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Learning Basic Cartography?

tinpusher's Photo tinpusher 12 Apr 2014

I have zero cartography background but love playing with maps. I would like to learn how to create Geospatial PDFs to share with my friends. I'm thinking I want to take OSM maps, add my gps tracks and waypoints, add graphics and export to Geospatial PDF. I'm looking for advice on:

Books (there is no "Cartography for Dummies")

Online courses

Software for a Mac (preferably open source or inexpensive)






Dennis McClendon's Photo Dennis McClendon 14 Apr 2014

I think it's good to be grounded in the basic concepts before jumping into specific software.  See if your nearest uni library has Mapping by David Greenhood, and possibly his followup Down to Earth: Mapping for Everybody.  They're both fun books to read over a weekend, not tedious textbooks.


Next—mostly for fun—use some tracing paper to draw a special-purpose map from a general one.  So trace and label something—the route to grandma's house, perhaps—on a metro or provincial road map.  You're thinking about what to put in and what to leave out; what to simplify and abstract and displace for readability.  Don't spend more than an hour or two on it.


Now you have some idea where you're headed when you make a map, and you're ready to work with some specialized software.  You might choose QGIS (open-source) or the ArcGIS home edition ($100).  You can get the OSM data from Geofabrik or in other ways, and bring in your waypoints, style it, export to Adobe Illustrator format, then make it look nice using that or Inkscape.


If you know the end product will always be for the web, you can do the styling like all the cool kids do now, using TileMill and Leaflet.  Just know that your ability to manipulate or add to those graphics is quite limited, and you'll probably need some kind of GIS tool or programming help (may be as simple as Google Earth and a small utility like KMLCSV from GitHub) to work with your own tracks and waypoints.  And what you're creating are raster tiles, which won't print as nicely or as large as vector graphics like you get from Illustrator.


Come back and visit the forum often as you get going.  We'll happily encourage you and try to help.


Charles Syrett's Photo Charles Syrett 14 Apr 2014

Great advice from Dennis! He makes the important point that mapping isn't something that software does - people make maps. Greenhood's book was originally written in the mid 20th century, and it's still a classic.


Charles Syrett
Map Graphics


David Medeiros's Photo David Medeiros 16 Apr 2014

I'd recommend the book Making Maps by Krygier and Wood for good advice on basic cartographic concepts. It's described as a cartography book for GIS but it's really more universal then that and applies to most any map making.






tinpusher's Photo tinpusher 16 Apr 2014

Thanks. I have picked up a few books from the library and things are becoming much clearer.