Category: Mapping

Creating an elevation legend

By Mamata Akella, Esri Design Cartographer

Elevation Legend thumb

A common question that we get on Mapping Center is how to create an elevation legend in ArcMap. In September of 2007, there was a blog entry on Mapping Center (Creating a legend for hypsometrically tinted shaded relief) that outlined a method for creating a legend for hypsometrically tinted shaded relief. When that blog was written, the option to Convert Graphics to Features was not yet available. This blog outlines a simpler method for creating an elevation legend using this new option (version 9.3 and later).

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Best readable small font

Question: I am creating a landowner map of the county. I am looking for a font that will be the most legible at a small scale. I am currently using arial narrow size 3 for the Landowner Names. I am confined to the size of paper that we can print to (42 inches). It was suggested to try simplex font from cad. Can this easily be done? Or is there a better font for this situation. I am mostly concerned with the legibility on paper not on screen.

Any recommendations would be appreciated.

Answer: There are three things you can consider that relate to type legibility – size, serif vs. sans serif and spacing. Larger fonts with no serifs and more space will be more readable.

Regarding the size, you say that you have a poverty of space, so your choices here are limited. Of course, higher resolution printing will help if you use smaller fonts but even a 3 or 4 pt font will be difficult for most people to read, especially if your readers have older eyes! 5-6 pts is generally the smallest I go, and which I use depends on other type properties, like serifs and counters.

Regarding the serifs, which are the small decorative flares at the end of a character’s line, it is long-proven that larger bodies of type are most readable in a serif typeface because the help us recognize words more easily. Although sans-serif faces are recognized by the letter, thus requiring more work to read, small sets of words, like labels, are easier to read in san-serif typefaces.

Regarding the spacing, this can be considered in terms of spacing between letters, spacing between lines of type and spacing within the letters themselves. Again, if you have a paucity of space, then the most important thing to consider is the spacing within the letters themselves. The “counter” is the enclosed or partially enclosed circular or curved negative space (white space) of some letters such as d, o, and s. The more open this is, the easier to read. Condensed fonts (like Arial Narrow) will have more closed counters and will be less easy to read. Fonts like Simplex have very open counters although the spacing between letters is narrow.

One other consideration is whether you will be sharing this document with others — if so, they need to have the font installed on their computer as well (otherwise it will be replaced with a different font) or you will have to embed the fonts in your document.

Having said all that, fonts that are commonly found on all computers, like Century Gothic and Tahoma (which are installed with Microsoft Office XP) have more open counters.

You’ll have to decide how to weigh all these against one another, but it would seem to me that the open counters would be a major consideration.

One last tip – if you have Maplex, you can use the option to reduce the font size in cases where there is less space (this is on the Fitting Strategy tab of the Placement Properties dialog.)  The advantage of using this approach is that most of your text will appear at the size you specify, and only in the special cases where space is tight will the font be reduced.  Also, you can set the minimum size so that no text is placed that is smaller than the size you specify.

Attachment: land owner map

Formerly a Mapping Center Ask a Cartographer  Q & A.

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Using highway shields of varying widths

By Mamata Akella, Esri Design Cartographer

Highway shields example

Depending on the type of highway you are labeling (interstate highway, U.S. route highway, or state route highway), the standard highway shield symbol may or may not be wide enough for all the characters in your labels. Often, you do not get the desired outcome by simply using one shield for all highway number labels because one size rarely fits all! The numbers look “squished” or they overrun the shield symbol when there are more than two characters (depending on how large you make the shield and the characters). Here are some tricks you can use to create highway shields for labels of varying widths, especially when there are more than two characters in some of the highway names.

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Highlights of the 2009 Esri User Conference

By Aileen Buckley, Mapping Center Lead

UC 2009 Logo

All of us on the Mapping Center Team were at the Esri International User Conference in San Diego, California this past week (July 11-17). We taught Tech Sessions, we demoed our online map services, we had meetings with users, we attended sessions, we judged maps, we promoted books, we solicited feedback on our work, and we made connections for future projects.  We also got to see many people we know and to make new friends! Continue reading

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The Buffer Wizard in ArcMap

By Margaret Maher, Esri Support Services Specialist

Buffer thumbnail

There are two tools you can use to create buffers in ArcGIS—the Buffer tool in ArcToolbox and the Buffer Wizard. Buffers are used not only in analysis of distances and areas around point, line and area features, they are also used in mapping to achieve a number of cartographic effects, such as coastal vignettes. Since there are two tools and multiple methods you can use to create buffers, and each have their particular strengths and weaknesses, we thought it would be good to review these for you. In a related blog post, we’ll describe the tools and methods, how they differ and what you need to consider when using them. Continue reading

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The "map sandwich"

By Charlie Frye, Esri Chief Cartographer

Map Sandwich - Thumbnail

Last week we started telling you about the new ArcGIS Online World Topographic Map. As I was working on the design of that map, with the intent of providing a better basis for mash-ups, I had an idea. It was born of frustration with the fact some mash-ups don’t work because too much information obscures the base map, making for an unreadable, often ugly result. Demographic layers represent a great example of the kind of information that just doesn’t always work well in a simple mash-up.

What I really needed was a way to “sandwich” the demography layer between the terrain and the reference information–that way the reference information would be legible, and I would still be able to understand the demography. Continue reading

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2009 Esri User Conference

By Aileen Buckley, Mapping Center Lead

UC 2009 Logo

Most of the Mapping Center Team will be at the Esri International User Conference in San Diego, California over the next week (July 11-17). If you’re there, look for us in the following presentations:

  • The One Minute Cartographer – Aileen Buckley and Mamata Akella
  • Map Use Book Series – A. Jon Kimerling and Aileen Buckley
  • Local Government Basemaps using ArcGIS – Charlie Frye and others (Scott Oppmann and Steve Grise) Continue reading
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World Topographic map

By Charlie Frye, Esri Chief Cartographer

The Mapping Center Team is pleased to share the ArcGIS Online News announcement that includes the availability of the new World Topographic Map. As several members of the Mapping Center team played a significant role in the design and production of this map, we would like to begin telling you about this map. The World Topographic Map covers the globe to about 1:1,000,000 scale. Within the U.S. (excluding Alaska), the map scale extends to about 1:18,000. The map is a cached map and uses the Virtual Earth/Google Maps tiling scheme (WKID = 102113). What follows are some of the essentials everyone should know about this map, including that the service is free. Continue reading

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Tips for caching ArcGIS Server map services faster

By Charlie Frye, Esri Chief Cartographer

How fast can you cache?  We keep asking ourselves that and keep finding that the more we know the faster we cache.

If you’re involved in the job of caching maps for online map services, you are already familiar with the need to optimize the process as much as possible so that it takes less time and effort. One way you can do this is to optimize how your maps are displayed – another is to optimize the environment you are caching your map in or the circumstances under which you are caching. Continue reading

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ColorBrewer Version 2.0

By Mamata Akella, Esri Design Cartographer

ColorBrewer 2 Thumbnail

Recently, a new version of ColorBrewer called ColorBrewer 2.0 ( was released by Axis Maps. ColorBrewer is a web tool for selecting colors for maps. The original ColorBrewer was released in 2002, and the update incorporates comments that the developers, Dr. Cynthia Brewer of Penn State University and Dr. Mark Harrower of University of Wisconsin Madison (he used to be a grad student at Penn State), have received over the years. Here are some of the new features.
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