How the Maps are Made

March 07 2022 – Jeff

How the Maps are Made

How the Maps are Made

I’ve been asked a lot, how do you make these maps?

Each map is crafted using elevation data provided by one of several national space agencies.  While cartographers of old would venture out with specialized equipment to calculate elevations and draw (beautiful) topographic maps, modern satellites have mapped the entire shape of the earth in detail.

Since history began we humans have abstracted our landscape into regions, empires, countries, and states.  We connect with these places, abstracting meaning and identity through them.  We love the earth, and these intersubjective divisions enable us to grasp it and say, I love this place.

This is where I start.  I take our terrain (the earth elevation data) and cut it into the pieces we know.

Next is to bring out the texture in the landscape, and to do this I use 3D modeling software to create a detailed facsimile of the terrain.  By adjusting the way the light plays over the landscape, I am able to create soft shadows and bring out a sense of dimensionality, as though the terrain were extending out of the page.

The maps are rendered, refined by hand, and designed for production.

Then you come in.

Constructing these maps is not an easy task.  It requires thousands of lines of code and careful techniques.  But from the beginning I knew I wanted to enable people to have a hand in the maps they create, and hopefully feel an even greater connection to the landscape.

For this I have built the Map Designer, an editor for customizing maps to your liking.  With this it is possible to make a map that is your own.

 Map Editor

Most notably you are able to choose from a variety of hypsometric styles.  These represent different elevation gradients, such that lowlands and highlands are characterized differently.  Not only does this bring out a greater sense of dimensionality in the landscape, it also enables you, the map creator, to choose a palette which appeals to you. 

Different Styles


I am constantly improving this process and I happily welcome feedback.  I’d love to hear from you, so please get in touch.




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