View Full Version : elements of a map

01-28-2014, 07:54 PM
Hi all,

this probably exists somewhere, but I searched for a while now and couldn't find anything on this topic, so here it is.

I am completely new to maps and cartography, all I have done until I joined here yesterday were basic "this is the general shape of my land"-maps, usually drawn by hand, sometimes with photoshop, but always very basic. Since I discovered this forum I have spent a lot of time looking at other people's maps and I have realized that I know absolutely nothing about all this.
So what did I do? I searched for a topic on the general elements of maps. or cartography in general. or something like this. Just a thread or tutorial or whatever that would list and explain the possible elements of a map for me: land, sea, scale, symbols, text, legend, etc. you get the picture.
The thing is that many maps included heraldry symbols or those interesting lines all starting from the same point and crossing each other, and many other things that I know nothing of.
So what do you think would it be possible to create a beginner's guide to maps? Not how to make one (the tutorials here are amazing and cover that part fully) but just what elements can be included in a map, what are they, what is their use, and ideally of course links to tutorials or threads showing how to create these various elements.

Is that a stupid idea or could that be interesting?

01-28-2014, 08:00 PM
Welcome to the Guild!

You want the Map Elements section of the Forum... here (http://www.cartographersguild.com/mapping-elements/index11.html).

There's a thread specifically about Rhumb lines, the lines that cross you were mentioning - here (http://www.cartographersguild.com/mapping-elements/1281-diagonal-lines-rhumb-nav-lines.html).

Comb through all the pages in Map Elements forum - start on page 11 (the back and oldest), much of the newer pages are map objects or symbols - trees, mountains, buildings and stuff.


01-28-2014, 08:10 PM
Hey Gamerprinter, thanks for your reply! :)

it seems I wasn't being clear enough. The elements section surely has all the info that I'm looking for but I am not looking for elements used to create a map such as brushes, or tiles or stuff like that, but the basic elements that can be part of a map and included in it - no matter how they are created. And while the section of the forum you mentioned probably has all that, a newbie like me would be very grateful for a quick and simple overview, a basic Map-FAQ or a pdf or something like that. That would make starting with cartography a lot more easy and this whole forum a bit less overwhelming in the beginning :)

01-28-2014, 08:20 PM
I know what you mean. I've been wishing for the same kind of thread!

I think I've figured out why there isn't one, per se, and why Gamerprinter's suggestion is probably the closest we can come to what you've described.

I think it's that.. not all elements are used on all *types* of maps. (Rhumb lines would probably look awful on a castle battle map, for an example.. or maybe not, idk). Beyond looks, they may be irrelevant or insufficient information for the specific map.

And I *think* from what I've seen, the key to a good map, is giving just the right amount of the right kind of information.

Also, there are so many different elements and kinds of elements to mapping, that it would be nearly impossible to even briefly discuss them all in one thread.

Perhaps a list of *common* mapping feature terms, with links to threads discussing them might be possible, but even that would be incomplete, and super-long (and lots of work). So if it doesn't already exist (I haven't checked) then I wouldn't get my hopes up. :P A table of contents would be lovely, but tbh... we did this recently on a much less active forum recently and it ended up being 4 topics, more clunky than the search feature, and took 5 of us working all day every day for nearly 2 months! (And is still incomplete). Maybe we're just inept (we are) but it still seems a bit unrealistic to me. :(

Honestly I think, (after following GP's excellent suggestion) it's probably best to just start mapping what you can... and watch what others are mapping. If you see something that looks like it might make your map better (like those criss-crossing lines) you can always just ask what they are called.

No one will be annoyed by it (at least, no one has snapped at me, yet :P and I'm very irritating) and everyone here is super friendly and helpful! :)

Anyway, I hope you find what you need, even if it's not what you want! :o

And welcome to the forums!!

01-28-2014, 08:20 PM
just a test, sorry - I have the feeling my posts just vanish?
edit: whoops, never mind :)

@Jalyha: hmm of course you are right that not all elements are always used, but wouldn't it be easier to learn when to use which elements in a map than spend years trying to learn about what various elements even exist?

But then again, what you say about the sheer amount of possible elements makes total sense - although for me that is all the more reason to wish for a basic overview of those elements - if there are that many, how will I ever find out about them? It would take years to read the entire forum… :P

Maybe it could be more basic, and just discuss the various categories of elements one could use so newbies have at least a starting point for searching for more info? A table of contents would definitely be way too much, but also way too detailed again, as I said I'm looking more for the very very basics.

But thanks for reassuring me that I can just ask :) I don't like reposting newbie-questions that have been asked hundreds of times before, so I usually don't just ask but rather look for FAQs and introductions.
I do have the feeling that everyone is very friendly and helpful here - thanks everyone :)

Oh and btw sorry if what I say is a bit unclear sometimes, my english isn't bad but it also isn't my mother tongue so that's sometimes irritating for others.

01-28-2014, 08:24 PM
Lol. Your posts don't vanish!

2 things affect what you're seeing:

1) Sometimes it gets ... stuck... and if you refresh the page, you'll see it.

2) Sometimes it gets in a moderation queue and has to be approved? I think? Pretty sure it's an anti spam thing. But you're showing up! :D

01-28-2014, 08:38 PM
haha thanks Jalyha! :D
I knew about the moderation queue thingy but it seemed a bit weird that every single post would get stuck in there. Anyway, it's all good now :D

01-29-2014, 01:11 AM
Sure no problem :)

I had a game a long time ago, called "Othello". On the box, the game claimed it takes "A minute to learn, a lifetime to master!"

I think mapping is like that. Most people know more of the basics than they think. You have the map, you have a scale, and you have labels. All the rest... each of those subjects takes a long time to learn. You could learn the basics of many of them in very little time... but that wouldn't make a dent!

It's like the book they government here puts out with a list of every single possible job title... and a tiny bit of info on each... the thing is bigger than 6 metro-area phone books! with teeny tiny writing.

And that's with great detail like, "A COMPASS tells you which direction is north."

Cartography is a skill/occupation like any other... it does take years to learn. I'm sure someone could put out a "Cartography for beginners" type of book/summary, (if they haven't already) and it would be way too long for any forum topic, and still barely scratch the surface. :)

Fortunately, the later threads in the link GP gave DO seem to have discussions on different elements... You could probably learn a lot just from reading the topic titles. :)

Well, best of luck!

Cunning Cartographer
01-30-2014, 05:36 AM
The map elements will come down primarily to two things: Purpose and Style

Purpose: What is the map being used for?

A map can be used for many different things: showing the duchies of a country, showing the countries of a realm, showing the continents of a world, showing the cities of a continent... etc. This will pretty much determine your labeling and what is required, which is based solely off what you want to show to the audience. If you want to show the countries AND the cities, then you mix up your labels usually with the larger sized font representing the larger sized area (so a Countries label would be in a bigger font than a Cities label). If you start adding more detail and want to show town as well as cities, then you need to have a way to demonstrate the difference, again this can be as simple as font size.

If your map is showing the territories of various factions then you may wish to highlight their borders with different colours or pattern overlays so the audience can quickly see who controls which territory (again, this would be the primary purpose). If you want the audience to know how they might get from one city to another then you'd throw on some roads. If the maps purpose is to highlight the key trade routes then this can highlight roads in different colours, etc. Similarly if sea faring is important then you might want to put some navigation lines (the lines that cross over in the sea or look like a star). Some typical elements that you might find are:

1) A Key/Legend - The little box that highlights the main features of your map. This can show that a small black dot next to a name indicates a town, whereas a large white dot is a city. A dotted line is a road, but an unbroken golden line is a primary trade route. The more detail your map has that isn't instantly obvious to your audience as to what it is, the more need you'll have for a Key. You may also have a secondary key depending on a specific purpose, such as the factions mentioned above (or Houses, or Countries) where people might show the heraldic shields in a separate key so the audience can view which areas belong to which groups.

2) Scale - Not always necessary but if you want the audience to have an idea of how far one city is away from another then you need a scale. The scale you use is primarily dependent on how big your map is. Drawing a world map then doing a scale "per mile" is kinda pointless as a mile probably won't be noticeable on such a large map. Sometimes cartographers will use the borders of their maps to represent the scale (which is why you see so many stripped borders) as it almost creates an invisible grid on your map). With something like a battle map (for D&D etc) then a scale grid is near enough always put on if it's not obvious what the intended scale is (typically 1sq = 5ft for player scale maps).

3) Compass - Some people like to know which way North is, again, this isn't vital, but depending on what you want the audience to know is something that can be added in, and can also be tied in with your ocean navigation lines.

4) Relief - If showing the height of your maps is important, from deep oceans to high mountain peaks then you can put down some typical relief lines as shown in national grid maps; lines around a mountain that get closer together and smaller as they reach the peak. Though they're not often seen for mountains you do get them quite a lot with oceans, where a line tracing the coast shows the transition from shallow water to deeper waters, etc.

Style: How to design those above elements?

This part is open to the artist really and is all personal preference. Some people don't have fancy borders, those with more artistic illustrative talents might paint dragons or sea creatures in the corners of their map, etc. but there's rarely any real purpose other than to make the map look pretty. Where someone uses a white circle to represent a city, the next person may draw a small cluster of buildings as an icon to represent it, again this is all personal preference. The detail of your heraldry, the colours and shades you use in your maps, it all comes down to finding your own style and how you like to try and tie everything together. There's no right or wrong way, some artists can add lots of detail to their map, but equally a more simple map can look as beautiful.

Hope that helps.

01-30-2014, 11:39 AM
To make a list of all ressources would be a daunting task without some sort of index. I would say that you have to search for every single thing you are tying to do: here, on Google, or on Devianart. With these, you can acces to pretty much everything. They might not be the perfect tools to search for something specific though. Here's a good place to start (don't look at the images and trust me) : Browsing Application Resources on deviantART (http://www.deviantart.com/resources/applications/)

01-30-2014, 12:15 PM
The map elements will come down primarily to two things: Purpose and Style
Awesome, thank you so much!!!
That is pretty much exactly what I was looking for so you just made me very happy :) Thanks for taking the time to do this for me, now I have a sense of the scope of it all and some kind of anchors for where to start thinking and planning! I know this is really really basic - but that's exactly what I needed: an overview over the basic stuff so that I can start from somewhere.

And @Azelor thanks for the link, I'm not sure I'm at a stage where I actually know what to do with the stuff there, but I'll figure it out :)

And that's with great detail like, "A COMPASS tells you which direction is north."
That's a hilarious story, can I use that sentence as my signature? :D

01-30-2014, 12:51 PM
I'm real witty like that o.o

Lol, sure :P

Cunning Cartographer
01-30-2014, 02:50 PM
No problemo :)

01-30-2014, 05:00 PM
Google didn't yield much But here is some basics. www.bsu.edu/libraries/collections/gcmc/tutorials/pdfs/mapscartographymapelements.pdf

01-31-2014, 08:53 AM
Oh great, yes that is also very helpful, thank you! :D

You guys here are all so helpful, thank you so much! This is really great :)