The Making of a Map

I made this map a few months ago. At full size it’s 8.5″ by 11″ and meant as a handout. There’s a slightly different, but mostly matching, digital companion map at the bottom of the Hood Canal Coordinating Council’s Where We Work page that I made in conjunction with this. A discussion concerning different elements of the map follows.


HIGHLIGHT MAIN LOCATION A typical task in this kind of cartography work is to highlight the main area. This is usually done in ArcMap with a masking layer or in QGIS with an inverse polygon symbolization. Either way, you are essentially assigning a semi-transparent white symbol style to the area that is outside the map focus. In this case we have 5 overlapping polygons that represent the focus of the map so the solution was to merge all 5 polygons together so that the masking layer consisted of everything not in an HCCC watershed jurisdiction.

OVERLAPPING LINES There are several approaches one can take for the display of overlapping lines. One is to depict the lowest lines in larger width sizes and another is to offset the lines so that they are side-by-side. Neither of these solutions were appropriate for this map since there are too many overlaps. After much trial and error I settled on a transparency for the highest lines. When all lines overlap the net effect is for the overlapped area to appear brown, which is indicated in the legend. Note that the legend entries are stacked in the same order that the lines are stacked in the map.

LOGO Although I dislike putting logos on maps as a general rule, there is often no way around it when the client requires it. In this case the map looks just fine with the HCCC’s single-color logo placed at bottom-left, which is the location at the bottom of the visual hierarchy.

TITLE The title has a subtle drop-shadow created in Inkscape by simply copying the text, nudging the lowest text down and to the right, and copying the grayish land color for the drop-shadow color. The main title text color matches the client’s logo exactly.

COLORS The orange boundary is the same color as other orange features on the client’s website. All the boundary colors match the digital map on the client’s website.

LABELS River labels on the main fish streams are extremely important for this map. They were done by hand in Inkscape and in many cases the individual letters were hand-nudged at 200% so that they would conform as well as possible with the sinuosity of the streams. The tribe labels match the color of the tribe polygons. In the online version of this map linked to at the beginning of the blog post, the smallest tribe (in terms of area) isn’t visible at the scale of the other features. The solution for that problem was to depict the tribes as points at the lower zooms and dynamically change them back into their representative polygons at the higher zooms.

SCALE BAR AND NORTH ARROW The scale bar is a custom, simple, graphic to keep the emphasis on the map and the legend. “Miles” is not capitalized, which further de-emphasizes itself and is in keeping with some more modern practices. The north arrow is likewise fairly simple. Both match the client’s logo color. 

TEXT All text except the river labels is Museo Sans. Including the “miles” label in the scale bar, the title, legend, town labels, county labels, and tribe labels. (The river labels are in Georgia since natural features are typically labeled in a serif font.) I chose Museo Sans because it’s friendly, highly legible, and fresh. I’m going to go ahead and say it again: even the scale bar text was changed to match the map font. Don’t settle for defaults! Make your typefaces cohesive. Okay, getting off my soapbox now…

Those are the main cartographic decisions that were made, each appearing to be an easy decision but all were considered very carefully with regard to the audience and the matching digital map. Possibly 20 different color combinations were considered, for example. In all, you might be surprised at the length of time it took to make this seemingly simple map. 😉

  1. #1 by Random Dude on April 4, 2016 - 9:42 pm

    Great post! One thing to try is alternating cartographic lines (dotted lines) so that multiple colours are visible.

    Would really like to hear more about visual hierarchy too. I know little about the topic and I feel you’d do well explaining it in a mapping context.

    Thanks again

  2. #2 by G.P. on April 5, 2016 - 8:22 am

    Good suggestion. I did try dotted lines for the top-most layer, but this was still too visually cluttered. I think that maybe with some work it might be possible. Interesting thought.

  3. #3 by Andrew Zolnai on April 8, 2016 - 8:40 am

    A master class in map making. The AGOL maps however don’t show the topography & culture the print map does. I’m used to AGOL & switch base maps, but even then it doesn’t have the same effect as the printout. You describe all but basemap above it seems, did I miss something? Thx 4 sharing, Gretchen! Cheers, Andrew

  4. #4 by G.P. on April 8, 2016 - 5:05 pm

    The basemap is recycled from an older map I did and consists of an elevation dataset hillshaded and tinted, I believe from UW originally.

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