visualization Engineer at Planet.

Robert isn’t your typical data visualization engineer who had formal training in scientific graphic design or cartography. His passion and interest in computer graphics and a master’s degree in materials science gave him the technical skills to start turning numbers into pictures that eventually helped him communicate with research scientists in his professional career.

Robert’s stepping stone into the fields of cartography, design, and data visualization happened during his work at NASA, where one of his first projects was creating a CD-ROM that would allow students and the interested public to explore a global ozone dataset. During his work there, he began to realize that the graphics published and used by NASA were made more for other scientists than for a broad audience. He also realized that good design was a powerful tool to improve communication. So, he tried to re-create scientific graphics in a more user-friendly form, with mixed success. “It wasn’t until I attended a talk by a popular lecturer on visualization that I learned there was a theory behind good design, and a big lightbulb went off in my head,” says Robert. “I began to read everything I could get my hands on about design, data visualization, and cartography—particularly map projections and the use of colour to encode information, since so much visualization at NASA revolved around satellite remote sensing data, which is quantitative and inherently geospatial.”

Eventually, Robert went on to found the Earth Observatory to share the breadth of NASA’s Earth science research with the interested public. After more than a decade with NASA, he received the chance to join the exciting startup—Planet—and work with an unprecedented, high-resolution, global dataset.

Robert developed a fairly unconventional workflow centred around Adobe design tools rather than GIS or scientific visualization software. This is where the Geographic Imager plugin for Adobe Photoshop and MAPublisher plugin for Adobe Illustrator proved invaluable to bridge the gap between data and visualization.

Map created using MAPublisher and Geographic Imager by Robert Simmon

Today, Robert’s day-to-day work largely revolves around processing visible and near-infrared imagery. Every image he works with gets imported into Photoshop with Geographic Imager. Creating maps in Adobe has proven to be effective and highly efficient as software like Adobe Photoshop possess powerful colour-correction tools, fast previews, layers, high bit-depth support, and undo history options.

This aids highly competent visualizers to work seamlessly and flexibly until an image is made perfect. Robert uses Geographic Imager to merge multiple adjacent image scenes or align a time series to make an animation (even if they’re in different projections), all with a single “import” step. He then exports the file as a GeoTIFF, so the image can later be combined with other, complementary data.

Robert Simmon uses Avenza Plugins

Although Robert enjoys working with imagery, he has had the most fun combining multiple data sources, especially raster and vector. Delving into his design workflow a bit deeper, he involves both Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator together. In Adobe Photoshop/Geographic Imager he works on the initial colour work and crops his desired map extents, then imports it into Illustrator/MAPublisher to overlay with vector data and create masks. “It’s particularly useful to be able to crop the imported vector data to match the area of interest, rather than having to manually select and delete objects that lie outside the Illustrator artboard,” says Robert. After setting up his vector layers, he then exports them as a layered Photoshop file and re-combines them with the original raster imagery, to ensure pixel-perfect accuracy.

Data Visualization with Avenza Systems

Robert’s love for MAPublisher goes back to 2006 when he first used it to make maps with Landsat data. He used MAPublisher to create a water mask with ZIP code data, which was the only data source he could find with high enough resolution to accurately capture the jutting piers of lower Manhattan. Robert also used MAPublisher to create a map of Amazonia (one of his personal favourites from his portfolio) with the help of MAPublisher’s powerful attribute tools, which allowed him to select and merge data vector data of Amazon biome, distinct from the Political Amazon, for which data is readily available. He continued to create variations on this theme at Planet, including a map of the vegetation of Germany. It was derived from a Planet Surface Reflectance Basemap and given context with Natural Earth boundary, urban area, and transportation data.

Robert continues to tweak his colour palette for his vegetation maps since just being ‘good enough’ has never really been his forte.

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In collaboration with Robert Simmon, Senior Data Visualization Engineer at Planet.

Where to begin when you don’t have any data

Unless you are a GIS professional or a professional cartographer, finding the raw data to make a map may seem like a rather large barrier to success. However, there is plenty of publically available free map data out there to be used by graphic designers, and any cartographer that doesn’t have the means to generate their own data. Free map data is a great place to start when making a map, using MAPublisher and Adobe Illustrator to make it your own.    

First, You Have to Find It

Depending on what kind of map you want to make, and for what region or country, finding map data can be easy. There are plenty of governments and other agencies that make their geospatial data available for free. You just have to know where to look for it. Here is a list of the five that, in our opinion, are among the most useful.   

USGS Earth Explorer

The USGS Earth Explorer is an amazing resource for free satellite and aerial imagery. You can download imagery simply by creating a free account. The available imagery covers most of the globe and is often updated. The Earth Explorer user interface is relatively user-friendly so you can find what you need without too much effort. Among other sources, Earth Explorer includes high-quality Landsat and Sentinel 2 imagery.   

FreeGISData

By far the most complete compilation of free map data, FreeGISData contains links to over 500 data sets, categorized for easy browsing by data type and country. The list is maintained by Dr. Robin Wilson, an expert in remote sensing and GIS. This website is a great place to start if you don’t know exactly what you need or want to see what options are available to you in a particular region.  

Open Street Maps

Open Street Maps (OSM) is a crowdsourcing platform for GIS data meaning that all of the data is created by the public, so the accuracy can vary based on who created it and how. However, as with most crowdsourcing efforts, the quality is generally pretty good for most use cases, and the amount of data available is impressive. 

Natural Earth Data

Natural Earth Data offers vector and raster datasets that are in the public domain so you can modify them, use them and distribute them in any way you want without worrying about infringing copyrights or attribution. This is a great place to look if you simply want a base map to start your project. The available data spans the globe and includes the key cultural and physical data you may need for your map. The raster datasets also provide hillshade relief for aesthetically pleasing maps. 

NASA’s Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC)

SEDAC is a data center in NASA’s Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS). Its mission is to support the integration of socioeconomic and earth science data and to serve as an ‘Information Gateway’ between earth sciences and social sciences. In addition to the gallery of downloadable maps, which includes a gridded population of the world, SEDAC offers a variety of data sets of socioeconomic data. You can search the available data sets by theme such as agriculture, climate, infrastructure, population, poverty, etc., or choose to data sets that include historical data, reaching back to the 18th century and that look ahead to a century from now. Neat! 

Join Data Sets to Make Your Map

Often cartographers and GIS analysts use open-source or publically available map data as a starting point then add some other data or additional insight. For example, you downloaded population data obtained from SEDAC but you want to add in some national sales data generated by your company. It’s possible to do it when all datasets are in the same format. GIS platforms like qGIS or use a conversion tool like this one can do the trick. 

Import Data Into Illustrator Using MAPublisher

Once you have your data is in order, it is time to get down to the business of making your map! Import the data into Adobe Illustrator to manipulate the design elements that will make the map interesting and informative. MAPublisher makes it possible to import map data in almost any format into Illustrator, and also enables a plethora of cartography specific tools right in the Illustrator environment. With all of your data arranged in layers in Illustrator, it is easy to work with, turning on and off the data you don’t want. 

Pro Tip: MAPublisher uses import filters to limit the amount of data that you bring into Illustrator to a manageable amount before you start working with it.   

Design Your Map Without Losing Geospatial Integrity

You now have layers and layers of lovely map data in Adobe Illustrator but it doesn’t yet look the way you want it to. MAPublisher’s cartography tools can change all that!  

    • Reproject or change the coordinate systems to change the appearance of the map
    • Crop or edit the data on the artboard
    • Add/remove layers
    • Style features by creating rules for the attributes
    • Add more data as new layers
    • Add labels and symbols based on rules
    • Create North Arrows and accurate scale bars with just a few clicks.

Each of these could be the subject of its own blog, however, lots of helpful resources on how to use MAPublisher tools including tutorials and how-to videos are available on our website and YouTube channel

Make Your Vision Come to Life

One of the best things about the MAPublisher plug-in for Adobe Illustrator is that it supports hundreds of data formats, allowing you to import almost any map data you can find into Adobe Illustrator. Happily, there is plenty of publically available, open-source map data available on the internet. Whether you are a professional cartographer, a hobbyist, or a graphic designer under the gun to design a map, you can use free map data as a starting point for your own map. Download a trial of MAPublisher today and find a data set to experiment with and make something amazing!  

Never Trace Map Borders Again with MAPublisher

Never trace map borders again with MAPublisher

Making maps is a fairly common request made of graphic designers. After all, graphic design is about storytelling and visualization, and maps are about the same things. However, maps are some of the most difficult projects that designers can take on. Whether the goal of the project is to improve the aesthetic of an existing map or to create a new one from scratch, you know it is going to entail a lot of detailed and technical work such as composing layer hierarchies, setting appropriate map scales, and determining feature strokes and colours. Meanwhile your client’s last request of making a map required tracing things like country borders, following and drawing boundary lines and features. All tedious tasks that you don’t actually want to do ever again.

Handy Tools to Have in Your Graphic Design Toolkit

In a nutshell, designing maps can be frustrating for even some of the best graphic designers who know the tools of the trade inside and out. The problem is, the de facto tool of the trade, Adobe Illustrator, isn’t equipped to handle creating maps with data. Luckily, there is a plug-in that adds additional tools to Illustrator to help with making maps, while still allowing you to design in the platform that you are most comfortable with. These are good tools to know about and have in your kit so that when the next map project comes along, you are prepared to crush it while still maintaining productivity.

We May Be Biased But…

One such solution is our MAPublisher cartography plug-in for Adobe Illustrator. MAPublisher enables a variety of basic and advanced cartographic tools in Illustrator that enhance its ability to handle geospatial information, also known as map data. Imagine being able to crop, move, reshape, add, and remove pieces of the map data without losing other important features or geographic accuracy. MAPublisher also ensures that the relationships between map features and their attributes are held together by organizing everything into tables and layers. This allows you to design maps by adding labels and icons, changing colours, and editing other map elements (like north arrows or map scales) automatically, using attribute-based rules rather than having to manually create and place all of these elements.

Design Maps With Data

Focus on What You Do Best

With the right tools, creating a map in Adobe Illustrator won’t cost you days and your sanity. Instead, simply import map data from a free source or purchase MAPublisher-ready maps, manipulate geographic areas (by changing the map projection) if you need to and begin styling the elements the way you want them to be. Whether your map is thematic, like this transit system type map, an infographic like this one, where colours are automatically applied according to the feature attributes, or this one which uses custom-designed symbols. Adding other elements, such as labels can be accomplished with just a few clicks, without the anguish of having to place and re-place labels to avoid crowding and overlapping. 

Knowing how to use basic cartography tools is a good skill set for graphic designers to have in their back pocket. It puts you ahead of the curve in your ability to make beautiful, well-designed, and geographically accurate maps with a reasonable amount of time and effort.

Download a free trial of MAPublisher and find out how easy it can be to make maps with additional cartography functionality in Adobe Illustrator. Or, try our Geographic Imager plug-in for Adobe Photoshop to easily edit geospatial imagery such as satellite and drone images.

 

 

Cartographer Chronicles: Kim Beckmann

Cartographer Chronicles - Avenza Systems

Kim Beckmann is a storyteller above all else. As a graphic designer and Associate Professor of Design & Visual Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM), Beckmann
uses visual media to do just that. More recently, she dipped her toes into the world of cartography (another story-telling medium) then fell right into the deep waters.

It all started when researchers from the university’s School of Freshwater Science came to her for help with creating supporting materials for a research project. The team’s ambitious project set out to map several miles of the Milwaukee harbor coastline, studying the effects of urban development on the harbor habitats. The research team had already created highly detailed technical maps but reached out to the Peck School of the Arts for a faculty member who could help put together the material in a way that could be more easily digested by the public and told the a story about the impact of people on the habitats that exist in the harbor.

“I also represent a part of the general public who would be interacting with the maps; individuals that want the maps to tell them a story. I recall at the first team meeting where we discussed research findings and what to present on the maps, I had many questions. What type of fish live in the harbor and rivers? What do they eat? Where do they live? Does water temperature effect where and when we might find them? Interestingly, the questions I raised led to incorporating additional habitat information into the maps,” said Beckmann. “What started as a concept for a single map quickly evolved to a set of five maps due to the amount to information we needed to share, the largest being 3 ft by 4 ft!”

Harbor Habitat - MAPublisher

As a graphic designer, Beckmann had made maps before, including simple, vector-based topographic maps, and maps for wayfinding. But this was her first time working on a larger map project and her first time working with raw geospatial data to create bathymetric maps to illustrate water depth. “I am extremely comfortable with Adobe Illustrator so when I discovered that there was a cartography plug-in for it, called MAPublisher, that could be used to manage GIS data to create maps, I knew that it would be faster and easier than learning an independent cartography software tool.”

The School of Freshwater Science research team carried out data collection for the project using side-scan sonar devices. With technical support from the Avenza Systems team, Beckmann was able to get the data into a shapefile format and import it into Adobe Illustrator using MAPublisher. “I registered for a training course offered by Avenza Systems, on how to use MAPublisher with Illustrator,” said Beckmann. “That led to a meeting with Jeff who was able to provide helpful direction on how to transform the raw map data into the maps I wanted to make.”

Data Progression - MAPublisher

Jeff Cable is the Desktop Product QA Lead at Avenza Systems. In addition to his work with the MAPublisher development team, he is also responsible for providing training to new MAPublisher users. “I met Kim in 2016 at one of our in-class training sessions in Chicago,” said Cable. “She had a very clear vision of what she wanted to create, but after some more discussion and reviewing the data, I realized that it would require advanced GIS workflows in order to get the data to an appropriate level before it was ready for mapping.” Seeing the value in the research project, he offered to assist Kim rather than have her seek out a GIS professional on her own. Once the data was prepared, she took what she learned from the MAPublisher training course and was able to apply visualization techniques to her maps. Cable corresponded several times as the project progressed and provided guidance. “Kim would ask if MAPublisher could do this or that, and in most cases, my answer was You bet it can!” he added. In addition to providing tips and best practices, he showed her many of the useful tools in MAPublisher that made her workflow more streamlined such as copying MAP Objects, working with MAP Stylesheets, and creating insets. “When I saw the finished product, I was blown away by what Kim had created. It was also gratifying as a training instructor to see how far she had come since our first meeting.”

Beckmann has since spoken about her work on the Milwaukee Harbor habitat maps project to the American Geographical Society, cartography clubs, and presented an artist talk as part of the Peck School of the Arts Artist Now! Lecture Series. The series of five maps have been printed on canvas and distributed to local and regional schools and turned into metal signage to be installed along the shores of the harbor to help share important research conducted by Janssen Labs with the public.

Fish Maps by Kim Beckmann using MAPublisher

The first of five maps installed at Harbor View Plaza Park.

Two of the maps installed in the active learning classroom as Discovery World.

Disovery World is located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Beckmann’s maps also currently hang in the Avenza Systems offices and we are proud to have them as a reminder of the amazing things visual artists and cartographers can do with the tools we provide.

Learn more about the project and how the maps were made on the UWM website https://uwm.edu/harbormaps/

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In collaboration with Kim Beckmann, Associate Professor of Design & Visual Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

 

Explore all that you can do with the latest ‘Spatial Join’

By Olly Normanton, QA Specialist


This is one feature we have all been waiting for. Spatial Join is a very useful tool to be included in the MAPublisher roster as of version 10.6 and I would like to share a little bit about the tool with you in this feature blog. 

The Spatial Join tool inserts the columns and attributes from one feature table to another based on location or proximity. Currently, we support several Spatial Join types including:

  • Intersects: If any part of two features touch at any location
  • Identical To: Both features match identically
  • Contains: When one feature intersects with the interior or boundary of another
  • Near: If a line can be drawn from any part of A to any part of B that is less than the specified minimum distance
  • Closest: If a line can be drawn from any part of A to any part of B that is less than any other such line between B & any other feature
  • Has Centre In: When one features centroid lies Within another feature
  • Within: If all of one feature lies within the interior boundary of another

 

Here is a wonderful map of Italy created by Hans van der Maarel of Red Geographics available through the One Stop Map service. It will provide a great way to show you some examples of the Spatial Join tool in action. It contains a Cities layer and a Regions layer and I would like to see which cities fall into each region by using Spatial Join.

Cities and Region Layer using MAPublisher 10.6

You can see below that the Cities attribute table contains the name of each city and there are 70 in total. 

MAP Attributes on MAPublisher 10.6

There are 20 different regions that these cities lie within. To figure out which cities belong to which region, we have the ability to spatially join attribute information from the Cities point layer to the Regions area layer. In addition, we’ll use the Concatenate operation on the NAME attribute to list all the cities that belong to a region in one field.

To do this, click the new Spatial Join button on the MAPublisher toolbar or access the Spatial Join dialog box via Object > MAPublisher > Spatial Join. 

Spatial Join Button on MAPublisher 10.6

The Spatial Join tool will always open on the Join tab seen below. I will be adding data to my Regions area layer and joining data from my Cities point layer. The relationship is set to Contains—in other words, when one feature intersects with the interior or boundary of another. A description of the operation is always provided beneath the relationship. 

Spatial Join Tool on MAPublisher 10.6

The Precision slider alters the tolerance that is used to determine when two values are equivalent (or approaching equivalent). Depending on your data, this may need to be altered in some cases but for this example, I will be leaving it in the default position. 

On the Attributes tab, I am going to concatenate the NAME field. By double-clicking on the attribute, I can access the Edit Calculated Attribute Operation dialog box. In addition, I am going to sum both the POP_MAX and POP_MIN attributes. I’m also going to append a Count attribute to the table so I can quickly verify how many cities are in each region.

Spatial Join Tool on MAPublisher 10.6

Within the Edit Calculated Attribute Operation dialog box, I am going to set the Operation drop-down to Concatenate and leave the separator as default as Comma then space. 

Spatial Join Tool on MAPublisher 10.6

After confirming the Spatial Join with the OK button, we’ll open the MAP Attribute table for the Regions area layer and take a look at the results.

Spatial Join Result

You can see that the cities have been concatenated by region and the POP_MAX and POP_MIN attributes have been summed for the regions based on the cities contained within them. The count attribute was also added to the attribute table and as only 56 of our 70 cities were within the Italian Regions area layer, that is the total value of our count. 

For the eagle-eyed readers who may have noticed that there are only 12 cities that surround Italy in the full map displayed at the beginning of this article and 70 – 56 = 14, the difference can be explained by San Marino and Vatican City, both of which are autonomous countries and not part of Italy. You can see that they are in fact separate polygons. 

City Map

For a full list of the relationships that are available based on the different layer types, and also the input attribute types, please see the tables below. 

Layer Attributes
Input Attribute Table

This post was made using the incredibly beautiful map data provided by our good friends over at One Stop Map. Stay tuned as MAPublisher Aware Maps are coming very soon to the One Stop Map Store, which will allow you to directly purchase the Adobe Illustrator files and put your own style on the maps! If you’re interested in seeing more of their work, take a look at these One Stop Map Country Maps.

 

Plotting Curved Lines in MAPublisher: It’s Here!

MAPublisher 10.6 has now been released and we are very excited to share these powerful new features with you. If you’re new to MAPublisher, you can get a rundown of the full feature set here, and even try it free for 14 days. In this feature highlight blog, I will be providing a brief overview of the ability to Plot Curved Lines with the Line Plotter tool. 

When plotting a line from point to point, you now have the option of selecting whether that line is Geodesic (also known as a Great Circle), Cartesian (planar), or a Rhumb Line (also known as Loxodromic). To provide a brief definition of each type:

Geodesic line: the shortest line between two points on a mathematically defined surface (as a straight line on a plane or an arc of a great circle on a sphere or ellipsoid like the Earth’s surface). On a geodesic line, the bearing to the destination point does not remain constant. This would be the type of line you would want to use when determining a flight path between two cities, for example. 

Rhumb line: this is a path with constant bearing as measured relative to true or magnetic north and is rarely the shortest line between two points. A rhumb line on a Mercator projection is a straight line which made the projection incredibly useful to navigators from as early as the 16th century.

 

Rhum Line Mercator - MAPublisher 10.6

Rhumb Lines on a Mercator Projection

Cartesian line: can simply be defined as a straight line connecting points.

To view this feature in action, we are going to be using curved geodesic lines to create an Airline Route Map. The reason why we are using geodesic lines for this type of map is because they provide the most economical route in terms of distance. Following the rhumb line would waste time and fuel for all but the most brief routes. 

I began by importing some data that provided my backdrop for the routes I am planning to map. My flights will span the entire globe so I required world coverage. You can also test out this feature and use the World.mif file or the WorldEast.shp and WorldWest.shp files provided in the MAPublisher tutorial data. 

I decided to use the Equal Earth Projected coordinate system.

Adding Locations

The next step was to establish the hubs from which our aircraft would fly and the destinations that we would offer as an airline company. For this, I needed points and coordinates. Instead of searching for and importing a hefty list of airports and then trying to filter down to ones of interest to me with selections, I opted to use the MAP Locations tool. 

MAP locations - MAPublisher 10.6

By utilizing the “Add Map Locations from web” feature highlighted at the bottom of the MAP Locations panel, adding each destination and its corresponding coordinates was as easy as typing in the city’s name. It can take a while to establish all of your locations but the best thing is that you only need to do this process once as the MAP Locations can easily be brought to other documents using the Copy MAP Objects From feature.

Copy MAP Objects - MAPublisher 10.6

Plotting Points

Now that I had all of my locations of interest and their coordinates, I could plot these onto my map as points. For this I used the MAP Point Plotter. 

Plotting Points - MAPublisher 10.6

By accessing the panel options menu in the top right-hand corner, you can select Plot MAP Locations. In the dialog that opens, select all of the city MAP Locations. In my example, I selected all and then de-selected Abu Dhabi and Toronto as these will be my main hubs and will be plotted with a different custom symbol to other destinations.

Plot MAP Locations - MAPublisher 10.6

I chose to plot them to a new Point layer that I named “Cities” and I included WGS84 values as attributes. I created a custom red main hub symbol using Adobe Illustrator tools to use for my destinations. You may need to play with the scaling of the symbol to get your desired look. 

Location Symbol on Avenza Maps

To create a custom symbol in Adobe Illustrator, draw out your design like the main hub symbol above, highlight the art, and drag the art to the Symbol window that can be accessed by going to Window > Symbols. You can then give it a name and select the static symbol option. 

Plotting the Routes

With the cities and main hubs now plotted, it was time to add the routes. 

plotting the routes - MAPublisher 10.6

Line Plotter - MAPublisher 10.6

I targeted a new Line layer called “Routes” and set my start point using the MAP Locations selector. I was sure to change the Method to Geodesic. 

Line Plotter - MAPublisher 10.6
I started adding cities using the “Add Point from MAP Location” control shown here. Once you select your point, a preview will be drawn onto the artboard if your “Show line preview” option is checked.

Line Plotter - MAPublisher 10.6

The route above is from Abu Dhabi to Mexico City. You can select multiple destinations to account for layovers. You can also change the order of the points once they are in the list using the arrows highlighted below. 

Line Plotter - MAPublisher 10.6

Once all of the routes have been plotted, the points were labelled with MAP Label Pro and a customized graticule was added. Here’s the final map in two projection styles to show how a map projection can change the look of the routes and the overall look of the map.

Airline Route Map - Avenza Systems

Projected Coordinate System: Equal Earth

Geodetic Route Map - Avenza Systems

Geodetic Coordinate System: WGS84

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By Olly Normanton, QA Specialist