Mega-Easy Coastal Stipple Effect

Ah the days of old, our field bursting with artists plying their craft, creating maps of breathtaking imagination and technique. Just window shop here for a moment to fall into the eye-watering depths of cartographic charm.

One of my favorite aspects of these maps is their lovely coastal effects. Often they are water-lines, buffered out at some magical interval, and sometimes they are stippled-in using a pointillist technique to imply varying density and distance.

To give you an idea, here’s a map by Matthew Maury using varied stippling to denote bathymetric levels (inverted, to my mind).


ArcGIS Pro lets us dabble in a flavor of this technique, and it’s actually pretty simple (or mega-easy, depending on your favored parlance). If you are feeling dangerous, you can just download my Pro project and ignore the rest of this post.

In ArcGIS Pro, I rendered up some multi-ring buffers around a global land layer. Instead of filling in each ring with a color, I just used an image fill of dots that I made. That’s it! Here’s what my stipple texture image looks like, all zoomed-in…

You can download this image here. It’s the only image I’ll use to create the coastal stipple effect.

Ok, backing up, here is the layer of the buffered coastal areas. I gave it a graduated color symbology, based on the buffer distance.

Nice and standard. But let’s wind our pocket watches back to 1870 and see what some standard symbology might look like then…

Instead of a color fill, I gave each polygon a “Picture fill”. I chose the same stipple image for each one, and made them slightly smaller and darker the closer they come to land. They stack up on each other, and the difference in stipple density gives a sweet Victorian-era drop-shadow! Here is the steampunky result…

How grand. I wanted to give the background a foxed yellowed period-paper texture, so I snagged a blank page from the Statistical Atlas of the United States and dropped it in the background (and also as a picture fill for the land areas). I gave the stipple fills a blue tint that I eye-dropped from the lovely old atlas and it looks like this…

Actually, in the stipple-map era, they really had no idea what the arctic areas looked like. But we do now. So here’s to impossible throwback maps!

Happy Stipple-Mapping! John

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  1. Alex says:

    Very creative and nice!
    Does it take considerable time to render?

    • John Nelson says:

      Thanks Alex!
      No. In addition to being mega-simple, it’s also mega-fast. It generally took a handful of seconds to render all the stippled buffers on my not-herculean machine. You can try it out on your machine by downloading my Pro project.
      I found that most of the rendering time variation was dependent on the projection I used. So play around with that, too. Also, it’s just fun to play around with different projections. The fact that we can just re-render our entire map into a new projection is still just magical to me. If we could show that to cartographers 50 years ago it would blast the slide rules right out of their pockets.

  2. lcold_salisburyncgis says:

    Fauxback maps, if you will.

  3. warrendz says:

    Hi John,

    Thanks for the cool tips! I recently used a couple of your blog posts (stipple and vignettes) as inspiration/guidance for creating my first map with ArcGIS Pro. One thing I noticed is that if I export the map to PDF the tints that I applied to the stipple picture fill aren’t retained and they take on their original gray appearance. If I export to JPEG, this isn’t a problem and the tints I used appear as expected.