New World Topo Basemap Design: An Insider Peek

A great map often starts with a great basemap. It’s the canvas upon which we paint our operational layers, providing context and bringing them to life.  Esri has published many different kinds of basemaps, including Streets, Imagery, Topographic, and more. These basemaps are continually updated as new information becomes available.

One of the most popular basemaps (and the default ArcGIS Online basemap) is the World Topographic basemap, also known as the “Community Basemap.” It’s a GIS crowd-sourced basemap that compiles data from many GIS users that participate in Esri’s Community Maps Program.

The basemap is compiled from the best available sources, and includes boundaries, cities, water features, physiographic features, parks, landmarks, transportation, and buildings. Updates are published monthly, and you can find more details on ArcGIS Online.

The original design for the basemap was based on a USGS topographic map. While recognizable to users in the US, it was not a design that people outside of the U.S. expected to see, and that’s one of the drivers for change.   “The new design has more global appeal,” says David Watkins, Esri cartography product manager. “It underscores our commitment to the global community.”

Here’s a peek at the updated basemap, with the still-in-progress new design on the left, and the current design on the right:

Features of the new cartographic design include:

  • Unified global design
  • Contemporary look and feel
  • Provides a better background to overlay your data
  • Consistent data across all map scales

“This release of the World Topographic Basemap shows Esri’s continued commitment to great cartography,” said Sean Breyer, ArcGIS Online content program manager. “The basemap provides an excellent canvas to overlay information, and with the new design will expand the color palette our users can choose from to display their data effectively.”

The World Topgraphic map is important to GIS users and Web developers, and is the basemap of choice for many maps and applications. It’s extremely popular, and that fact provides an opportunity to get a lot of feedback.

“The World Topographic Map gets several million map views each day,” says Deane Kensok, ArcGIS Online program manager. “The changes we’ve made are based directly on user feedback, and in reviewing the many ways the map is being used.”

Esri will be completing the update soon, working with the community of contributors from around the world. I’m definitely looking forward to its public release.

Bern Szukalski

About Bern Szukalski

Tech evangelist and product strategist at Esri, focusing on ways to broaden access to geographic information and helping users succeed with the ArcGIS Platform. On a good day I'm making a map, on a great day I'm on one. Follow @bernszukalski or email
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  1. thanosdoganis says:

    Please consider for annotation to be bilingual. It is very important and useful for Countries that use other than Latin alphabet. Our company , Terra Ltd. Greece, which is already contributor for the map of Greece, is willing to help. Thanos , 

  2. mimidu says:

    Input your comments here…I do not find the newer topo maps to be of much value.  I can see there is some elevation by shadows, I can see where cities are located and streets.  However, I still want a topo map to do just that – tell me what the actual elevation of the contour as well as show the contour.  To meet my company needs, I must locate the old USGS Quad maps and bring them into my GIS maps.

    • Bern Szukalski Bern Szukalski says:

      mimidu – thanks for the comments. It’s difficult to hit the perfect zone of preferences for everyone, but that’s one of the reasons that we offer a variety of basemaps to choose from. We do still publish the USGS topo maps on ArcGIS Online, though they were removed from the basemap gallery so we could provide a more globally agreeable selection. The topo maps can be searched and opened directly from ArcGIS Online, and you can also use them as your basemap. Here’s a post from last year that specifically shows how to discover and use the USGS topo map service:

      - bern