Archive for the Maps Category

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.


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.

Rainfall maps for

Posted in Maps with tags , on November 8, 2009 by hansvandermaarel

Screen shot 2009-11-08 at 12.01.11A few weeks ago I was approached by, a popular Dutch weather website, to redo the base map for their website.

This is the standard map background that they project the realtime rainfall data on. Style-wise I was limited to their color usage, but my updated version features rivers and the borders are much improved. Also, thanks to Derek Tonn’s Graphics Optimization I managed to shave a few kilobytes off the total filesize without making any concessions to the overall look of the map. Given that buienradar receives millions of hits per day, this saves an awful lot of bandwidth and energy.

In all, I am very proud I got to work on this map. Now let’s hope nobody will blame me for the bad weather here 😉

Looking back at NACIS 2009

Posted in Maps with tags on October 12, 2009 by hansvandermaarel

The 2009 NACIS conference is behind us already, so it’s time to look back. As always, it was a wonderful gathering of cartographers and other map-minded people. Interesting presentations, fun social events, you name it.

Some things that stood out to me were the work that Axis Maps is doing on Indiemapper. It looks like this may be the way cartography and GIS apps will be moving in the future. Away from the desktop and on to the Internet. I haven’t been able to play with it myself yet, but I’d like to give it a spin as soon as I can. It outputs to SVG so the results can be edited in Illustrator.

Another highlight was Elbie Bentley’s presentation on a narrative atlas she produced. This mapped out the progress of a mapping party for the Pacific Railroad and she faithfully recreated the visual style of the 1800s maps, including manually hachuring 20 map sheets. Of all the people currently alive, she may just be the one who knows most about hachuring now.

On a personal level, the panel discussion that I organised on running a cartographic business was very well received. Together with 3 co-panelists (Derek Tonn of mapformation, Dennis McClendon of Chicago Cartographics and Alex Tait of International Mapping) we sat down and answered questions from the audience for an hour and a half. Large audience and we filled up the entire time slot we had, plus many people came to us afterwards with additional questions. Stay tuned because I want to do/write more on this subject.

NACIS 2009 – Practical Cartography Day

Posted in Mac, Maps with tags , , , , on October 8, 2009 by hansvandermaarel

This year’s Practical Cartography Day at the NACIS conference in Sacramento, California, was quite interesting. The three presentations that I personally thought were the most useful were, in no particular order:

  • Tom Patterson and Nathaniel Vaughn Kelso who were speaking of the upcoming Natural Earth Vector dataset. I like this one a lot because I was one of the volunteers who worked on it, but also because in the past I’ve had to deal with the issues of combining datasets with differing accuracies and levels of generalisation.
  • Jill Saligoe-Simmel of Mapdiva was speaking about Ortelius, desktop mapping software specifically for Mac and designed by cartographers. I’m not sure whether I’ll be making much use of it myself, seeing how much energy I’ve invested in learning Illustrator and MAPublisher, but some of its features are just pure genius. The Linear Select feature, to insert a bridge on a road, is a prime example of that.
  • David Heyman of Axis Maps did a presentation on their online map tool Indiemapper, which even takes away the need to have software installed on a local machine. Very interesting work and I can’t wait to give that a try myself.

As usual there is a poster session with a number of very cool map designs, great to browse through and talk to the cartographers.

You paid for it?

Posted in Maps with tags , , on July 28, 2009 by hansvandermaarel

Interesting conversation in the elevator yesterday… I had picked up the Times Comprehensive atlas at a bookstore and was obviously quite happy with it (it is, after all, a great example of cartography). When I stepped into an elevator somebody noticed the €179 price tag and asked if I had actually paid for it. My response was “of course”.I guess he thought it was too much (then again, what is too much? A tiny satnav device is still more expensive…)

Even though free maps and data are becoming more and more prevalent these days, I have absolutely no problem with paying money for good maps, and I would take those over Google or Bing maps any time.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that a good atlas is something that should be in every home or office.

Earth Atlas wins award

Posted in Maps with tags , on June 25, 2009 by hansvandermaarel

Interesting news over at Cartotalk this morning. It appears the Earth Atlas, published by Millennium House, has won a prestigious award.

Start of Press Release from the Galley Club

The winners of the 2009 Galley Club Awards have been announced.

The awards, in their 33rd year, celebrate excellence in book and magazine production. The ceremony was held on Friday 19 June at Darling Harbour, Sydney, and was hosted by comedian James O’Loughlin. Around 150 industry professionals were in attendance. Book of the Year went to Earth, published by Millennium House. The full list of recipients can be viewed at the Galley Club website,

End of Press Release.

As I was one of the cartographers involved on this project, I did 80+ maps of islands around Africa, South America and in the Pacific Ocean, I am of course very pleased to see this absolutely wonderful atlas win an award. It’s been a fun project to work on and the end result is looking absolutely stunning:

Canary Islands map from Earth

Canary Islands map from Earth (© Millennium House)

I’ve got some more sample images, as well as a photo of the full-size atlas, over on my main Red Geographics website.