types of mapping programs

Before I get into how to make maps, let me talk a bit about what programs I’ll be using– and some ones that we’ll be learning together.

  • ArgGIS – This is an ESRI product that can be difficult to acquire, but there’s a ton of features and reliability in this site. At the same time, with such a monopoly, be careful of limitations that ESRI will put before you. This program uses geostpatial information like geodatabase files and shape files in conjunction with spreadsheet data that relates to the geospatial data. Some useful features include linking your own files and datum, data cleaning, georeferencing, styling (colouring, point type, naming, etc), exporting maps, programming and a lot more. Note that this program can only be run on Windows systems.
  • ArcGIS Online – Just as difficult to acquire, if not more. It is substantially more limited in its designing tools and the amount of information you can pack onto it. But it’s a lot more versatile and shareable. If you’re a big map-heavy company, there’s a series of ways to share maps amongst people and your group. There’s also access to others’ maps and datum. This program isn’t meant for static maps the way that ArcGIS is, it’s tailored more towards creating interactive webmaps for supplementing websites.
  • QGIS – If you’re a casual mapper, I suggest looking into this program. The Q is short for Quantum, implying that this like a beta version of ArcGIS. But it’s free and can be used on iOS and Windows, so who’s complaining? I would, however, recommend saving often. QGIS has a similar toolbox to ArcGIS, but it isn’t as polished or reliable.
  • Mapbox – Almost a strictly web mapping platform, Mapbox is a great tool. However, the learning curve might be a bit steeper in comparison with the previous tools. However, the amount of freedom you have in comparison to ArcGIS is huge. You can also store your own datasets onto their site. But I forewarn that they run strictly on vector files, so if you’re trying to convert it into ArcMap or meld it with some other raster data, you might run into some problems. Also, if you’re not a huge company trying to take over the world, it’s free to use! They also supply a lot of their own tutorials for Mapbox Studio and Mapbox GL JS (and it’s an open source company, so you can get pretty much everything on GitHub). Mapbox Studio is more for making base maps for your GL JS or uploading them onto other webmapping programs. Mapbox GL JS stands for something like Graphics Library JavaScript (but don’t quote me on that). So the really cool part of this one is that you can add essentially whatever you can come up with onto these maps using JavaScript functions. If you don’t know JavaScript though, I might suggest learning some basic things and going through their tutorials before diving into headfirst into Gl JS.
  • Adobe Illustrator & Sketch (Mac only) – These design based tools are useful for creating your own maps. You have compete control, which is both liberating and tormenting. Because these programs don’t run things like shapefiles or geodatabases, you have to make these things on your own. This is not only physically laborious, but it also means that you have to make huge cartographic decisions when simplifying, eliminating and doing anything that isn’t exactly the base map you’re tracing or imitating.
  • Mapzen – For now, I just know that it’s comparative to Mapbox. When I know more myself, I’ll update this.
    • EDIT: Check this out along with its corresponding GitHub & fall in love.
  • CARTO – This is also used heavily for interactive web mapping. Personally, I’ve only used it to merge data sets and overlay their points, lines and polygons tools over base maps I made on Mapbox. To add interactivity on CARTO, you’d have to use SQL instead. I’ll update this as I dive more into it myself.
  • OpenStreetMap – This is a good place to grab open source data. We’ll explore this later on.
  • Google Earth Engine – So this one is a bit unlike all of the others because it’s remote sensing more than cartography. In short, remote sensing are pictures taken from droids or satellites. The really cool thing is that these can take pictures in our visible light spectrum, but also in other forms that give you about how much vegetation there is in an area or what the topography is like. So what’s the downfall? Because it kinds sounds like this has become a fool proof cartographic method, as far as considering the questions of power and simplification. Well, this data isn’t nearly as accessible and you don’t have control over what you can do nearly as much as in any other program. Google Earth Engine also has fantastic tutorials that teach you how to use their program and even some JavaScript, as that’s what their program runs off of. So in the context of JavaScript, you have some control. Google Earth Engine is not explicitly publicly open. You’ll have to submit a reason why you want to use their data, however.
  • Apple Maps – Apple is the epitome of capitalism when it comes to allowing you to do anything with even your own data. But I’ll still show you some cool things with Apple Maps, if I can.
  • Google Maps – Sort of similar to Apple, Google isn’t that great from a cartographic standpoint, but we can still talk about their cartography and mass implementation. If you have an Android phone or even just Google Maps, then you are permitted access to your own data, which we can mess around with.

I know there’s a handful of programs that I’m not too familiar with at the moment. But I’m here to learn just as much as you are!

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