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Eight cartography tips to make maps that will wow your audience

Our 2021 Map Calendar Contest is now open! Submit your map for a chance to win one of the 12 spots in Esri Canada’s 2021 Map Calendar. To help you get started, we’ve compiled eight of our favourite cartography tips that will help you impress the judges and the GIS community with your amazing creations.

1. Get inspired by the Esri User Conference Map Gallery and Esri Canada’s Map Calendar Contest winners

If all you need is inspiration, we’ve got you covered. Check out these beautiful, fun and informative maps from the 2020 Esri User Conference. (I’m partial to the STARWARS OPORD: Clone Trooper Movement to Counter, the 3D Wastewater Treatment Plant and the Common Words in City Names maps myself.) Esri Canada also has our own compilation of awesome maps from past Map Calendar Contests; view the map gallery.

2. Use these perennial tips to make your map stand out

Colour, line and shape—just a few of the basic elements of art that can be useful to consider when making an aesthetically pleasing map. Check out this blog post by Lisa Berry on some of the careful adjustments you can make to your map in ArcGIS Online or Map Viewer. Lisa will take you through colour, how to emphasize patterns, how to handle outlines and more.

GIS Geography’s “33 Map Elements to Include in Cartographic Design: A ‘How to’ Guide to Map Making” is another great resource. Use its 33 elements as a checklist while you’re refining your map and you’ll end up with an attractive, meaningful work of art.

3. Use Blend Modes to show the topography of an underlying layer without sacrificing clarity

It used to be that you needed to alter the transparency of an upper layer to showcase both the texture of a map’s topography and the colours of a choropleth layer. This often resulted in washed-out colours, making it harder to make sense of the resulting map.

The latest release of ArcGIS Online’s Map Viewer Beta has implemented Blend Modes, which you might be familiar with if you’ve ever worked in Photoshop. Read this article from Esri’s Mark Harrower to learn how to apply this awesome new feature to the maps you’re working on.

4. Use ArcGIS Maps for Adobe Creative Cloud to generate beautiful maps like these

Learn how to make beautiful recreational overview maps with these great tips from Esri blogger Sarah Bell.

If you’re accustomed to making informative maps for work, you might not always have gotten the opportunity to make your maps as beautiful as you’d like. But with ArcGIS Maps for Adobe Creative Cloud, aesthetics are front and centre.

Learn how to add local files to add your own map content to an Illustrator file, replace default symbols with your own and add inset locator maps with Sarah Bell’s post over on the Esri blog.

5. Inject your map with new energy with these one-minute hacks

Learn to tweak and customize your map in dozens of different ways with these one-minute map hacks. (Here, we’re learning how to use a different font and colour for the credit line in a map.)

Feeling experimental? Want to get an infusion of new life but don’t want to spend hours learning a complex new technique? John Nelson over on the Esri blog has compiled 25 one-minute map hacks that you can test out on your own map for fun and profit. In this latest edition, learn how to create a reverse area of interest, take information from one layer and cut it into the shape of another, and make the default credit line match the rest of your map. (Don’t worry—there are links to the previous 20 one-minute hacks right at the top of the article.)

6. Learn how to make your map labels pop with this tutorial series

As Esri cartographer Heather Smith says in the first tutorial in this series for ArcGIS Pro, “Text can make or break a map.” Good labelling practices can make maps easier to read for your audience, improve recognition of important features and make your own job easier when you’re working with a later draft. With the help of an example project package you can download and edit yourself, Heather shows you how to improve your labelling skills, use annotation to place labels exactly where you want them and finish your map with layout text. You’ll be making clearer, easier-to-read maps in no time.

7. Experiment with styles in ArcGIS Pro

The My Precious style for ArcGIS Pro turns any real-world map into a fantasy setting worthy of J.R.R. Tolkien himself.

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. There are hundreds of different styles available to you in ArcGIS Pro. Read about some of our favourites:

If you don’t love the above styles, no problem—try making your own.

8. Join the waitlist for the next session of Esri’s wildly popular cartography MOOC

With thousands of graduates, Esri’s massive open online course (MOOC) entitled “Cartography.” is an amazing resource if you’re just getting started making beautiful maps using Esri technology. You’ll learn how to make use of ArcGIS Pro and ArcGIS Online, learn about typography and composition, and do plenty of hands-on exercises so that the lessons sink in. Although there’s no session currently open for registration, you can sign up for the waitlist and be one of the first to join next time the course is held.

Learn more about our 2021 Map Calendar Contest and submit your map by September 30, 2020. Good luck!

This post was translated to French and can be viewed here

About the Author

Dani Pacey is a Marketing Specialist for Esri Canada. She digitized her first map at the tender age of 10 and has been fascinated by the relationships between people and places ever since. An avid technical communicator with degrees in Science & Technology Studies from York University and History of Science & Technology from the University of King's College, Dani has always blended science, social science and the humanities and loves bringing them all together to tell great stories about human life.

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