I’ve used a lot of maps and charts in my lifetime. Here’s a look at the people who make them.

A cartographer is someone who will measure, analyze, and interpret geographical information to create maps and charts for political, cultural and educational purposes. The first maps were manually constructed with brushes and parchment. From the 15th to the 17th century (the Age of Exploration) cartographers used maps that had been passed down for centuries and created new ones using recently developed surveying techniques and explorers’ observations. Of course, the invention of the telescope, sextant and compass enabled increasing accuracy.


Cartographers spend most of their time using computers while working in offices. They typically do fieldwork to collect and verify data used in creating maps.

A cartographer will also:

  • Collect and analyze geographical data, such as population density, demographic characteristics, and annual precipitation patterns
  • Examine and compile data from ground surveys, reports, aerial photographs, and satellite images to prepare thematic maps
  • Prepare thematic maps in digital or graphic form to be used for social, environmental, political, business, educational, and design purposes
  • Revise existing maps and charts to make corrections, adjustments, and updates

Cartographers use information from geodetic surveys and remote sensing systems, including aerial cameras, satellites, and technologies such as light-imaging detection and ranging (LIDAR). LIDAR uses lasers attached to planes and other equipment to digitally map the topography of the earth. LIDAR is often more accurate than traditional surveying methods and also can be used to collect other forms of data, such as the location and density of forest canopies. Data from LIDAR is used to provide spatial information to specialists in water resource engineering, geology, seismology, forestry, construction, and other fields.

A cartographic professional who creates maps using geographic information system (GIS) technology is known as a geographic information specialist. A GIS is typically used to assemble, integrate, analyze, and display spatial information in a digital format. Maps created with GIS technology link spatial graphic features with non-graphic information. These maps are useful for providing support for decisions involving environmental studies, geology, engineering, land-use planning, and business marketing.

A cartographer will also work from existing maps, surveys, and other records. To do so, they must be able to determine thematic and positional accuracy of each feature being mapped. They must make decisions about the accuracy and reliability of the final map. In addition, they must decide what further information they need to meet the client’s needs. They must focus on details when including features needed on a final map, and must be able to identify and resolve issues with the tools available to them.


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