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Mapping other then ArcGIS

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My name is Mike Murphy and I use ArcGIS for mapping at a Regional State Office. I work directly with water and agriculture.

I am at a point in ArcGIS where the maps I create work well for portraying information to our board and citizens but to me still lacks the "beauty" of cartography. An example is a National Park Service Map to me (what I strive to get to). I was wondering if any classes exist or tutorials for showing how to use other software besides ArcGIS?

For instance I have heard cartographers use ESRI software up to a point but then export the map to another software like Avenza, Corel Draw, or Adobe. Any suggestions or thoughts would be great!


Hans van der Maarel

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Hi Mike, and welcome to Cartotalk!

There's plenty of people here (myself included) who use a non-Arc workflow for map production. Check out the Map Gallery and the other topics to get an idea of what's going on.
Hans van der Maarel - Cartotalk Editor
Red Geographics
Email: hans@redgeographics.com / Twitter: @redgeographics



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It's also possible to make high quality maps in ArcMap. You mentioned National Parks maps as something you're striving for. One of my colleagues, Aileen Buckley did just that, taking Tom Patterson's map of Crater Lake and replicating it entirely in ArcMap. You can find out more about that on the ESRI Mapping Center. Click the Maps tab and find the Crater Lake National Park Map.

There are certainly some effects you can do easier in Illustrator, for example, and some things you can only do in Illustrator or similar programs. And some people are just more comfortable working in some programs. Nothing wrong with that. But the user still has to know good cartographic/design principles to make good maps.

What it comes down to is skill trumps tools, in my opinion. That's not to say good tools aren't useful, but the person using the tools makes all the difference.

Dave Barnes
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Charles Syrett

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Dave's pretty much said it, but I would only add that the purpose of cartography is not "beauty" per se, but rather clear and effective communication. What you are seeing as "beauty" in well-designed maps is probably just a by-product, so to speak, of the design itself. As Dave says, the tools don't do this; the designer does.

My suggestion is that you stick with Arc for now and study cartographic process and design. The best way to do this, as Hans said, is to look at lots of maps! Do it all the time! Find out what makes some maps communicate better than others. B)

Charles Syrett
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David Medeiros

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Hi Mike,

I do a fair amount of Arc to Illustrator work myself. I use Avenza's MAPublisher but its not necessary in order to accomplish good post GIS cartography. I don't know of any specific tutorials for this but there really isn't much to it in terms of moving your line work from one program to another. I think what you may be looking for is some reference for basic cartography in general. Like DaveB suggested, cartographic principles are more important than the tools you use (to a certain extent). There are a lot of good books out there dealing with computer cartography: Designing Better Maps - Brewer; Making Maps - Krygier, Wood are two I have and like. For more advanced principles of map and information design you could check out Cartographic Relief Presentation by Imhof or any of the works on information design by Edward Tufte.

I think what DaveB said about Arc cartographic capabilities is true as well, Arc is now able to make some really good looking maps on it's own. But I think it has a long way to go in terms of matching the quality of Illustrator as a cartographic tool. The differences in the Crater Lake maps is mostly in the detail and some of the more subtle aspects of laying type, style and line work. I'd like to read more about the work flows required to accomplish the ESRI map. And I note that there is no direct comparison between the two maps on the ESRI site.

My experience with Arc is not so much that it can't reproduce good cartographic effects but that it's too tedious to do so in Arc and you have less direct control over map appearance. Regardless, digging into cartographic practice and theory will improve your maps no matter what software your using.
GIS Reference and Instruction Specialist, Stanford Geospatial Center.




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You probably encounter the same problem I have with ArcGIS mapping. Working for a federal land management agency, our data is designed for analysis. It doesn't meet our "business needs" to design and produce separate cartographic datasets for a very large geographic area (Oregon and Washington). Most maps produced within my organization are done with ArcMap, but we have a three-person team that uses the ArcMap-MAPublisher-Illustrator workflow like so many others do on this site, and we are responsible for any maps that go through traditional printing processes.
Additionally, ArcMap lacks some very basic pre-press functionality (overprinting, e.g.), and is very clunky in its use of graphic elements and handling of text. I liken it to driving a screw with a hammer. Yes, the screw will go into the wood, but it won't be easy and it won't be pretty.
Paul Fyfield
Cartographer, Bureau of Land Management
Oregon State Office
Portland, Oregon

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