November 3, 2020

Map Publishing in Global Mapper

Written by: David McKittrick


I have to admit that I am a vestige of a bygone generation, cartographically speaking of course. For me, the word ‘map’ still evokes memories of a bedroom wall adorned with National Geographic pull-outs or a tatty road atlas of Europe whose pages elicit fond memories of family road-trips. In my mind, a map is, first and foremost, a sheet of paper.

Over the last few decades, the advent and rapid evolution of digital mapping technology have fundamentally changed how we perceive, represent, and share information about our world. Today, a map is much more likely to be rendered using an app on a phone or a window in a web browser. According to the prevailing consensus, paper maps are obsolete and inefficient, and have no practical use beyond esthetic or decorative appeal. It’s time to dispel this notion.

Paper maps are inherently interoperable; they do not require a specific software or hardware configuration for viewing; they are effectively immune to power outages or connectivity issues; and they seldom require technical support. In short, they are arguably the most effective way to share geospatial data with a virtually unlimited audience.

Luckily for users of Global Mapper, this venerable software offers a plethora of tools for printing or publishing the results of any geospatial process; from simply printing the contents of the map view in 2D or 3D, to designing a professional-quality poster or atlas. In this article, we explore some of the map publishing capabilities of Global Mapper.

Any map design process must begin with the data. How should the features on the map be displayed? Is a supplementary base-map needed to provide context? Is it important to convey the spatial distribution of a particular characteristic of the data? Are labels necessary? When faced with these decisions, it is important to consider the audience. For whom is this map intended? A map is fundamentally a medium for communication, so it is essential that the map creator and viewer are speaking the same ‘language’.

The simplest and most effective way to convey information in its geographic context is to apply a consistent visual pattern to the features on the map. Broadly described as thematic mapping, this pattern might reflect a numeric value, in which case the visual representation is best represented as an increased intensity of a particular color, or it may represent a recurring name or description, in which case the assigned colors can be random and distinct.

In the example above, a vector polygon layer showing conserved lands in the state of Maine has been imported into Global Mapper and overlaid on a base map containing town and county borders. On the left, the map shows the generic appearance of the layer, while on the right, random colors have been applied to reflect the ownership of the land. A legend has been added to the on-screen display describing the meaning of the colors.

While Global Mapper offers the option of quickly printing this map or simply capturing the screen contents, there is a much more powerful Map Layout tool available.

Accessed from the File toolbar or from the Tools menu, the initial dialog box of the Map Layout Editor offers three options that will define the overall appearance of the map: the size and orientation of the paper, the geographic extent of the map to be printed, and the scale of the printed map. Choosing the settings for two of these variables will automatically set the third. For instance, if a specific page size and extent are required, it is not possible to manually set a scale.

In this dialog box, it is also possible to choose a previously saved template, from which all of the settings for a layout design will be automatically applied.

After confirming the overall layout parameters, the Map Layout Editor window will appear. This what-you-see-is-what-you-get interface offers numerous options for adding supplementary elements to enhance the design of the map prior to printing. Options include a scale bar, north arrow, map legend, text (for a heading or descriptive text), and images.

In the example above, the Maine conserved lands layer has been loaded into the Map Layout Editor. The map has been centered and latitude/longitude tick marks have been placed around the neatline. Below the map, a title, scale bar, legend, and image of the State of Maine seal have been inserted.

The size, positioning, style, and other characteristics of these elements can be manually assigned, or they can be matched and aligned with other elements for a polished, professional look.

The Map Layout Editor window is dockable so it can be positioned adjacent to the main Global Mapper map window allowing any adjustments to the display of the map itself, such as colors or feature labels, to be automatically reflected in the Layout Editor.

After the element insertion and positioning processes are complete, the map is ready to be printed or to be exported as a geospatial PDF. These options are available from the File menu in the Map Layout Editor, from where it is also possible to save a template of the current layout, which can subsequently be applied to future printed maps.

The word ‘map’ is derived from the medieval Latin phrase, ‘Mappa Mundi’, which literally means ‘sheet of the world’. Today, however, a map is much more likely to be rendered in pixels than on parchment. Nonetheless, printed maps still play a pivotal role in sharing or communicating geospatial data, and for users of Global Mapper, the Map Layout tools provide the means to create the highest quality printed maps.

If you missed the recent webinar on map publishing in Global Mapper, you can now watch the recording of the session. If you have any questions, please contact

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