Cartographic Principles

From projections to data management to spatial analysis, we have up to now focused on the more technical points of a geographic information system (GIS). This chapter is concerned less with the computational options available to the GIS user and more with the artistic options. In essence, this chapter shifts the focus away from GIS tools and toward cartographic tools, although the two are becoming more and more inextricably bound. Unfortunately, many GIS users are never exposed to the field of cartography. In these cases, the hard work of creating, maintaining, aligning, and analyzing complex spatial datasets are not genuinely appreciated as the final mapping product may not adequately communicate this information to the consumer. Besides, maps, like statistics, can be used to distort information.

Indeed, a strong working knowledge of cartographic rules will not only assist in the avoidance of potential misrepresentation of spatial information but also enhance one’s ability to identify these indiscretions in other cartographers’ creations. The cartographic principles discussed herein are laid out to guide GIS users through the process of transforming accumulated bits of GIS data into attractive, useful maps for print and display.

Learning Outcomes

  • Describe the properties of color and how best to utilize them in cartography.
  • Determine how best to utilize point, line, and polygon symbols to assist in the interpretation of your map and its features.
  • Compare fundamental cartographic principles that contribute to effective map design.
  • Analyze how critical cartography and GIS are a set of mapping practices and lenses of analyzing how maps reflect and perpetuate relations of power, typically in favor of a society’s dominant group.

Chapter Sections



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Introduction to Geographic Information Systems by R. Adam Dastrup, MA, GISP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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