Book Review: Cartographer’s Toolkit

The Cartographer’s Toolkit: Colors, Typography, Patterns by Gretchen N. Peterson is a collection of color palettes, typography, and other map components arranged in an easy to reference manner.It will be useful for those who wish to (and have the opportunity to) design more sophisticated maps.

Each section has a short introduction. I found these introductions lacked a lot of the information I was looking for. For example, the color section has basic color wheel usage, and the importance of domain-specific map colors (e.g. stratigraphic colors on a geology map), but not much else. It could be argued that this book is not the place for an in-depth analysis of color theory, but it should have had references for further reading. These would then allow the reader to investigate the subject in more detail if they wished. Other than references to Petersen’s own “GIS Cartography: A Guide to Effective Map Design” and implementations of specific compositional patterns, there is only one other reference (on typography). The typography and color sections could do with more references.
The color palette section presents a series of possible cartographic palettes. The palettes are restricted to 10 different colors, and are presented complete with component values (RGB and CMYK), an example map, labeling, and in color wheel form.
Similarly, the typographic section lists font samples in a common cartographic application. These fonts are presented in pairs. A common map is shown on the left page rendered with the two fonts, and the opposite right page gives more detailed samples of the fonts including bold, italic, and different font sizes. A short description describes the font’s strengths and what it was designed and/or is suitable for. Font applications vary widely, and include readability, hierarchical labeling, water, informal labeling, architectural labeling, etc. Typefaces are also split into three sections: widely available, free, and for fee. This division helps to avoid the possibility of choosing a font that is not available for practical or commercial reasons.
The final section covers compositional patterns. Only some of these are suitable for GIS systems. For example, diagrammatic and sketch maps would ideally require an art package or custom programming. However, this entire chapter should give some ideas if you are looking for a map that is different or more appropriate to your data and what you are trying to illustrate.
This book could be a useful reference for professional cartographers and those using full GIS systems such as Caliper Maptitude. Those looking for the basics of map composition should probably complement it with a more in-depth book on cartographic design.
Unfortunately most existing online geospatial systems (e.g. Google Maps and Bing Maps) only work with a fixed map presentation. Hence most of the ideas in this book are simply not relevant to developers using these systems. However, if you are using a more open system (e.g. OpenLayers and configurable WMS tile server) or you have the resources to develop your own map system; then this book could be useful in ensuring that your application has a distinctive but still practical look.

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