Cartography at NPMap – Tools, Workflows, and Projects

Posted on 11 May 2012 by Mamata Akella

This post is an introduction to some of the technologies we use to build and design the cartographic products you see in many of our web maps. I’ll briefly discuss some of our most recent projects and forthcoming blog posts related to cartographic design.

The NPMap team makes technology decisions based on project requirements. Because our partners have such a wide range of data to represent and stories to tell, we have the opportunity to dabble in cartographic experimentation using multiple tools, workflows, and data sources. We rarely use just one tool or workflow to make our maps – instead, we use a combination.

For data processing and management we use tools like ArcGIS, GDAL, SQLite, and QGIS. For design we use TileMill, ArcGIS, InkScape, and the Adobe suite of products. This list of tools in our toolset expands every day as we continue to explore new methods.

We’re also experimenting with PostGIS, PostgreSQL, and OpenStreetMap data for one of our major cartographic projects – a NPS-styled multi-scale basemap. Using these technologies, we are working with the Harpers Ferry Center to transfer the look and feel of the NPS printed park maps to the web!

In the months to come you can expect more posts about the cartographic workflows we’ve implemented in the maps seen below (and more!). We’ll also provide more technical pieces with step-by-step instructions of what we did to produce a given map or a particular cartographic effect.

Some of our most recent cartographic projects and upcoming cartography related blog posts include:

Annular Solar Eclipse

A web map showing the path of the May 20th, 2012 annular solar eclipse and which National Parks have a view:

Picture of Solar Eclipse Map

Technology used: TileMill (Design), ArcGIS (Data Processing), Dymo (Labeling)

Look for an upcoming technical piece on how to use the open source labeling tool Dymo in conjunction with TileMill to improve label placement.

Footsteps of History

A series of historically-styled basemaps that will be used in an application showing troop movements during the Civil War battles around Richmond, Virginia:

Footsteps of History Map

Technology used: TileMill (Design), ArcGIS (Data Processing)

We will be writing a post on how we implemented the historic look for this map. Topics will include creating tint bands in ArcGIS using the Buffer Wizard and symbolizing them with varying levels of transparency in TileMill.

Mercury Deposition

A web map that displays mercury deposition data for NPS sites:

Mercury Deposition Map

Technology used: TileMill (Design), ArcGIS (Data Processing)

Air Atlas

A web map that displays air visibility data for NPS sites:

Air Atlas Map

Technology used: TileMill (Design), ArcGIS (Data Processing), Dymo (Labeling)

In both of these air-related web maps we used the same web map pattern where multiple map services containing different pieces of information are overlaid on top of one another. We’ll tell you more about how and why we did this from a cartographic perspective.

We are extremely excited to have the opportunity to work on all these projects and try out so many different tools. Our goal with the NPMap blog is to share these experiences with you and outline some best practices for your own mapping endeavors!