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2D - Creating Thematic Map Layers

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Global Mapper, ArcExplorer and many Internet map applications are excellent for looking at geographic data. With their ability to turn layers on/off, such programs can be used to analyze information and make base maps. If you want to add your own original data or annotations, however, you will need to use a program designed for that purpose.

There are three basic alternatives for adding your own thematic data to maps:

  1. Drawing programs (e.g., AutoREALM™, Zoner Draw®, Paint Shop Pro®, Adobe Illustrator®, Macromedia FreeHand®, etc.)
  2. Computer Aided Design and Drafting programs (like OCAD®, CC2 Pro®, AutoDesk Map®, etc.)
  3. Geographic Information System programs (e.g., Map Maker™, Manifold System 5®, ArcMap®, MapInfo®, etc.)
All three types of programs use layers to organize and protect information. The above Zoner Draw example has five layers: aerial photo background, public land survey lines, forest cover type, trails and text. Once the thematic vector layers are finished, the photo background could be made partially transparent or turned off to simplify the map for printing. Having the data in vector layers also makes revisions easy. Just go to the target layer, select an object and change properties of the color, fill, line width, line type, etc.

Drawing programs are generally easy to learn, fast and allow more creative license in the appearance of a map. Geospatial CAD and GIS programs are technically precise, allowing real-world positioning and measurement. You might elect to use a combination of programs to make maps, starting in one and moving to one of the others for the final presentation as professional cartographers do.

You are encouraged to try Auto Realm and Zoner Draw if you don't already have a favorite drawing program. They are fun to work with, especially if you download some of the additional mapping symbol fonts available on the Internet.

Most CADD programs have a reputation for being difficult to use, but you'll find OCAD to be a notable exception. It's designed specifically for cartography and works with simple graphical tools rather than complex commands. OCAD 8's advantage over drawing programs like Zoner Draw is that it can be set to work in a geospatial mode, allowing measurement of lines and areas and export of maps to GIS programs.
OCAD also has snap-alignment features that you won't find in simple drawing programs, making it possible to draw polygons and roads without overlap or voids. Unlike GIS programs, however, the basic version of OCAD is not designed for analysis of geospatial data.

Map Maker Gratis is a powerful geospatial mapping/GIS program and learning tool. Create your own polygons, lines, points and text and save them to layers. Edit the objects. Use the Query tool to read the area and perimeter of polygons, the length of lines or to analyze data associated with an object. The ability to associate data or other files (such as photos or notes) to map objects is the most distinguishing feature between GIS programs like Gratis and simpler drawing or CAD programs.

Be sure to download the Map Maker Manual. Its sixteen chapters are an excellent reference about digital mapping, explaining many concepts in clear language. The Map Maker manual will be useful whether you stick with Map Maker Gratis, move up to Map Maker Pro or work with other professional GIS programs such as Manifold, ArcView, MapInfo or others.


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Last Updated 10/13/2022 12:33:47 PM