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What are your favourite fonts for use in standard maps?

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I am setting up an GIS environment based on ESRI Products. The cartography will be done using either ArcGIS directly or exporting to svg and using inkscape and Illustrator. None of the map makers are cartographers and I would like to standardize the cartographic workflows to ensure a minimum quality of cartographic output. The contents of the maps will consist of environmental data for planning purposes. I need to simply ensure legibility and clarity. I want to create standards based on the size of paper map and number of main themes. For Example 90% of maps will involve a topographic map and between 2 and 5 vector layers consisting of political borders with annotations for regions and then the main map focus which would normally be point or line data.  We have limited time, and the GIS workflows will not include time for creative play. I want efficiency and  good standards - otherwise we will have people spending much too much time trying to create works of art. The thematic symbology has already been decided. Where I need more advice is on typography.  


I already have a good idea about the font size depending on the size of the map, but where I am having difficulties is choosing the fonts and font families. I don´t mind mixing serif and sans-serif to distinguish between factual data and historical data e.g river names, or place names....but I would like to know which combination of fonts are generally acceptable for these types of information maps which guarantee a good level of legibility. If anyone could share with me their favourite "standard" fonts I would be most grateful. I would like to be able to define no more than 3-4 type faces which have a few weights to allow for a bit of room to create clear visual concepts of dominance and importance between the themes. Legends and Titles will also be standardized.


Any comments would be great,


Thanks in advance,










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Do you know about TypeBrewer?


I would also look at national (German?) standards and conventions and base it on that.

Hugo Ahlenius
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Typography is a tricky subject to tackle. My advice is to establish a hierarchy in your labeling scheme and to use a typeface that has a wide variety of weights. Frutiger and Univers are two that come to mind right away, even Helvetica. Stick to well known fonts and avoid knock offs and display types. Mixing a serif with a sans-serif is a more traditional approach where you might use a serif font like Goudy for natural features, Times for nation and state/province labels, and then a sans-serif like Frutiger for everything else.


Keep in mind color as well; black will stand out the most especially when using a heavy / bold font weight, a heavily saturated blue works well for bodies of water and rivers/streams, and a grey at ~80-60K works well for features you'd like to keep in the background such as roads. Halos around your type when used subtly can help as well, this is typically used when a label must be placed over an area filled with a dark color or line.


Differentiate types of features with your labeling using italic and bold weights; for example you might want points of interest in a bold face while parks are italic. Also take advantage of tracking to space lettering out when labeling a large area such as a mountain range, leading can help here as well if labeling an area that takes up a lot of space vertically.


Depending on your layout try not to go lower than 7pt as labels become harder to read at sizes smaller than this. Though I have had to go as low as 4.5 pt on some small format maps to fit in all necessary labels.


And above all else, avoid type crashes! (when labels "crash" into each one another or into symbols). Always print your maps and double check for this as well as for proper spacing from symbols.



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For printed maps you can also use a deep black (like 50,0,0,100) color to further differenciate label hierarchy. I'm using it for most important (largest) features. 

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