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Mapping Toolbox - Viewers, Editors and
Other Essential Software

*** Back to Desktop Mapping Information for Resource Managers ***

There are many useful programs available on the Internet for making maps. Trying to learn the capabilities of each can be time consuming. A few basic software tools, however, will get you started with digital cartography. The products listed here are available free. A few may offer additional features after payment of a registration fee.

2D and 3D Mapping Software
Map Viewers and Utilities
Forestry GIS (fGIS™)
Tatuk AIC® Trial
GPS Tools


2D and 3D Spatial Mapping Software

Forestry GIS (fGIS™) is a remarkable, free GIS digitizer and shapefile editing program and GIS viewer for Windows® from the University of Wisconsin and Wisconsin DNR - Division of Forestry. It provides complete mapping functionality similar to commercial programs costing hundreds or thousands of dollars. The software is designed for resource managers who want to easily make land planning and operations maps with minimal training.
The program is ideal for tracing over aerial photographs and other images. fGIS opens geo-referenced digital orthophotos and topographic maps in MrSID®, ECW, BIL, JPG, TIFF, GeoTIFF, BMP and PNG file formats. It saves point, line and area vector data in ESRI® shapefile format. Advanced map drawing features include snap, split and a COGO-like traverse tool. A shapefile projection utility within fGIS converts data between Geographic, Wisconsin Transverse Mercator, and UTM coordinate systems. The program can load very large data layers and gives complete control over display properties. Users can designate the scale at which maps are printed. A page layout module provides design and annotation tools that can be applied to fGIS map images.

For details and to download the program, see the fGIS page.

Global Mapper® is a versatile program, designed to simplify digital mapping and make spatial technology accessible to everyone.

As a free viewer for geographic data, Global Mapper opens most image and vector map files. Global Mapper seamlessly integrates data layers even if projections or scales vary. Open your first layer in the desired projection, and additional layers from other projections will be converted to align with the first "on the fly". Users can change the view by choosing layers to display, turning 3D hill shading on or off, modifying the color scheme, adjusting line width and color, selecting point symbols and other techniques. Global Mapper can measure areas and distances, and it generates a constant readout of the latitude/longitude coordinates of the cursor. With version 5, Global Mapper goes further by adding image rectification and the ability to draw and edit your own map objects. (When using the free version of Global Mapper, you can save images of maps you draw with a screen capture program.)

With payment of a small registration fee, Global Mapper performs an amazing suite of additional functions. The registered program saves your work and easily translates data files between formats and projections. It can save images with geo-referencing so they can be accurately placed in other mapping programs, create and save elevation contour lines, determine what terrain can be seen from a given vantage point, and much more.

Visit Global Mapper or USGS to download the program or to view a full list of its features. (The USGS version of Global Mapper is distributed under the name dlgv32Pro.)

USAPhotoMaps™ automatically retrieves and displays TerraServer aerial photos or topographic maps. It is one of the fastest tools available to collect TerraServer image tiles for base maps of any size. Use USAPhotoMaps to quickly get latitude, longitude or UTM coordinates for any position. GPS waypoints, routes and tracks can be displayed as map overlays and transferred to or from GPS units.

A companion program, BigJPEG, will assemble downloaded images into single, georeferenced base maps that can be opened by geospatial programs or drawing programs.

USAPhotoMaps, BigJPEG and a utility to display elevations in USAPhotoMaps are available for free download from JDMCox Software.

For more information and instruction for using USAMaps™ and BigJPEG, click here.

3DEM™ produces three dimensional terrain scenes from 2D images ...great for analyzing fire control, erosion, aesthetic management and other resource issues. The program can provide high-resolution 3D views using many elevation model sources, including new data from the Space Shuttle Radar Topography Mission. Create animated flights through virtual terrains of real places. Connect with Garmin or Magellan Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers to display waypoints, routes, and tracks in 3D or generate elevation profiles of GPS tracks.
Use aerial photos, topographic maps, screen captures, scanned photos, Landsat images or other source material for 3DEM projects. Rotate and scale terrains to fashion the view you want. 3DEM is relatively simple to learn and a terrific tool for virtual modeling of the Earth's surface. Find instructions in 3D Maps page.
3DEM is a product of Visualization Software LLC by Richard Horne. See the 3DEM Gallery for more examples.

MARPLOT is designed for viewing and making maps derived from US Census TIGER® line data. Both the MARPLOT program and the TIGER basemaps are available for free download. The program and data are produced by the US Census Bureau, US Environmental Protection Agency and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The TIGER derived basemaps have predefined display properties, making them easy to load and navigate. MARPLOT also features a utility to import ESRI® shapefiles in UTM, Geographic (lat/lon) and Albers projections. A layer control center allows you to determine at what scale features or their labels and symbols appear in the map. User layers can be created for new point, line and area objects. Objects' lengths and areas/perimeters are automatically saved. Typical line, polygon and text drawing tools are included, but more advanced features such as snap or COGO functions are not.

Click for larger image

Aerial photographs and other scanned images can be used as basemaps in MARPLOT. The program offers two methods to geo-reference images. The first involves providing the latitude and longitude for two points on the image. The second allows users to dynamically drag and stretch an image until it corresponds with loaded vector data. Very nice! (Click the image on the left for a screenshot.)

You can print maps made in MARPLOT or export image or vector (enhanced metafile) files. The exported files are not, however, georeferenced for use in other GIS programs.

MARPLOT is part of a suite of programs developed by the US Census Bureau and EPA for accessing demographic data and planning environmental protection programs. If you enjoy scientific inquiry, MARPLOT and the companion programs, LandView 5 and CAMEO are definitely a class act.

Download the free MARPLOT Program (for PC or Macintosh computers) here.

Specially formatted, TIGER® Line derived US basemaps for MARPLOT are available for download here.

Map Maker Gratis™ and Map Maker Pro™ are produced in the United Kingdom and used around the world by foresters, farmers, soil conservationists, biologists and other resource managers who have found Map Maker practical to teach themselves. The 257 page manual is a valuable cartography and GIS instruction source.

Map creation, editing, printing, compatibility, import and export features in the free version of Map Maker Gratis include:
  • Vector drawing and editing
  • Unlimited number of image and vector layers
  • Create from new or import and edit
  • Measure areas and distances
  • Intuitive cutting and joining of polygons
  • Simple editing of common boundaries
  • Numerous "snap-to" options
  • Drag, stretch, rotate, duplicate groups of objects
  • Create buffer zones around an object
  • Calibrate raster images
  • Generate legends
  • Color, monochrome and grayscale bitmap backgrounds
  • Large range of fill, line and symbol styles
  • Translucent and semi-translucent fills
  • Curved, stretched and outline text
  • Arrows and dimension lines
  • Add scale bars, north points, legends, text panels, inset images, etc.
  • Include text and charts from MS Word
  • Query data associated with map objects (sample to the right)
  • Point-and-click to pop-up images, documents and internet links
  • Print accurately scaled maps on Windows compatible printers
  • Multi-sheet printing of large maps
  • Thematic maps from DBF data
  • Import ArcView SHP, MapInfo MIF and AutoCAD DXF vector data
  • View BMP, TIF and JPG raster data
  • Export BMP, JPG and TIF image files
  • Export attribute data to DBF
  • Share your maps and a copy of the free Map Maker Gratis software with others

A complete table comparing Gratis and Map Maker Pro is available at Map Maker LTD.

Map Maker Gratis works well with images and vector data from many coordinate systems. For trouble-free map creation, however, take care that all the data you intend to combine in a project base map has the same projection/datum structure. Gratis will automatically position GeoTiff image files if they are in the same projection as vector data used in your base maps.

When you download the Map Maker program, you get both the Gratis and Pro versions. Map Maker Pro (which has many more exceptional capabilities, including 3D mapping) runs in a free trial mode for 30 days, after which it will continue to operate with no restrictions in the Gratis mode.

For more information about innovative GIS alternatives (including Map Maker Pro, Manifold System Professional and Delorme XMap), see Digital Grove's GIS Software Overview.

OCAD®, a Computer Assisted Cartography program originally designed for making maps for orienteering courses, is made by Steinegger Software of Baar, Switzerland. Orienteering is a competitive sport that combines running, cycling, skiing, etc. to points on specialized maps. OCAD is one of the simplest and most enjoyable programs you will find for making professional-looking 2D maps for any purpose.

OCAD lets you start with a clean page or add in an aerial photo or other image as a base template. If you use GeoTIFF images for the template, OCAD version 8 will automatically import them to scale. Other images can be scaled manually, allowing measurement of areas and distances.

OCAD works with a rich set of fills, lines and point symbols. The program comes with five pre-defined symbol sets, and you can create new ones. Map objects with the same attributes are placed in discrete layers for easy editing.

The OCAD version 8 free trial is full-featured but limited to 1,000 map objects (more than enough to make a resource map for most medium-sized tracts). Version 6, released as freeware, is complete but unable to make geospatial measurements. (The registered, professional version of OCAD 8 adds GIS database functionality and the ability to export to ESRI shape files.)

Data and Surface Mapping Software

Surfer® from Golden Software creates contour, surface, wire frame, vector, shaded relief and other types of 3D surface maps. Its output can be striking. The free trial version allows you to examine your own data. Printing, saving and clipboard functions are disabled. Digital Grove's instructions for getting started with Surfer are available here.

Click for a larger image 3DField is a contouring, surface plotting and 3D data program. All facets of 2D or 3D maps can be customized to produce stunning depictions of your data. Click the image on the left, showing a 3D distribution of family-owned woodlands in Wisconsin, for a full-screen example.

The developer provides a free, fully-functional demo that is limited to 50 data points (enough to help you experiment and appreciate the power of the program). 3DField provides eleven 2D and 3D map templates that can be precisely tailored, scaled and rotated for incredible views. Click here for step-by-step procedures used in the project on the left, made with the free trial.

3DField is the product of 15 years of refinement by Vladimir Galouchko, the Russian developer. See the 3DField web site for complete details.

Click for larger image SurGe is another intriguing program that grids and maps data. The developer, Miroslav Dressler, is a hydrologic engineer in the Czech Republic. The software is fully functional at no cost, with an invitation to register for a small fee. Download the program for free.
Surge produces three basic types of maps: color contours (left), isolines, and 3D maps. Click the image on the left for additional examples. The program offers numerous data interpolation and smoothing routines and includes detailed documentation that explains the mathematical principles involved.
Data is input with simple ASCII text files that define the x-y position of each point, z (the data value) and a label field. Used in tandem with other free software (such as fGIS), one can easily generate text files for the creation of boundaries (like the outline of Wisconsin) or the position of data points. For a tutorial, click here.

Natural Resources Database (NRDB) bridges tabular statistics with spatial data (points, lines and areas) to create thematic maps. As an example, the NRDB tutorial illustration to the left shows the annual rainfall of municipalities in a province as different colors. Use NRDB to:

  • Design and store databases for either spatial or non-spatial information
  • Import records from Excel, Access and other ODBC compliant formats and associate them with spatial data
  • Utilize map objects made with other mapping and GIS programs, downloaded from the Internet, or created with an included digitizing utility (which geo-references scanned or downloaded maps and aerial photos that you can trace over to make shapefiles)
  • Produce reports and graphs from database queries or generate thematic maps from records linked to spatial data
Richard D. Alexander, of the U.K., originally produced NRDB for the Philippine Province of Bohol and now offers the free program to encourage sustainable management of resources around the world. His vision for NRDB, FAQs and other useful information are available at the NRDB User Group.

Although NRDB can draw map geometry through its digitizing utility "Image to Shapefile", NRDB's primary strength is thematic mapping utilizing existing spatial data. Mr. Alexander recently launched NRDB View, an open source shapefile viewer and editor that will provide additional map drawing capabilities as it evolves. If you are a programmer, you might consider helping with the NRDB View project.

The free DIVA-GIS software is designed to plot data and perform statistical analysis of spatial data distributions. The program converts tabular data into point shapefiles and plots them with other GIS layers. ESRI® shapefile, grid, TIFF, JPEG and Lizardtech® MrSID file types are supported.
Additional features offered by DIVA-GIS include:
  • An image layout module where maps can be annotated
  • Grid manipulation (calculator, aggregate, neighborhoods)
  • Conversion of lat/lon data to other projections
  • Export/import of grid and shapefile data
  • Statistical analysis tools such as histograms and scattergrams to highlight data correlation
  • Multiple regression with grids
  • Display of satellite images or digital orthophotos as basemaps
  • Geo-positioning of unreferenced basemap images
  • GPS data import (as points, lines, or polygons)
  • Climate envelope modeling
  • Prediction of crop adaptation (Ecocrop
  • ...and more

To download the program, data and tutorials, visit the DIVA-GIS web page.

Non-Spatial Map Drawing Software

Tekhnelogos PowerDraw: Tekhnelogos is a software company in Istanbul, Turkey. They released freeware PowerDraw to demonstrate the strength of PowerCad, their Delphi/Visual Basic programming application. PowerDraw is, itself, an exceptional vector drawing program well suited to drawing maps or annotating aerial photographs or maps produced in other programs such as fGIS.
With PowerDraw, you can:
  • Draw and edit line, polyline, rectangle, polygon, bezier, circle, ellipse, arc, pie, chord and text objects
  • Use a variety of pens and area fills
  • Create text objects with any font installed in the system
  • Drag and drop vector symbols from block libraries you can build and edit
  • Manipulate images (scale, flip, mirror, rotate, and a unique tool to trim a bitmap based on a vector shape)
  • Add OLE objects
  • Insert WMF/EMF files as editable objects
  • Export the drawing as WMF file or BMP
  • Save the project or send it to a printer or plotter

Tekhnelogos held nothing back in building PowerDraw (complete with no restrictions or limitations) to showcase what can be created with the PowerCad programming application. You can download the PowerDraw installation setup from Tekhnelogos. If you are a software developer, you might also want to get the free PowerCad trial.

Zoner Draw 3® is a free graphics program to use with either vector or bitmap images. It has three modules. The Media Explorer quickly builds thumbnail views of all the graphic files found in a folder (an easy way to browse the maps you've made or downloaded). Right-click a thumbnail view to display it in the Zoner Viewer, which will complete all the typical adjustments such as brightness, contrast, sharpness and user-specified rotation. The main Zoner Draw program is an agile vector-drawing system. Use it to make maps by tracing over digital orthophotos from TerraServer or other sources. The transparency of the base map image can be adjusted so it doesn't compete with the vector overlays you create. Zoner Draw 3 will export your graphics to over ten different raster and vector formats.
Maps produced with Zoner Draw do not contain any spatial data. As a result, you cannot measure areas or distances directly in Zoner Draw. If your image has an associated "world coordinate file" (e.g., ending in "tfw" for a calibrated TIFF file or "jpw" for a calibrated JPEG file) you can, however, still open it in spatial mapping programs like Global Mapper or fGIS even after making adjustments/additions in Zoner Draw as long as the image has not been resized or rotated.

In combination with other free software, you can use the Zoner Viewer to convert a JPEG image made by USAPhotoMaps/BigJPEG into a GeoTIFF file. (Map Maker Gratis and 3DEM will correctly scale and position GeoTIFF layers automatically.)

1. Use Zoner Viewer to open a JPEG aerial photo made by USAPhotoMaps-BigJPEG. Tune up the contrast-brightness-sharpness to suit your needs. (If you wish, you can also add text, lines or symbols in Zoner Draw.)

2. Convert the image to a TIFF format file with Zoner Viewer's "Convert" tool.

3. Use Properties Plus to rename the image's "jgw" world coordinate file so it has a "tfw" extension.

4. Use another free utility called GeoTIFF Examiner to change the paired TIFF and "tfw" files into a single GeoTIFF file. GeoTIFF Examiner will write the world coordinate calibration into the header of the TIFF file. (Note: Do not create the GeoTIFF file until you are done making adjustments with Zoner.)

is a dynamite commercial upgrade. (USAPhotoMaps and other shadowed text logos on this page were designed with Zoner 4.) For other map drawing options, check out AutoREALM (below).

AutoREALM™ is a free GNU, open source mapping program. It's a vector drawing program designed specifically for making maps. Most operations like selecting line types and mapping symbols or drawing areas are uncomplicated. AutoRealm can load raster images (like aerial photos from TerraServer, USGS topo maps or screen captures from Global Mapper) as backgrounds over which you can trace features, add symbols or write text.
AutoRealm works well for making stand-alone resource management maps that are not part of a geospatial framework. Since the program is also used to create maps for role-playing games, it has some unusual symbol libraries specific for gaming. You can make maps that might appear to come straight from Tolkien's Hobbit or more formal, technical map drawings. The choice is yours. Depending on the purpose, stylized maps can be informative and interesting.

The program can export image and vector files for use in other programs. Although images in AutoRealm are not geo-referenced, complementary mapping programs like Map Maker Gratis, 3DEM or OziExplorer can register the images if you know the latitude/longitude of a couple points on the map.
Click to go to Drawing programs can take advantage of mapping symbol fonts (like those to the left) that are freely available on the Internet. One of the advantages of trying free viewers from professional GIS companies (like ESRI, ERDAS, MapInfo, MapTech, etc.) is that they install many of their symbol fonts into your Windows font folder, giving you the opportunity to explore them.

*** Back to Desktop Mapping Information for Resource Managers ***

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Last Updated 10/13/2022 12:33:49 PM