Street name length vs street length

Posted in Maps, MAPublisher with tags , , on March 22, 2010 by hansvandermaarel

An all too common problem: a short street with a long name needs to be labelled. When you’re doing this manually, this generally calls for a lot of abbreviation, splitting across multiple lines, a smaller font or even just numbering. In short, it’s a hassle.

When you’re using an automated labelling process, such as Label Pro within MAPublisher or Maplex within ArcGIS you can often get better results if you can tell the software to treat these streets a bit more strict. For example one thing I like to do is tell Label Pro to use a condensed font, allow it to reduce text size more often and use arrows if at all possible.

But how can you find those streets? Well, I came up with an easy formula to calculate whether or not the street would be long enough to place the entire street name. Obviously this depends on the scale you’re mapping at as well as the font style and size. So first of all place a lowercase a in the font style and size you want to use for your street names, and measure its width in map units. Let’s assume for this example that my lowercase a is 12 meters wide in map units. The formula to calculate the ratio is then going to be [number of characters in street name] / ( [length of street] / [width of lowercase a] )

Formula for calculating text/street ratio

This yields a number, if it’s smaller than 1 you have enough space for the street name. If it’s 1 you’ve got exactly enough space and if it’s larger than 1 you’re in trouble. I tried this on an OpenStreetmap dataset of central Mechelen in Belgium and the ratios went from 0.1 to almost 20 (the 14 meter long “Oscar Van Kesbeeckstraat”).

Moving on, I decided to split my streets in 2 layers. Streets with a ratio less than 1.25 would be labelled with a standard font (Frutiger 55 Roman), streets with a ratio more than 1.25 would be labelled with a condensed variant of that font (Frutiger 57 Condensed) and got a few extra rules regarding size reduction and multi-lining.

End result of Label Pro labelling

The result looks quite promising. Still not perfect of course, but based on my previous workflow (which did not use this calculation but instead had me go through the unplaced text manually to try and fit them in) it once again saved me a significant amount of time.

So give this a shot next time you’re auto-labelling a street map. It’s worth a try and it’s almost guaranteed to save you time.

New training course Digital Cartography with Illustrator and MAPublisher

Posted in MAPublisher, Software with tags on February 25, 2010 by hansvandermaarel

Training course Digital Cartography with Illustrator and MAPublisher.

On June 10th and 11th, Red Geographics will organise a training course on the subject of digital cartography with Adobe Illustrator and Avenza’s MAPublisher. The goal of the course is to teach participants how Illustrator and MAPublisher can be used jointly in the production of high quality maps.

Through the use of a number of sample projects, the entire cartographic production process is covered:

  • Document setup
  • GIS data preparation
  • Import GIS data
  • Projection / scale
  • Visualising GIS data through Stylesheets
  • Text placement with LabelPro
  • Combining raster and vector data
  • Producing an index
  • Export for print and web purposes

Aside from a full overview of MAPublisher’s capabilities there will be plenty of coverage of time-saving Illustrator tips and tricks. There will also be time to cover specific questions.

This is a hands-on course. Computers, data and required software will be provided.

Who Should Attend

  • Cartographers using GIS data
  • Existing MAPublisher users who want to experience the new features of MAPublisher 8 or who want to get the most out of their MAPublisher license
  • GIS professionals who want to produce better quality maps
  • Anyone making maps that wants to leverage the benefits of Illustrator and MAPublisher

Course leaders
This course will be led by Hans van der Maarel and Joke Rerink. Both have many years of experience working with Illustrator and MAPublisher. The course will be held in Dutch, but if you would like to get this course in English, please contact Red Geographics for more information.

The course will be held in the KaartUitVeghel Cartographic Instruction centre, Veghel, The Netherlands.

More about MAPublisher
MAPublisher for Illustrator is powerful map production software for creating cartographic-quality maps from GIS data. Developed as a suite of plug-ins for Adobe Illustrator and Macromedia FreeHand, MAPublisher leverages the superior graphics capabilities of these graphics design applications. Full details are available at

See for more information.

Useful geodata links

Posted in Data with tags , on February 22, 2010 by hansvandermaarel

I’ve been asked recently about sources of useful (free) geodata. Since I thought it might be nice for other people to have as well I’ve decided to make a blog post about it. So here goes.

Natural Earth Vector – Deserves to be mentioned first. A global cartographic (!) dataset at scales 1:10M, 1:50M and 1:110M, both vector and raster. Made possible by Tom Patterson, Nathaniel Kelso and a small army of volunteers. Made by cartographers, for cartographers.

Geocommons Finder – Offers a wide range of thematic datasets.

GIS Data Depot – Requires registration but again a good source of data. VMAP / DCW per country, many US datasets per county.

SRTM data – Elevation data in 90 meter resolution (30 meters in the continental US) data in 1×1 degree tiles, or go to the CGIAR site for corrected data in 5×5 degree tiles. SRTM only covers the earth from 60 North to 60 South and does not offer bathymetry. Viewfinder offers manually corrected data for significant mountain areas as well as manually created data for areas not covered by SRTM.

Aster Global DEM – Higher resolution than SRTM, but I’ve heard mixed reports about the data quality.

MapStor – Old USSR topographic maps, either free (download one by one) or dirt cheap even for large areas. While most of these maps are by now quite outdated (they were, after all, produced before the collapse of the Soviet Union), in many parts of the world they are the only easily obtainable source of reference data. If you speak Russian of course… I’ve personally used this to track down villages in India that Google doesn’t show. The maps come with a georeference in OziExplorer format. Global Mapper can read this and can also automatically remove the collars.

Global Land Cover Facility – Offers various raster datasets, including Landsat, for download. Much of the data is offered in seperate bands, so you’ll need to do a bit of research to use it.

Geonames – USGS board on geographic names. Note that the data is not without errors, so always doublecheck.

True Marble – 250 meter (free) and 15 meter (paid) satellite data. Automatically generated out of Landsat data. Some artifacts here and there but overall a good dataset.

David Rumsey collection – Not geodata per-se, but a vast collection of old maps.

Perry-CastaƱeda Library – Large collection of reference maps offered by the University of Texas.

Cloudmade and Geofabrik offer shapefile extracts from the OpenStreetmap database by continent/country/state.

EarthExplorer and the Seamless Server are two USGS sites offering data for download. Mainly US data as far as I can tell.

US TIGER – vector data of the US offered by the US Cencus Bureau. Its quality is not always 100%, see this post on Cartotalk for an explanation.

US National Atlas – Many thematic datasets for the US.

Geographic Imager 3.0 is released

Posted in Geographic Imager, Software with tags on February 11, 2010 by hansvandermaarel

Yesterday Avenza released the latest version of Geographic Imager, their plug-in for Photoshop. New features include support for the BigTIFF, ESRI BIL and NITF image formats, as well as Photoshop x64 (on Windows).

In addition to that, the 3d options that were introduced last year with Geographic Imager 2.5 have been expanded. This brings georeferenced 3D visualisation into Photoshop. Another good thing is that all of the Geographic Imager tools are now compatible with scripts and actions, which will be a big plus for automating repetitive tasks.

Spatial databases once more

Posted in FME, MAPublisher, Software with tags , , on January 20, 2010 by hansvandermaarel

For a while I’ve been meaning to try out more stuff with spatial databases. I’ve been using them for a few years actually, but so far that’s always been MySQL Spatial thanks to a simple install package produced by the good people at It’s easy to set up that way but… MySQL Spatial isn’t very widely supported, in fact the only application I have that actually reads/writes it is FME…

So, wanting to try something different I went ahead and installed PostgreSQL with PostGIS. This should be wider supported, of the software that I use on a regular basis FME, Manifold and ArcGIS should be able to read/write it. Well, FME certainly does, no problem there. Having a bit more trouble getting Manifold and Arc to talk to the database though. Apparently they require an ODBC connection and that seems to be tricky to set up. Hopefully I can get that sorted out soon.

— Update January 21st —

Well, as Jeff has pointed out, I should not worry about Arc…

I’ve continued hacking away at this and managed to get both FME and Manifold talking to a PostGIS database. Funny enough Manifold only does that in the 32 bit version, though it appears there’s some extra dll’s for the 64 bit version that can be used to get that one working too. Also, veteran Manifold user (rock star I should say) Art Lembo of has a training video on setting up an enterprise spatial database with Manifold and PostGIS that looks rather interesting.

Anyway, I have opted to install the databases on a brand new (and rather cute) Compaq ultraportable. For playing around with databases in a network environment it appears to be just fine (which is good, because I’m short on space)

The Auto-Mapic

Posted in Maps with tags on December 11, 2009 by hansvandermaarel

Found this in a used book store the other day, I just had to have it…

It’s a plain brown cardboard box, slightly taller than an A4 piece of paper, slightly narrower too. On the front there’s just the word AUTO-MAPIC in big friendly letters. When I opened the box I found it contained a heavy plastic contraption with maps.

That’s where the fun started. The plastic container had 8 tabs on either side, and a clear see-through section on either side showing a map. By moving the tabs up and down, different maps became visible. 8 tabs times 2 sides means there’s 16 different maps (in this case a roadmap of the Benelux on 15 sheets with 1 overview/legend sheet.

Apparently the maps are cut into narrow strips which are glued to the plastic shutters (for lack of a better word). The effect is quite good provided you move the tabs as far as they go.

From what I’ve gathered, these Auto-Mapics were produced in Austria in the 1970s. This one indeed says it’s made there, and judging by the style and content of the map that appears to be just right.

If anybody has more information on these things, how they were produced and how popular they were, I’d be very interested to hear about it.

Natural Earth Vector is here!

Posted in Data, Neogeography with tags on December 3, 2009 by hansvandermaarel

Those of you who follow the cartographic news will undoubtedly have heard of this already, but Natural Earth Vector has finally been released. This is a royalty-free vector dataset for the entire world at scales 1:10M, 1:50M and 1:110M. Existing datasets tend to be way too detailed for these scale levels (VMAP0, for example, is meant for scale 1:1M… OpenStreetmap is aimed at even smaller scales).

Many volunteers (including yours truly) have put in a lot of time and effort to create this dataset. Many thanks to everybody who contributed.

If you want to take a look at the data, please visit