Archive for January, 2016

Valentine’s Day Printable

I’ve updated my Valentine’s Day printable this year! Please feel free to share and distribute. The intent is to provide a map coloring page for a Valentine’s Day school activity that could be paired with a lesson on map projections. This printable is aimed at early elementary or pre-school students.


Download the letter-size pdf here: ValentineMapPrintable.

The same sheet, but without the explanatory text here: ValentineMapPrintableNoText.

Download the pdf with the link above for full-size.

Download the pdf for full-size.

No Comments

Everyone Hates Your Colors


The color palette is without a doubt the most divisive topic that will come up regarding the majority of your maps whether you make them for the public or for a single client. General complaining about the colors and admonishments to change the colors will invariably out-compete any complaining regarding interactive functionality, included or not included datasets, load speed, scale bar specificity, legend descriptions, layout design, or any number of items that we cartographers think are just as important as color.

Brian Timoney says that the reason that our map readers get so worked up about color, indeed why everyone these days seems to be a color critic, is because it is the thing we all know most about and therefore feel the most confident in discussing.


Think about it. What was it that we had to put on those kindergarten bio posters? Our favorite color. We are encouraged to pick out a favorite color and have an opinion about color from very early childhood. This makes the general public much more aware of color than of any of those other important aspects of the map that they may have honestly not even noticed.

Heck, people don’t even agree on what colors are.

Exhibit A)

Exhibit B)

XKCD did a color survey a while back where volunteers were asked to name colors. The results are definitely worth a look. One volunteer ended up saying:

—Anonymous, Color Survey*

Now what do we do about these map readers who hate your colors? How do we know if their critique is warranted or if maybe they just have a different sense of style? How many of us use the exact same color schemes in our clothes or our decor? Does the fact that we like modern, dark style colors on maps (black background with a few bright colors, say), mean we can’t appreciate a map that’s more subdued?


Should we, as cartographers, present our clients with a style board much like interior decorators do, in order to get a sense of what the clients like color-wise, before the project starts, and then once a palette is agreed-upon then the client has to pinky-swear that they will not complain about colors from then on out?!

I don’t know, those ideas could work. I may even try it out sometime. However, what I can tell you is that over 16 years of doing this my method is to assume that colors will change as we go and I try to give great respect for my client’s color needs. I also have learned the hard way that time for color changes absolutely has to be built into the time estimate. And occasionally you must build your own maps along the way so that you can build up some work that really says “you.”

Of course these ideas are really most applicable to cartographers who do client work. Those who work in just one style, for a newspaper, for example, have a whole host of other color issues, I’m sure.

*Hey, it’s a PG blog.

No Comments

The Song Dynasty and the First Topographic Map

Thanks to Rachel Stevenson’s tweet here:

I purchased and have begun reading The Geography of Genius, which is so far a very good book (though I’ve had a few questions concerning some contradictions I’ve found in the author’s musings but I don’t need to get into that here).

The book’s second chapter concerns the Song dynasty, a time period and place which I didn’t know much about at all, and in that chapter the author explains that the very first topographical map, shown below, was created during this time period*, as well as the compass as a tool for navigation. The time period? 960 to 1279.

The Yu Ji Tu, or Map of the Tracks of Yu Gong, carved into stone in 1137, located in the Stele Forest of Xi'an, Shaanxi, China. This 3 ft (0.91 m) squared map features a graduated scale of 100 li for each rectangular grid. China's coastline and river systems are clearly defined and precisely pinpointed on the map. (From Wikipedia)

The Yu Ji Tu, or Map of the Tracks of Yu Gong, carved into stone in 1137, located in the Stele Forest of Xi’an, Shaanxi, China. This 3 ft (0.91 m) squared map features a graduated scale of 100 li for each rectangular grid. China’s coastline and river systems are clearly defined and precisely pinpointed on the map. (From Wikipedia)

*Stone carvings count as “print”? :)

No Comments

Friday Humor: What, You Think I Built This Whole Business on Fake Maps?

I’m figuring this little snippet of Modern Family, which my map-attuned ears instantly picked out while watching the episode yesterday, will come in handy someday. Especially as a good Slack or IRC retort. And here, my friends, I share the little gem with you:

Link to the video

Hey, look. Everybody loves stars. We could take him on a tour.
Driving around looking at houses isn’t much of a birthday fun day.
. . .
Charlize Theron, Harrison Ford, Halle Berry… None of these seem very Uncle Mitchell.
What does Uncle Mitchell like?
. . .
Barbra Streisand! Perfect!
Okay, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.
How do we know these maps are real?
You think I built this whole business on fake maps?
What business? You got a sign and a lawn chair.

No Comments

Review of “Designing Better Maps: A Guide for GIS Users 2nd Edition”


I received Cynthia Brewer’s new edition of Designing Better Maps: A Guide for GIS Users in the mail yesterday. Yes, I purchased it myself and was not asked to write this review. I just happen to be very interested in cartography reading material. As if you didn’t know that already. The book covers a lot of the same material as my book GIS Cartography: Effective Map Design 2nd Ed, but is shorter and has fewer jokes. I’m just saying.

The other thing I immediately noticed about the book is that it is heavy. It is so much heavier than you would expect for a book of this size. At 10 by 10 inches and 260 pages, the thing weighs 2.6 pounds. For comparison, Cartographer’s Toolkit is only slightly smaller, at 8.5 by 8.5 inches and 184 pages and weighs 15.4 ounces. The explanation for the excess weight is cupcakes. Oh, that’s just me. The book’s excess weight is due to the really high quality paper inside it. You could buy two and walk with one in each hand as a nice way to work cupcake weight off.


Getting into the substance of the book, I’d say it’s much better than the previous edition. All the images have been updated and are now in keeping with modern cartography practices. All the typical things that you need to know are covered from fonts and labels to color and layout.

There’s a few pages on projections that offer great examples of why some projections are good (e.g., azimuthal projections show great circles as straight lines) and why some projections are not good under certain circumstances (e.g., the Plate Carrée projection stretches areas near the poles, thereby misrepresenting those areas). You won’t find an in-depth discussion of all the projection distortion possibilities but it’s enough to give a taste of what projections are all about, which I think is really the aim here.

There are a lot of great tips throughout such as labeling states and counties in pairs along boundary lines at medium scales, not using The Great White Halo*, reserving sequential color palettes for sequential data, and my favorite: do not stump your reader. One way of representing bi-variate data that I hadn’t seen before is depicting one of the variables with black and white dots overlaid on a heat map depicting the other variable. This is a visualization I’m taking note of as I think it could be very useful in future projects.

In summary, Designing Better Maps is a well illustrated book with concisely but excellently written explanations on all the basic mapping considerations. It needs to have a place in the library of all new cartographers and is also worth a look by experienced cartographers who seek a refresher and a few new tips. You will find references to ArcGIS in here (it is published, after all, by Esri Press) but the material is for the most part applicable to all cartographic endeavors, irrespective of the technology used.


Your donation in support of this blog is very appreciated! It’s simple to make a donation with PayPal using my link.

No Comments