ProfessionsOur Planet

How are maps made?


Take a minute to think about the maps you've seen. Were they in books? Were they on the screens of computers or phones? There are many ways to view maps today, but just how are maps made?

The art of making maps is called cartography. In fact, cartography is an ancient art. For many years, cartographers have gathered information about the Earth, then used that information to create useful maps. Early cartographers drew or painted maps by hand on flat surfaces, but over time map making has involved the help of many tools.

For example, the invention of the printing press helped cartographers to make copies of their maps, so they didn't have to draw each one by hand! Nowadays, computers are used to store and send mapping data, and to create detailed maps. Most cartographers use special mapping software that helps them visualize and make their maps. Another example of technology that has changed cartography: satellites that can take pictures of the moon and other planets so their surfaces can be mapped!


Now it's your turn to be a cartographer!

Make a map of your bedroom or your backyard. Start by taking a good look around. What features are you going to include in your map? Your bed? Your dresser? Your toy shelf? If you are mapping your backyard, pay special attention to features such as trees, gardens and pathways. Now decide on a system of drawing. For example, will you use rectangles, triangles and circles to represent different features? Draw the map as if you are looking down on your backyard or bedroom from high above. Can a birdbath be drawn as a circle? Can a hill be drawn as an arch? Can a toy box be drawn as a square? Once you've drawn your map, choose a few colors and add different shades for further detail. Have you enjoyed your cartography project?!