Archive for MAPublisher

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.


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…)

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.

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.

Opinions on GIS maps

Posted in Maps, Software with tags , , , , on June 13, 2008 by hansvandermaarel

James Fee wrote an interesting post a few days ago: “That looks like a GIS map“, which sparked some good comments there and on a related Cartotalk thread.

I think in the long run, it doesn’t matter so much in which application a map is produced. True, some offer more tools and tricks than others, and I would pick the Illustrator/MAPublisher combo over anything else every time, but ultimately, it’s how much time you spend on perfecting the map that makes the difference between ‘good enough’ and ‘great’. The human factor is still the one defining the final look and feel of the map.

Whenever I label a map, I often end up going back time and again to tweak it just a little bit more. We’re talking minute changes here… “move this text half a mm to the left and it’ll look a little bit better”, that sort of thing. And yes, that takes a lot of time and sometimes the budget and/or deadline don’t allow for that level of sophistication. In a way, a complex map is never finished… it doesn’t get published, it escapes!

Part of the problem that James identifies lies with education. Most GIS classes don’t focus on (cartographic) design that much. I think that’s a major problem. Looking at the local job market here in The Netherlands, it seems there’s more GIS/cartography job openings than people looking for them. Wouldn’t it be ironic that in a time of renewed interest in the geo-market (Google Earth, navigation systems), we run out of cartographers and GIS people?