Creating Maps for Wikipedia and Printed Materials with

GIS Contributor


By: Jakub Kaniewski

The availability of simple online mapping tools (such as what Google Maps offers) allows those with limited geospatial technical knowlege to design simple maps via  a web browser without using any external professional tools. These tools open up mapping to anybody who wanted to create a map of their neighborhood, holiday trip, and any other geographic idea that came to mind. Creating geographic content become easy, but exporting that content to other programs is still very difficult or even impossible. Even when the data is in KML format, there is no easy way to use it in creative tools like Adobe InDesign. The problem is that KML contains geographical coordinates (latitude, longitude) and vector graphics requires absolute coordinates  – x,y. Data have to be projected in some way readable to graphic programs, but such projection and conversion mechanisms are normally unavailable in typical Web GIS services.

The question becomes, why do user want access to vector format data if they already have the ability to create interactive maps within their web browser? The answer is simple, access to vector format allows for the ability to integrate with other content. Many of the online mapping applications allow the ability to embed interactive maps within other web pages and this function is frequently used. But what to do if we want to add that map to a Word or PowerPoint document?  The option often defaults to making a screenshot from webpage which often doesn’t provide a very good graphic.

Example: Creating a planned tramway route map using 

Map showing proposed tramway routes created using
Map showing proposed tramway routes created using

In this example I will demonstrate how the (site no longer active) solution can help people not specialized in map creation to create the map that can be easily reused outside of the mapping service.

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In this scenario, a small city regional newspaper wants to add a thematic map to an article about plans of for the extension of the city’s tramway network in order to should its readers a map of the planned routes. The article’s author really wants to add a well designed map to his article. On the map, he wants to include geographical feature that would be helpful for readers to understand the issue; planned tramway lines, existing tramway lines, tramway lines that was dismantled many years ago (but older newspaper reader may remember). He also wants to include main routes and river flowing through city will also be useful. Article author don’t want to include minor roads as the map will be more clear without those features.

Good idea – but how to do this? Bigger newspapers have specialized graphics and mapping departments that help create such maps for articles. Those newspapers have staff and specialized mapping programs.  But our newspaper is smaller, with a graphics staff person who doesn’t have mapping software for this purpose. This graphics staff member could create this map in Adobe Illustrator by drawing all lines by hand, but this would be a tedious process and detract the staff member from other graphics requests at the newspaper.

The article author is eager to help contribute to making the map and because he know the details of the planned tramway routes he can mark it using his web browser with a web GIS service. But after making his map he will face dead end. He will be not able to do anything with his map. He can take only screenshot, but this isn’t really a good solution for ending up with a print quality map for his article.

There is new tool that can be useful for our newspaper author. By using a new web GIS service called, he will be able to create the needed map from scratch. He will be able to create multiple map layers with distinct features categories. For exporting the map, he will have many available file formats. One of them is SVG, industry standard for vector graphic. Almost any software that can reuse vector graphic can use open SVG files such as Adobe Illustrator, Corel Draw, and OpenOffice.

Creating a map step by step:

  1. User creates new map on website, he can either create public map, that can be modified by anyone or create site profile and create map in his space.
  2. After map creation user will create map features main layers : Base map, Tramway lines and Points. For each map layer, the user can decide if it will be included in an interactive maps (that can be panned and zoomed by user in web browser) or in a static maps (that can be exported to other programs). For this example, the usser decides that the base map layer should only be included to static maps (because the interactive map already has the base map layer).
  3. Next, the map author draws the tramway lines extensions and dismantled lines.
  4. Now that the extensions and not existing lines are marked, it is time to add existing tramway lines. The author could draw this line by hand, but there is simpler solution available – geospatial data of existing tramway routes are already available in Open Street Map. has an import wizard from Open street map so adding this dataset is only matter of few clicks.
  5. Now all the lines are ready now it is time to add some points – tramway depots, line ends etc. Each point will have short description that will appear after clicking in interactive version of map.
  6. After last step tramway network is complete, it is time to add background features – roads, railways and rivers. For this the Open Street Map import tool will be very useful.
  7. For the next step it is time to symbolize the data; the author sets the tramway line colors to purple, railways to black, and streets to gray. Clicking the apply to container button allows applying style of one component to all components in same layer.
  8. At the end map author can also simplify shapes on his map using simplification tool.
  9. Now the map is ready and author can export it to SVG. If maps requires some fancy modification before being included to article newspaper graphics can do it in his vector graphic tool.
Exported SVG files can then be easily embedded into other programs such as Word or imported in a graphics program for modification.
Exported SVG files can then be easily embedded into other programs such as Word or imported in a graphics program for modification.

Map creation result

The resulting map was created in 2 hours. The map was created by the article author without help from any technical staff. The map is now available in industry standard SVG file  This file can be easily reused in creative tools Adobe InDesign or Adobe Illustrator. Interactive version of map can be easily embedded in electronic version of article on the newspaper webpage.

The author can also decide to contribute to the Creative Commons community and submit his work to Wikimedia Commons. After that Wikipedia authors will be able to include this maps in their articles. The newspaper chief also will be glad, because newspaper name will be included in Wikipedia file description as the source. The map image can also be easily propagated by Facebook, everyone will be able see new tramway routes without leaving their favorite social platform.

And the last channel – mobile. After downloading the ShareMap application every use of mobile device will be able to use map with his device for geolocation. By using the application with geolocation the reader can visit different neighborhoods and compare the data on the map with the surrounding area to see how the planned tramway extension will affect the neighborhood

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