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map program suggestions

Would like to find software to create a series of US maps showing the adoption of laws over time by American states. Any suggestions for low-cost, monetary and otherwise, programs?

Thanks, RB

-- Robert Biggert (email)

Cartesia Software makes beautiful Adobe Illustrator maps for graphic designers with amazing complexity. Their website is

You can subscribe to their entire collection, or just buy a one-off map. They offer a number of samples for download as well.

-- Jacob Walker (email)

I did an extensive survey of low cost mapping software recently. I am not a mapping professional. I needed a cheap mapping tool for making maps for web pages and videos.

The clear winner for me was a product called Manifold, available at

Manifold is very affordible, very powerful, fairly easy to use (GIS is a big complicated world, some amount of time spent learning must be anticipated). It is backed by very good support and a very useful web forum. Manifold is one of those rare companies with integrity-a real pleasure to work with. You owe to yourself to at least check out their web site.

-- Reynold Dodson (email)

You might consider OpenMap:

-- Michael Liggan (email)

There is a relatively new mapping program for the Mac that is only $35.00 and has greatly simplified the process of building the map files. It is OwlView from: You start by building a data set with the information you want to map, it works with Excel, FileMaker Pro data sets. When you have the data set you want to map open, start OwlView and tell it to make the map you want. If it does not have the maping files, it retrieves them automatically from the census bureau and you have your map. You then interactively change color, thresholds, size, and label founts. The map can be printed or exported as a PICT file. It has limitations but is the easiest mapping program I know of. Strangly, it does not offer states of one of the geographies to map. Jim Gundlach

-- Jim Gundlach (email)

Not a question about map programs, but about paper maps. This seems like the best thread.

Can anyone recommend a good source for continent, country, provincial and city maps suitable for planning in the developing world? I have not been able to find a map store in New Orleans. I'm looking for both topographic and political maps and aeronautical and nautical charts that take pencil and are durable enough to take many erasures, foldings, tape, and pins. English language would be preferable, but not necessary. USGS is a good standard, and in the military I would literally just go to the base NIMA office and buy USGS quality maps of, say, Manta, Ecuador, for, I think it was $3 apiece. Where can I get similar international maps as a civilian? Where would I get a street-level wall map or topo map of Lagos, Bangkok, or Lima, or lesser known places like N'Djamena or Douala?

Where do the NGOs get their maps? Is there a collection of stores that, collectively, cover most of the planet?

-- Niels Olson (email)

Manifold really is a good place to start.

If you have long/lat data then you can import in basemaps from a variety of sources. It is a cheap way to gather data and start placing it. The data will be compatible with other systems such as the big systems of ESRI, etc.

-- Tchad (email)

For high quality topos your best source will usually be the USGS equivalent for the given country - assuming the information is public. Getting maps will likely involve some legwork in the capital if international shipping is not available. For example, Ecuador's IGM:

-- Simon Norris (email)

The best map store I have ever found is Stanfords in London:

They carry Ecuador IGM 50K Topographic Survey Maps, for example.

I have only purchased maps in the store, but they do ship internationally.

-- Jon Meek (email)

Thanks to everyone for their suggestions. Stanford's is the hands down winner: their user interface is superb, their map descriptions are ruthlessly accurate, and their collection is larger than any of the others, with particular strength in street maps of smaller, remote cities around the world. I wouldn't be surprised if those hard-to-find maps make up half of the bulk in their stock.

-- Niels Olson (email)

A couple of good US sources:

Map Link:

Omni Resources:

-- Scott Lewis (email)

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) have just launched a Data Mapper tool, which allows users to see a colour-coded map of the world, corresponding to selected data series and allows users to plot individual time series for countries. The time series display itself has serious design issues but I would be interested to know if other users have seen better demonstrations of map/data interactivity.

-- Will Oswald (email)

For users already proficient with MATLAB, a free package called M_Map is available. (See Since it uses MATLAB's plotting tools, you can output just about any format or resolution desired. I like M_Map because it's free, flexible, and produces professional-quality output.

There is a gallery of examples on the M_Map web site. It would be fairly straightforward to use M_Map to produce maps similar to those on pages 40-41 and 74-75 of Envisioning Information and the "Cancer Maps" on pages 17-19 of The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.


Dan Cook

-- Dan Cook (email)

I work for a professor who will give a talk suggesting a possible connection between unemployment and theft. I suggested creating a large map on the county level a la the cancer maps in Professor Tufte's books. Can someone suggest software similar to Owl View mentioned above, keeping in mind that I only have a pc and limited financial resources.

Thank you.

-- Adam Herbst (email)

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