GIS Cartography: A Guide to Effective Map Design (e-Book) book cover

GIS Cartography

A Guide to Effective Map Design

By Gretchen N. Peterson

© 2009 – CRC Press

246 pages | 207 Color Illus.

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About the Book

Maps, either printed or digital, can create effective communication with bosses, clients, other scientists, and the public. However, entry level GISers often find that map design was given short shrift in their pre-professional life. It is time for the GIS field, which is maturing in other ways, to improve its skills in this area. Based on the author’s more than ten years of research and practice in map design, GIS Cartography: A Guide to Effective Map Design provides the tools to create truly sophisticated maps.

Packed full of in-depth information and advice, this book covers all facets of map creation. It covers classic cartographic standards such as colors, fonts, data specific mapping techniques; cultivation of creative skills, and supplies recommendations for novel design approaches. Featuring a down-to-earth writing style, the book includes a layout element checklist, font size charts, geologic color standards, file format pros and cons, and examples of layout designs. A companion Web site, hosted by the author, provides more learning materials, a free downloadable poster covering key content from this book, and links to other helpful Web sites.

The book does not focus on any particular software platform, therefore does not contain the traditional screen shot format with "click on this" and "use this menu" type of instructions. This format allows the guide to be used with any map making software. The author draws on classic map-design concepts, the latest design theory, and other disciplines, demonstrating how to create end results that exemplify what map ought to be: clear, informative, and uniquely suited to their purpose.


"A valuable book to skim through and then keep nearby while designing maps by hand or with a GIS. While focusing on some best practices, Peterson regularly invites users to think and design outside the box - so long as there is a good reason to do so. She also offers a companion website with resources and a poster to remind readers of the salient points in the book."

— Adena Schutzberg, Executive Editor, Directions Magazine, June 2009

"Gretchen’s book is something that you can use almost anywhere with any medium and won’t get out of date. That is a great value that most technical computing books overlook. GIS Cartography is a great resource to have and one that I’m glad that I have in my technical library. I’m guessing though that it will spend more time next to my computer than on the bookshelf."

—James Fee,, June 2009

Table of Contents


No Design Experience? No Worries

Full Disclosure

What Is a "GISer"?

Tick-Tock Goes the Clock

Why Good Design Matters


How to Use This Book

Skipping the How-Tos to Get Straight to the Good Stuff

Companion Web Site

End Notes

Creative Inspiration

You Can Be Creative



An Example of How to See

Applying All of This to Your Map

Summary and Final Prodding

A Few Places to Start Seeing Art from Your Desktop

End Notes

Layout Design

All Together Now

Wait! Stop!

Layout Checklist

Element Details and Examples


Suggestions for Further Reading

End Notes


Choosing the Right Font

Modifying the Font

Point Size

Placing the Text

Text Direction


End Notes


Color Theory



End Notes



Rivers and Streams

Showing Hierarchy

Bodies of Water

Cities and Towns

Political Boundaries

Fuzzy Features





Land Use and Land Cover



Impervious Surface


Building Footprints



Suggestions for Further Reading

End Notes






Dual Purposes


Export Considerations

Suggestions for Further Reading

End Notes

Appendix A: Layout Sketches

Appendix B: Map Examples

Appendix C: Color Swatches


About the Author

Gretchen Peterson is a certified GIS professional (GISP) and the founder and principal of PetersonGIS. Her work focuses on analysis of geographic data to solve natural resources management issues. In the course of this work, she has made innumerable maps and map- related products that present results elegantly and informatively. She is based near Seattle, Washington.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
TECHNOLOGY & ENGINEERING / Remote Sensing & Geographic Information Systems