Rainfall maps for buienradar.nl

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 buienradar.nl, 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.

MAPublisher training videos are released!

Posted in MAPublisher with tags , on September 8, 2009 by hansvandermaarel

It’s taken a long time (months of recording as well as preparing a EULA and having DVDs printed), but finally they’re ready to be released: my MAPublisher training videos.

It’s 5+ hours of instruction covering all of MAPublisher, comparable to a 2-day hands-on training course, along with all necessary source data on DVD and they’re available right now, either through my company, Red Geographics, or through resellers such as Avenza in Canada and Screen + Paper in Germany.

The videos are spoken in English and use an English version of Adobe Illustrator, on a Mac.

I’m very glad they finally see the light of day. All in all the project has taken much longer than I anticipated (recording the instructions took a surprisingly huge amount of time, it’s very easy to fumble words or mis-click somewhere…)

5 years of Red Geographics

Posted in Uncategorized on September 1, 2009 by hansvandermaarel

Just a quick post to share the news that today marks the 5th anniversary of Red Geographics, my company. I am of course very pleased with reaching this milestone and would like to thank my family, friends, suppliers and of course clients. Without them this would not have been possible.

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.

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.