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A classic: Imhof's Cartographic Relief Presentation

I attended a Tufte seminar this week (excellent!), and there found out about the book Cartographic Relief Presentation.

I have always had an interest in cartography, and as an architect I have done a lot of site plans using basic cartographic techniques.

Unfortunately, I can't locate a copy. It is out of print, and even comes up empty.

I'd really like to obtain a copy, even just as a loan to read it. Does anyone have any ideas?



-- David Person (email)

A classic book: Imhof's Cartographic Relief Presentation

Eduard Imhof is the author of a deep and essential book, Cartographic Relief Presentation (English translation 1982, from the original German published in 1965, Kartographische Gelandedarstellung). Both the German and English editions were published by Walter de Gruyter, Berlin. The book is about how to show mountains on maps (which means that it is about nearly everything, since the book shows all sorts of methods for escaping the flatlands of paper and display screen). Topics include contours, errors in contours, color, spot altitudes, shading, rock drawing, symbols, area colors, interaction of design elements, and production of complex information displays.

Imhof is one of the people responsible for the great Swiss national maps, one of the best information designs ever (see my Envisioning Information, p. 80 for a sample of the Swiss mountain maps). It is one of the most technically sophisticated design books, so much deeper than the standard books on graphic design.

The book is required reading for anyone serious about information and interface design. Imhof also published many articles in cartographic journals which are also relevant to information and interface design. Imhof's work was very helpful in my book Envisioning Information, which quotes several long passages from Cartographic Relief Presentation.

-- Edward Tufte

New edition! Imhof's Cartographic Relief Presentation

ESRI Press Releases New Edition of Classic Book, Cartographic Relief Presentation

Wednesday, 30 May 2007 Redlands, California-A new edition of renowned Swiss cartographer Eduard Imhof's classic Cartographic Relief Presentation will be released by ESRI Press in June, showcasing the skillful draftsmanship, artistry, and science that went into his relief maps.

Last published 25 years ago and difficult to find since going out of print, this book will continue to instruct and inspire cartographers, geographers, geographic information system (GIS) mapmakers and cartographic scholars and students in the 21st century.

Imhof was a professor of cartography at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich and his teachings influenced many students of cartography worldwide. Cartographic Relief Presentation remains relevant, offering guidelines for properly rendering terrain in maps of all types and scales, whether drawn by traditional means or with the aid of a computer.

The comprehensive volume first provides a historical overview of cartographic relief depiction. Imhof writes about early symbols of terrain representation such as using domed molehills to represent mountains and the more intricate bird's-eye drawing of relief features by Leonardo da Vinci in his maps of Tuscany. The book also teaches readers techniques in symbology, color, hillshading, rock drawing, and contours.

The 1982 edition of Cartographic Relief Presentation was expensive and had a limited press run that made it a rare find in recent years, leaving cartographers and other map aficionados scouring bookstores and checking Internet sites to try to locate copies of a book they consider a masterpiece.

The new volume is affordable, and faithful to the original editions. ESRI Press retained Imhof's valuable insights and teachings, only editing the text for clarity and consistency and making minor wording and punctuation changes. The color and black and white graphics were reproduced as they appeared in the 1982 English language edition, which was translated from Imhof's 1965 German language version, Kartographische Gelandedarstellung.

Imhof, who died in 1986, wrote that good terrain representation becomes crucial in mapmaking, serving as the foundation for the rest of the map. Yet he believed that aspect of cartography was often neglected and hoped his book would serve as a textbook to fill the knowledge gaps and improve map quality in the future. "Its objective," he wrote in the book, "was to make maps more reliable, easier to read, and easier to understand."

Cartographic Relief Presentation (ISBN 978-1-58948-026-1, 420 pages, $59.95) is available at online retailers worldwide. The book can also be purchased at or by calling 1-800-447-9778. Outside the United States, contact your local ESRI distributor. Visit for a current distributor list. ESRI Press books are distributed to the trade by Ingram Publisher Services. Call 1-800-648-3104 or visit

-- Thomas McCulloch (email)


The republished version of Imhof's book is now shipping. I just received my copy yesterday (ordered through Amazon).

Amazon link

-- John Bendorf (email)

Exhibition of Imfof's work

Here's an updated link to Mr. Imhof's page at the ETH:

-- Peter Chylewski (email)

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