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Home> Services> Mapping and GIS> Cartography/Mapmaking
Cartography / Mapmaking


Cartography/Mapmaking is the study and practice of making maps or globes. It applies the fundamental scientific procedures of accurate measurement, classification, and the identification of relationships, to create visual models of our complex world. Maps have traditionally been made using pen and paper, but the advent and spread of computers has revolutionized cartography.

Most commercial quality maps are now made with map making software that falls into one of three main types; CAD, GIS, and specialized map illustration software.

Maps depict, most commonly on a flat surface, the spatial organization of any part of the physical universe at any scale, and at the same time symbolize a wide variety of information, both static and dynamic. Whether it is a chart of outer space or a plan of a university campus, maps play an essential role in our everyday lives.

Maps function as visualization tools for spatial data. Spatial data is acquired from measurement and can be stored in a database, from which it can be extracted for a variety of purposes. Current trends in this field are moving away from analog methods of mapmaking and toward the creation of increasingly dynamic, interactive maps that can be manipulated digitally.

The cartographic process rests on the premise that there is an objective reality and that we can make reliable representations of that reality by adding levels of abstraction.


The Classification of Maps


There are many ways to classify maps, based on different criteria, such as scale, projection, or content. However, in the field of cartographic production, maps usually fall into two categories: base maps and thematic maps.


Thematic Maps


Thematic Maps show the spatial distribution of a wide variety of qualitative and quantitative information. In fact, almost any subject that can be expressed as a geographical distribution can be mapped.

Qualitative thematic maps depict the distribution of nominal data (data which is classified without hierarchy). Examples of this type of map would show the location of different types of precipitation (for example, rain, snow, hail), vegetation or employment. Quantitative thematic maps are more complex, and involve the location of ordinal, interval, and ratio data.

Ordinal data provides the map user with information about rank or hierarchy, for example, a map showing populated places classified as either city, town or village. Maps symbolizing interval or ratio data provide more precise information. They employ a scale of measurement, usually described in the map legend. For example, a rainfall map indicating the number of millimetres per year in different locations, would illustrate interval data.


Base Maps


Base Maps depict fundamental information about the Earth's surface such as landforms and drainage. They also symbolize landmark features like roads, railways, populated places and buildings.

Many features are also identified by geographical names and labels. Maps that provide only 2-dimensional information are called planimetric, whereas those that also depict elevation are called topographic Base maps are produced at various scales, covering a wide range of areas, such as provinces, countries, continents or the entire world.

Often, maps are available as a series, such as the 1:50 000 and 1:250 000 scale National.


How Maps are used


There are common patterns to the way humans perceive and organize their environment. In the process of responding to the demands of society, over the centuries people have unknowingly
created spatial structures, which in turn have modified the environment. (Unplanned transportation networks are one example of such structures.)

Cartography helps us to describe systematically, human activity in terrestrial space. This is even more feasible with digital cartography. By mapping thematic information and overlaying these layers of data in a GIS (Geographical Information System), we are able to analyze human spatial activity.

Knowledge gained from this technology allows us to detect problems and plan strategies to manage our environment more successfully.

Some maps are produced for specialized purposes. They usually occur in a series, often with a common scale.

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