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Book Review – Cartographer’s Toolkit

Cartographer's Toolkit book

Colours, Typography, Patterns

A toolkit it is. Supposedly only for those who have expert cartographic knowledge. I cannot lay claim to the latter (my only career regret), yet I am finding this toolkit very useful. In fact it lifted a mental block for me on one map. So unless you are a pure orienteering mapper, this toolkit is likely to have tools that you can reuse for both print and web cartography.

I have already reused colour palettes, acquired new fonts, used one composition pattern and admired the abstract art. Exactly as Gretchen N Peterson intended in her book Cartographer’s Toolkit | Colors, Typography, Patterns. She has carefully thought out and very successfully presented the chapter elements.

Colour Palettes

Colours sample
Colours sample

The Color palette chapter presents a series of harmonic colour sets. It encompasses coordinated, differentiated and colour ramp palettes. I lack colour smarts so this chapter has been a boon, enabling me to quickly test three likely colour palettes for a new trail map. Each of the 25 or so palettes comprises specifications of 10 colours, samples of usage and even a colour blindness simulation. The chapter is introduced by basic colour theory and practice.


Typeface sample
Typeface sample

Similarly, the Typography chapter is introduced by the basics of typography in cartography. While I knew of typeface x-heights through my print industry experience, I wasn’t aware of their relevance to cartography. Replacing OCAD’s default font Arial with a cartographic font, I was startled at how much better it looked on the map.

Fifty typefaces are listed across categories of standard (system), free and ‘for fee’ fonts. As with colours, each font is portrayed in a sample situation as well as alphabet and text. Some of these fonts are referred to in my previous post Cartography Typography for Neophytes.


Pattern sample
Pattern sample

The signal to noise ratio of the Composition Patterns chapter was far higher than I expected. At first glance I thought the chapter interesting but not too relevant to trail maps. How wrong. Applying a discontinuous frame to an orienteering event map enabled a useful bulge of content to be kept and the map still looked good.

Then line highlights provided a new slant on marking trail routes. Small multiples reminded me I could show enlargements of selected trails on some trail maps. And I really enjoy the intentional and unintentional art.

Maps show the way

And so does Gretchen Peterson. She has resoundingly accomplished her objective of providing tools for reuse. She has also given me pleasure in reading, re-reading, examining detail and re-examining.

In addition to her intended audience, I commend this book to amateur cartographers like myself who have an interest in improving. I cannot close better than by quoting from her introduction

This book enables the thinking cartographer to use colors and fonts deliberately, and it shares ideas for creating just the right layout compositions with just the right elements to create truly communicative and enduring maps. — Gretchen Peterson

Cartographer’s Toolkit | Colors, Typography, Patterns. Gretchen N Peterson. Published 2012 by PetersonGIS. Amazon US$35.

Gretchen Peterson’s informative blog A Cartographer’s Toolkit.

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