Archive for the Software Category

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.

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)

Data preparation for LabelPro, and why it matters

Posted in MAPublisher, Software with tags , , on August 26, 2009 by hansvandermaarel

Recently I got to work, as a subcontractor, on a street map for a US educational institution. My task was to label street centerlines, using MAPublisher and LabelPro. This was my first real project using LabelPro so this would be a good test case.

I loaded up the road centerline data, which was not classified by type, and set up some rules for this. Using 9 pt Helvetica Neue, 55 Roman, as font.

rules_option_1 When I examined the results of this first run, I noticed that it seemed to be very “leader line happy”. I have not shown the unplaced labels in this particular sample (for the sake of the argument that I’m trying to make, they don’t really matter that much anyway).

It quickly became obvious that if I’d want the best results out of LabelPro, I would have to prepare my data. a “one set of rules fits all” approach clearly wasn’t going to work. I decided to split my data into 4 different categories.
overview_option_1These categories are then each set up with a different set of rules, so that I can more accurately influence the way they’re being labelled.

  • Interstate – There’s one interstate running through this area. Its segments have a road name, which basically is the interstate number. I simply don’t label this one at all, instead I will be manually placing an interstate shield later on. Note that I can do this with LabelPro as well, but since there’s only one,  it would take more time to set up the rules for it than it would to manually place 2 or 3 shields. So I manually select the interstate and its on- and offramps and put them on a new layer.
  • Major roads – There’s several major roads present. I want to make sure they’re labelled the clearest, with the highest priority. So again it’s manual selection and putting them on a new layer. This one gets labelled with a higher initial font size and no leader lines.
  • Regular streets – No leader lines either, plus I’m going with a condensed font rather than the regular roman version. Unfortunately you can not instruct LabelPro to try and mix both versions of a font.
  • Short streets – Selecting on the Length attribute that MAPublisher automatically generates allows me to seperate the short streets from the regular ones and set them up with a different set of rules. Again a condensed font, but it’s even smaller than the regular streets and now leader lines are allowed. Hopefully this will reduce the amount of leader lines cluttering up the map. I’ve set the treshold for short roads at 400 feet.

The rulesets I created for these layers are as follows:
Major roads:
Regular roads:


Short roads:


The main LabelPro interface, where I’ve specified the priorities and fonts to be used, looks like this:


Finally, the result that we’ve all been waiting for. As you can see, there still is a need for some manual editing, but the overall image is a lot less cluttered than overview_option_2the first run. I did change the color for the streets for legibility. Instead of 100% black it’s now only 75%.

Reducing the number of roads where leader lines are a valid option makes for a much clearer result. In retrospect, I think I might even want to limit it to dead-end streets and cul-de-sacs.

I think it’s important to keep in mind that LabelPro is a tool, not a magic box that’ll deliver perfect cartographic text placement. Even with the manual editing that’s necessary to make this map look finished, it’s still saving me a lot of time. Also, since the label text is taken directly from the attributes, there’s less chance of typos or other mistakes (assuming the source data is good of course). Of course the rules you have to set are very much influenced by the local topography and what I’ve done here may not apply to your maps. Still, it pays to experiment.

FME vs Global Mapper

Posted in FME, Software with tags , , on July 9, 2009 by hansvandermaarel

So for a long time I’ve been saying I generally don’t use FME for raster work because it’s slow. This was all based on some bad experiences way back with FME 2006 (the first version to support raster data if I recall correctly) and the infamous 37-Gigabyte temporary file that was left on my hard drive after a mosaicking operation crashed. So I’d mostly been using FME for dynamically making a clip out of a larger raster file, which I would invariably produce with Global Mapper.

Recently, Dale Lutz of Safe Software had suggested that I’d give FME another chance, because they had made a lot of progress in the handling of raster data. So I decided to give it another go, pitting the FME 2010 “UC” beta against Global Mapper 10.02.All tests were done in Windows Vista x64 running through Bootcamp on my Mac Pro with 10 Gb of ram. All data was present on the local hard drive.

Test 1 : tiling a raster

I took a TIFF file of Tom Patterson’s Natural Earth. Specifially, I had already produced a combined version. Tom offers it in “west” and “east” files, I put those together to get the entire earth in a single, almost 2 Gb, GeoTIFF. I set up both FME and Global Mapper to tile this file into 90 x 90 degree chunks and output each of them as GeoTIFF. FME blazed through this in a mere 32 seconds. Global Mapper took close to 18 minutes.

Test 2 : mosaicking the tiles back to an ECW

Another common procedure, mosaicking a number of raster tiles and creating a single large image out of them. I did try to set the compression factor in both FME and Global Mapper to the same value but since they specify them in different ways, it’s difficult. I got close, but not quite. In any case, compression generally isn’t going to give very nice results on map images, where you often have areas with solid colors. Also, I did struggle a bit with FME to get it to deal with the raster bands (the alpha channel) in the GeoTIFF’s correctly. Still, I only measured actual processing time, not how much time it took me to set it up (which, to be honest, is roughly the same in both FME and Global Mapper). I fed both applications their own tiles that were output in test 1. FME got through this in about 1:30, Global Mapper took 3:30

Final verdict

Easy one really, FME took a combined total of 2 minutes of processing, against 21 minutes for Global Mapper. Need I say more?

I do think the two products each have their unique strengths though, so I will certainly not stop using Global Mapper. But I will use FME much more often for this kind of work.

Inflight maps and MAPublisher Label Pro

Posted in MAPublisher, Software with tags , , , on June 16, 2009 by hansvandermaarel

Last Sunday I flew from Vancouver to Amsterdam, on my way home after the FME User Conference. KLM offers a direct flight on this route, so they are the most obvious choice for me, especially since they tend to use modern Airbus 330’s for their long-haul North America routes. So imagine my shock when I saw an old MD-11 at the gate. Fortunately, this turned out to be a recently modernized one, so it did have personal in-flight entertainment screens (since I can’t sleep on planes, I dread the idea of a long flight without some sort of entertainment).

One thing I noticed is that the maps in the in-flight entertainment system had been updated. This particular system showed major roads (with names/numbers), time zones and the day/night division. Quite nice to see! Combined with the fact that the seat next to me was empty and we left 15 minutes early (I wonder if those two things are somehow connected to eachother…), it wasn’t such a bad flight after all.

After arriving in Amsterdam I switched on my iPhone and was bombarded by a number of emails coming in from Avenza. They concerned the release of MAPublisher 8.1 with the LabelPro labelling extension. This has been in development for a while, during which I got to play with a beta version, and I’m very pleased to see it’s now finally released.

LabelPro offers Maplex-like (I’ve never really looked at Maplex, so it’s hard for me to compare them) text placement within Adobe Illustrator. Obviously this is not always 100% correct, but it’s fairly obvious that this can save a cartographer many hours of manual text placement. Since this all happens within Illustrator, the end result is of course fully editable. It is an extra-cost add-on to MAPublisher, but using it on just one big map can already recoup those costs. A demo version, which will randomly replace every letter, is of course available and I would certainly recommend that all MAPublisher users try this out.

Personally, I think this is a major step forward for MAPublisher and yet another span added to the bridge they’re building between GIS and high-end cartography.

Flex Projector : too much fun!

Posted in Maps, Software on February 12, 2009 by hansvandermaarel

Even though it’s been around for a while, I haven’t really looked at Flex Projector until earlier this week. But I got hooked instantly and am now trying to come up with a nice projection that looks good and has low distortion values. Ah, another proof I’m a map-geek I guess…

Flex Projector is an application developed by Bernhard Jenny (Institute of Cartography, ETH Zurich) and Tom Patterson (US National Park Service). It’s a freeware, cross-platform application for creating custom world map projections. The interface allows you to easily modify dozens of popular world map projections—the possibilities range from slight adjustments to making completely new projections.

So if you’re looking to develop your own map projection (you can have it named after you!) or just want to get a better understanding of how map projections work, give Flex Projector a try. Oh, and check out the other stuff Bernhard and Tom have done, it’s awesome!