how to make an atlas: templates

I’m starting my thesis project! Where I intend to create an atlas about how the design and planning of our urban and regional areas have made us attuned to not cooking. During this atlas project, I’ll be making a series of maps of San Francisco and the world.

An atlas a trickier than a single map. I have to keep a consistent scale, art board size and attention to each map. The scales have to be consistent, otherwise it the map may accidentally make some places look larger than others. The consistency stays within the SF maps and global maps. If I choose to do singular districts, then I will adjust the scale for that. If some maps had larger art boards, they may appear to be more important, when hat isn’t the case. Additionally, given that this is an atlas of static maps, the maps will need to fit together in a the same booklet. Attention. Making a map is a lot of work. Making a lot of maps can be overwhelming and taxing. Each map has to given the same amount of attention to detail, or you could end up with some pretty maps and some ugly maps. Not only will sloppiness make a map look unaesthetic, but it will also derail your argument. The prettier maps will look more important, while in reality, the point of an atlas is to show multi-spaced connections.

I’m going to approach this with a seemingly simple solution: making a template. The template will be on Adobe Illustrator and layered specifically. A neatline will be necessary to carry over to new maps. And so my work begins…


how to make a map: QGIS

QGIS stands for Quantum GIS (GIS being Geospatial/graphic Information Science, depending on who you ask). You can download it here. QGIS is free to use and can be run on Windows, Mac and Linux. This post is just how to style and export a map.

Your opening page should look something like this, minus the Recent Projects section.

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Now what? Download some data! If you want to follow along with what I’m doing, download this.

Unzip the file, then drag it into QGIS. This window should pop up, and hit “Select All” then “OK.”

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You should see something like this pop up. This is all the files in order. The order can be seen in the left-side box called Layers Panel. But this scale is awful if you look at the titles of our data.

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These are all the tools we’ll use for now. The hand is a panning tool. The +/- magnifying glasses can either be clicked once to zoom in or out or you can pull-draw a box to zoom.

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To get the image below, click the + magnifying glass and pull-draw a box around California.

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Zoom again into Oakland. Now look at the Layers Panel again. Unclick and rearrange as I have done to get below.

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Checkmark: So far we have (a) dragged files, (b) zoomed in, (c) organised layers.

But this map is so ugly. Double click a layer to bring up it’s Properties>Style to change colours.

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You may choose how you want to colour your map. (We’ll get into colouring conventions and importance later, just try to see if you can change them). Now we’re going to export the map into Map Layout by pressing Project>New Print Composer. A small dialogue box will ask you to name it.

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Aaaand now your map is gone!  But don’t fret, just scroll downwards.

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Go to the top and click Layout, then whatever you want to add. Add Map will add the map you have in QGIS. Then draw-pull your map onto the page. You can then do the following for whatever else you want to add.

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To add text, click add Label. You can then change the text box in the right-middle panel. Then you can further customise it by clicking “Font.”

I organised my map like this. But there’s still a lot that can be done! Can you think of what?

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Congrats on making your first map!

how to make a map: mental map

Hello! Finally! How to make a map!

We’re going to start off pretty simply, ie no computers– unless you so desire. Let’s go over the thought process of making a map: what’s the purpose/message, who’s the audience, what materials will be used, how is this going to be displayed?

We’re going to go over how to make a mental map because of its flexibility and virtually 0 learning curve.

  • What is a Mental Map & Why are We Starting Here?
  • First Steps: Thinking, really
  • Next Steps: Creating
  • Final Steps: Editing

What is a Mental Map & Why are We Starting Here?

I’m starting off with mental maps because they’re as easy or as hard as you want to make them, and it really is much more about the conceptual thinking and thought process that comes with cartography. In short, a mental map is some sort of visual of spatial phenomena. They’re often of your own thoughts and perhaps even phenomena. A mental map can be as simple as scribbling how you get from your house to your job on a napkin to something as elaborate to an Illustrator-crafted, printed version of the very same thing. By creating a mental map of your own phenomena, you’ll soon realise that you’re making a ton of choices about inclusion/exclusion, colours, scale, simplification and much more.

There’s also no datum involved in these maps except for what you already no by heart, so this isn’t a beast of a project if you’re afraid of handling datum.

First Steps: Thinking, really

It is a mental map after all. But in all honesty, the more work you put upfront in really clarifying and refining the concept of your map will help you out for the rest of the process. Write things down: what do you do a lot and where do you do it? Are you noticing patterns in your own behaviour? Mapping your own tendencies might even help you realise things about your own habits that are either beneficial or costly! The important part is that you’re discovering there are spatial patterns to yourself & you can control what happens. Amongst these thousands of mental map ideas you already have buzzing around, what makes sense to put together? How you see your city? Checking how you you think you get to work? Discovering these spatial relationships will reveal a lot about yourself and how you interact with the world around you.

Next Steps: Creating

If you’re satisfied with your thought process–or perhaps even if you’re not– let’s move on to actually creating the map! What you’ll need: I have no idea because this totally depends on you. I once made a mental map out of only multi-colour paper and glue. Your map could be hand drawn (or cut!) or even chiselled for all I care. You just have to start. I can’t really give you too much guidance because this is your own map and cognitive process. But I do advise you to stay away from reference maps. The point is not to perfectly replicate what you see, but rather to record what you think.

Final Steps: Editing

So you have your mental map completed, and you’re so eager that you show all your friends, but they have no idea if they’re looking at potentially the worst snake ever drawn or your route to work. Time to start editing. Always remember to really consider your audience, even if it’s just friends & family. During the editing process, this might be a good time to cross-reference your map with the ubiquitous Google Map. But do so cautiously and sparingly, please I’m literally begging you. Aside from spatial competence, you want to make sure your idea/message is really clear in your map. Look at your iconography, flows, colours, scale, whatever and make sure that it’s doing a justice for your map.

Good luck, and have fun!