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Wikitravel:How to draw a map

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In this age of satellites and GPS, you no longer need to be a professional cartographer to draw an accurate map. The following instructions are for creating standard Wikitravel maps using Inkscape (a free image-creating program available for most operating systems). The process using other drawing tools is similar.


Wikitravel maps are composed in a file format called SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics). These files contain collections of objects displayed as "vectors"—shapes that can viewed at any magnification without ever appearing pixelated. In the case of Wikitravel maps, these vectors will represent streets, geographical features, etc.

Inkscape's logic is based on building structures of different objects as various vectors, icons and text labels within different layers within an SVG file.

When the SVG map is finished, a bitmapped file should be created in PNG (Portable Network Graphics) format as all web browsers can display PNG files. Then both versions are uploaded: one for future editors to update (SVG), and the other to include in the destination's Wikitravel article (PNG).

A map of the West End of Washington, D.C. — created by a complete amateur using the instructions below


You will need some tools in order to build maps. The most critical is a vector-based drawing program capable of producing SVG-format files, preferably Inkscape.

  • Inkscape [1] is an open-source (free) tool, for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. Please use the most current version, to avoid compatibility issues.

Other vector-based drawing programs (eg Adobe Illustrator [2], CorelDRAW [3], Sodipodi and Freehand) can be used, but this article deals with drawing maps using Inkscape.

In addition, there are two fonts you must have installed:

  • DejaVu Sans and DejaVu Sans Condensed are used in Wikitravel maps. Both can be found here.

Map types and their templates[edit]

There are two key Wikitravel map types, and it is important to be sure which category is most appropriate for your map, as the template used is different.

City or district street map[edit]

This is a detailed map of a city area most appropriate for articles created using the small city or district templates. This map type is also often appropriate for articles created with the park article template.

The map template we use can be downloaded here. Two examples follow of different types of city/district street maps, which you may find helpful as inspiration for the content and final look of your map. Both were created using the same district map template (click either to enlarge).

The Dupont Circle map is a detailed street map of a smallish city district. The London Hampstead map covers a much larger district and therefore shows less (but still considerable) detail.

Country or region map[edit]

This is a map of a country or a region most appropriate for articles created using the country, region or huge city templates.

Wikitravel has a special expedition for country/region map making. If you are planning to draw a map of this type, then we strongly recommend that you read that article and consider joining the expedition. For specifics on the colour palette, symbols used and what have you for a country or region map, please refer to the region maps expedition and its talk page.

The region map template is available here. Two examples follow of different types of regional maps which you may find helpful as inspiration for the content and final look of your map. Both were created using the same region map template (click either to enlarge).

The Thailand country map shows the regions of the country, the main transport routes and major destinations. The Chicago map shows the extent of the city, major transport routes and its main district divisions.

Specialist maps[edit]

Additionally, there are some specialist map types such as dive sites and layout diagrams of monuments. If you are planning to draw a specialist map of this nature, then we suggest you download an appropriate existing SVG map and familiarise yourself with the structure and style used.

Creating your map[edit]

Before getting started with your own map, try opening up some existing maps (in SVG format) in Inkscape, to get a feel for how other Wikitravellers have gone about the process.

The instructions and advice which follow apply mostly to the creation of a city or district street map. Once you have mastered this type of map though, you should have no problems with country or region maps.


Here are four suggestions for map-making methods:

1. Instant maps, simply copied from, with no specific travel information;

2. Maps drawn by hand from a base image;

3. Maps imported from OpenStreetMap and then processed in Inkscape;

4. Maps generated with

You also, of course, can look around Wikimedia Commons for existing SVG maps that you may be able to use on Wikitravel by making modifications to bring the aesthetics in line with our standards as present on the templates, and by adding travel icons and annotation.

Instant maps[edit]

This easy three-step process can be used to create simple city street maps.

  1. Surf to Navigate to your destination of choice.
  2. Click on the Export tab. Make sure "Mapnik Image" is selected and that the "Image Size" is sensible (between 2000x2000 and 3000x3000 is good). Click the Export button to download.
  3. Rename "map.png" as something more sensible and upload it to Wikitravel Shared. You're done!

Hand drawn maps[edit]

Hand drawn maps can potentially be the most elegant and accurate (when traced over a high quality satellite base image), and are a fantastic way to start getting familiar with how SVG files work—since you'll be making them from the ground up!

Acquire a base image[edit]

In order to trace a new map, you will need either an existing map or other image to trace it from (which must be compatible with our Copyleft—either in the Public Domain, or under an appropriate Creative Commons license). There are a number of possible sources:

  • [4] is the best place to look for existing maps with street level detail. (It is possible to use exported SVG files from OpenStreetMap and thereby eliminate the need for any tracing. See #SVG imports from OSM for detailed instructions.)
  • The Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection [5] and UN Cartographic Section [6] are good sources for existing country maps (although their road networks are not always very accurate). But the Wikitravel:Regions map Expedition has now finished every last country in the world, so this has become less important!
  • All NASA WorldWind [7] satellite images in the The Landsat Global Mosaic (except for i-3 visible layer), Blue Marble, and the USGS layers are in the public domain and are therefore fully compatible with our copyleft—they do not even require attribution. Unfortunately, however, there will usually not be high-enough resolution images in the public domain available for locations outside of the United States of America.

Your base image should be imported into a new layer which you create in your map file (layer, add layer). We recommend that you call this layer Base.

Define the background[edit]

Create a new layer called Background and using the Bezier pen (the pen symbol on the left toolbar) mark out the extent of this layer as an object to match the size of your map.

Depending on where your map is located, you will need to fill the Background layer with either grey or the Wikitravel water pattern. This is achieved by selecting the object, click object from the top menu and then fill and stroke (shortcut: shift+ctrl+f). In the menu box that appears, for a medium grey fill enter 8e908dff into the RGBA box (or use the eye dropper to select this colour from the template) and for a water pattern, select the checkboard pattern button and then pattern8479 from the drop down box. Do not use a stroke.

You should now have a filled Background layer which obscures the Base layer containing your base image. To reveal the base image again, desaturate the filled background layer using the opacity slider in the fill and stroke menu box. By taking it down to about 20% you should be able to clearly see your base image. You can also just turn off the selected layer by clicking the eye symbol in the layers box.

Define the foreground[edit]

Create a layer for your main map. We suggest you call this layer Foreground. Once again using the Bezier pen, lay out the area of your map.

Once that is done, change the properties to reflect the desired pale grey area for your main map area. Use fill: d0d0d0ff, no stroke.

You should now see your desired map area completely filled. As with the background layer, you will either need to use the opacity slider to desaturate the fill or turn off the layer to see the base image below it.

Building your street grid[edit]

The pesky Bezier pen
You may find the Bezier tool a little unwieldly at first if you don't have any graphics drawing experience. But after experimenting for a while, you'll soon be able to lay out beautiful precise curves; the "Edit path nodes" tool (F2) can be used to delete or tweak points in the curve.

Create a new layer called Streets and bring that layer to the top (shift+ctrl+home).

Use the Bezier pen tool layout the road grid of your map. Roads should be white, so set the stroke colour to ffffffff, and no fill colour.

Set the unit of measurement for the stroke width to mm (far easier to visualise mm than pixels!). The stroke width should be set to an appropriate width for the road you are tracing. You will almost certainly have roads of different widths on your map and it is easier to trace each width together. A good way to keep your streets organized is to combine the paths of the same width into one path. To do so, simply select more than one path, then select "combine" from the "path" menu (ctrl+k).

If you wish to show any other transportation routes such as light railways, subway trains or rail lines etc., they should be drawn now and added to a separate layer. Use stroke colours and widths that work best on your map.

To create a black & white dotted rail line (popular among many Wikitravel mapmakers), create a solid black (or white) line, duplicate it (ctrl+d) and then set the duplicate line's fill to white and select dashes from the stroke style box (ctrl+shift+f).

Sometimes it is desirable to show footpaths, trails, pedestrian roads, etc. This should be done using a dashed line, with the stroke color eeeccbff.

Draw the geography[edit]

Pattern pathologies
Inkscape doesn't handle patterns very well. You will notice that patterned objects often display transparent gridlines, and that you seemingly cannot control the scale of the pattern.

The first problem is easily solved by duplicating the patterned object (ctrl+d), moving the duplicate below the original (PgDn/END) and then using the eyedropper tool to set the fill color to the background (green for parks, blue for water) from the original.

For the second problem, there actually is a way to scale patterns in Inkscape, though it is exceptionally well hidden. Select the patterned object with the node editor (F2). Then scroll to the left (often very far to the left), where you will see a square/circle/x "box". By clicking and dragging the square handle, you can scale the pattern.

Create a new layer called Geography and bring that layer to the top (shift+ctrl+home).

Lay out any green spaces, again using the Bezier pen, this time with the Wikitravel park pattern as fill (pattern15875), stroke color 406c86ff and a stroke width of 0.05mm. If the green area fills up an entire city block between streets, you can set stroke off, draw the area so it overlaps the streets, and then just push the layer down later.

Follow the same process for any bodies of water but use fill: pattern8479, stroke colour: 406c86ff, stroke width: 0.05mm.

Rivers should ideally be drawn with a stroke colour matching the pattern color for water (9ccec9ff), but if they are not showing up clearly enough, try something like 053bd7ff. The stroke width should match the scale of the river you are tracing.

Once this layer is complete, set it to be the layer below the Streets layer and below other transportation layers. Moving layers up and down is relatively straightforward in Inkscape. You can do this either by selecting layer, then raise layer or lower layer, or by using the shortcuts of shift+ctrl+PgUp and shift+ctrl+PgDn.

Major buildings[edit]

If (only if) your map contains any major buildings or landmarks which you wish to be defined, create a layer above Main area later called Buildings and draw them there. For these the fill color is 8e908dff, the stroke color is 808080ff and the stroke width is again 0.05mm.


Create a new layer called Street names and bring that layer to the top (shift+ctrl+home).

It's generally best to use the DejaVu Sans bold font, which displays more clearly at small resolutions, especially when printed for offline use. Label each of your streets (or as many as is practical/desirable).

At this stage you can also place any other labels required:

  • Lake or pond names: use font colour 006bffff
  • River names: use font colour 053bd7ff
  • Park names: a label over the top of the park pattern normally looks best in white.
  • Neighbourhood names, building names etc: often look best in dark grey and not black (eg: 1a1a1aff) and italicised.

Annotate the map[edit]

Your street map is now ready and it's time to turn it into a travel guide.

Before doing so though it worth recapping what your file structure should now look like. You should have the following layers present:

  • Street names
  • Roads
  • Geography
  • Buildings (perhaps)
  • Streets
  • Other transportation routes (perhaps)
  • Main area
  • Background
  • Base

Now, create two new layers called Travel icons and Key and bring them to the top.

Depending on the scale of your map, you might need to resize the travel icons provided in the template. To resize icons use menu option object, transform, scale and scale them to a size that will work on your map (ctrl+m). (select multiple objects at once by pressing F1 and drawing a selection rectangle around them). You can copy and paste the required icons from the template.

On the template, you will see a white listings box. This should be copied and pasted into the Key layer. It can be re-sized and re-shaped to best fit your map and the volume of listings it is going to contain. Edit the text in the listings box so that it contains all listings from the article (for see/do, buy, eat, drink, sleep, and contact listings) numbered and in alphabetical order.

Take all the entries of the Wikitravel article and start placing them in the map, editing them as you go to make sure the numbers to align with those in the listings box. Ideally, you would know exactly where everything goes already but an online address locator like Google Maps is very handy for refreshing your memory. You can change the icon numbers by selecting the text tool, clicking on top of the icon, and then editing the number. Make sure not to change the font of the text in travel icons—it is formatted for maximum readability (especially when printed) at minimum size.

You should now also copy from the template and paste into this layer the inset title box (scale (ctrl-m or ctrl or alt+< or >) and edit as necessary), the scale (adjust as necessary) and the north arrow (scale as necessary). Please remember to take the extra time to add an accurate scale—it's extremely important for travelers determining just how far they'll be walking. An easy way to do this is to just match your scale to the one on your base image.

Note: It is critical to follow the above instructions insofar as you maintain separate layers for any text that could conceivably need translation into other languages, as this will make the process far, far more easy.

Finishing off[edit]

You should now have all the elements of your map completed and the following steps should ensure that it is finished off nicely:

  • Change the properties of any desaturated layers back to 100% using the opacity slider.
  • Create a final layer called Frame in which you mark out the exact area of the map you wish to be exported to the PNG file (and thereby the exact area of the map to be included in the article). This layer should always be the top layer, contain no fill and no stroke width. You can select it even without a fill or stroke by navigating to the Frame layer and pressing ctrl-a to select everything within that layer (do not create more than one object in the frame layer!).

Export the finished map[edit]

Final checklist of layers that should be present:

  • Frame
  • Key
  • Street names
  • Travel icons
  • Map template
  • Buildings (perhaps)
  • Other transportation routes (perhaps)
  • Streets
  • Geography
  • Foreground
  • Background
  • Base

You should export a copy of your map to PNG by selecting your blank frame and hitting shift+ctrl+e. This allows you to easily control the size and shape of the export.

It is best to use PNG files, as opposed to raw SVGs, because SVGs do not always display well in various browsers, Wikitravel does not offer support for SVG graphics, and most importantly, this will allow you and other editors much greater flexibility in coordinating, updating, and generally getting more use out of the SVG file (especially with regards to translating).

SVG imports from OSM[edit]

The SVG road maps available from OpenStreetMap are a great base for creating Wikitravel style maps, potentially saving loads of time otherwise spent tracing by hand!


First, go to OpenStreetMap [9], zoom in on the area you wish to map, and then for exporting click the share button on the right. In this window, select "Map Image (shows standard layer)" and then select "SVG" format.

Choosing the appropriate scale depends to a degree on the size of the area being mapped, but in general you can get away with a low resolution export (which will decrease the file size of the exported SVG)—1:20,000 is not a bad resolution to start with. If the file size of the SVG export is too large, your computer may grind to a halt when modifying it in Inkscape [10].

When you open the SVG file in Inkscape, you will notice it is not in a layer (it is in the root layer). Hit Ctrl+Shift+L to open the layers dialogue, add a layer (name it "import"), then select all objects (which are currently in a group) and hit Shift+PgDn to move it into the import layer.


OSM imports can be pretty big and complex, and editing in them in Inkscape can place pretty big demands on your PC's memory. This section is a quick and dirty guide to keeping things manageable right from the start.

The first and simplest thing you can do to reduce that filesize and make the SVG more manageable is to get rid of the clones and images we won't need here. Hit Ctrl+F to bring up the Find dialogue. In the "ID field," enter "use". Hit enter to select all items with the ID "use", and then hit delete. Repeat for all objects with the ID "image".

Next turn your attention to the light gray background object and any large body of water, which for some reason tend to include thousands of extraneous nodes. Create a new layer below import named "background". Select the gray object or large body of water using Ctrl+Click and hit Shift+PgDn to move it to the layer below. The object will now reveal itself in its enormity. It will need to be cropped to reduce the number of memory-hogging nodes. As Inkscape is not good at cropping, the fastest (i.e., least memory-intensive) method is to draw an object (like a rectangle) over the area you want to crop, and then use the difference tool by selecting the object on top and the target of the crop, then pressing Ctrl+-.

Be sure to vacuum definitions (File → Vacuum defs) after making such a significant deletion, in order to further reduce the file size.

Next, and this will be explained more in the "Convert" section below, it's time to get your small white streets under control, as they are the single biggest source of vector nodes eating up your visual memory. Create a new layer named "small streets" above your import layer, and turn it off by clicking the eye icon next to the layer in the layers dialogue (this will render that layer invisible until you turn it back on). Now select a single little white street (Ctrl+click), then hit Ctrl+Shift+X to pull up the XML editor. Then copy the info listed under "style." Hit Ctrl+F to bring up the find box, and paste the style info into the style field, then hit enter. That should select all of the small white streets with that same style. Then hit Ctrl+K to combine them into one monster path. Wait for the combine to finish (and this often takes a while, unless you have a ton of RAM), then hit Shift+PgUp to move the small street grid to the invisible "small streets" layer. That can take a while too, but once it's done, the small streets will remain hidden until you need them, and won't bog down your system resources.


Layers — separating content into layers will make your SVG more versatile and easier to manage (turning off complex layers will help speed up Inkscape). Create a layer for the OSM import, then add empty layers above it for streets, street names, etc.

First text. Unfortunately imported OSM SVGs do not contain text—all letters are in fact paths, which makes things more complicated. To get rid of the rather unhelpful paths, select one (Ctrl+Click), bring up the XML editor (Ctrl+Shift+X), select and copy the info under "style," bring up the Find dialogue (Ctrl+F), paste the style info into the style field, and then hit enter. Go ahead and delete them all!

It's time to move on to the streets (the larger ones, since you already took care of the small ones in the "Manage" section above). You must select all objects of one type (e.g., red-colored streets), combine them into one path (Ctrl+K), and then change the color to match the usual Wikitravel scheme. To select all paths/objects of one category, use the find operation as before. Red-colored streets are easy to select, for example, simply enter "stroke:#eb9799" to the style box in the find operation to select all red-colored streets. Combine the streets into one path, then move them to a dedicated big streets layer. Repeat for all types of streets. To find unique attributes for the various street types, select one path, then open the XML editor (Shift+Ctrl+X), examine the style attribute, and find a unique value to enter into the find box. To match Wikitravel color standards, change the stroke colors to white (although freeways/highways can be colored red to distinguish them from city streets).

You will notice that most paths in the SVG have "shadow" paths behind them. Delete these paths using the same strategy of copying an identifying style in the XML editor and pasting it into the Find dialogue. Selecting the street paths you have combined, then simplifying them (Ctrl-L) can also reduce the file size and complexity of the SVG a good deal, but this will sacrifice accuracy. At low resolutions, OSM SVGs display the street paths rather wide; select the combined street paths and change the stroke style width by an appropriate percent.

The colors of other objects, such as parks, buildings, and water areas, should also be changed to conform to Wikitravel standards. This can be done in the same manner, using the find function to select all objects of a specific type, and then using the fill function to change the color (or pattern). Combining all the like objects into one path (Ctrl+K to combine a selection) will help keep things manageable. You can obtain standard colors and patterns here.


The final tasks are much more simple, but are time intensive. What is left is to add travel icons, a key, title, compass, scale, etc. These tasks are identical to those described in the section above for hand drawn maps.[edit] is a social mapping service that allows creation of SVG maps on free licenses (CC-SA-3). Maps created with ShareMap can be after tweaked in classic SVG editor before uploading. Key features

  • Ability of import specific type of objects from Open Street Maps
  • Ability to import user data collected by GPS (using GPX format)
  • Ability of tracing old printed map (especially interesting when you map historical features)
  • At the same time static (aka SVG) and interactive map is created


  • Sometimes visual appereance has to be tweaked in Inkscape before publication
  • For performance reasons OpenStreetMap background are embeeded rasters
  • With large datasets classic GIS tools (QGis, Grass GIS) are more stable than web based ShareMap.

Uploading your map[edit]

When uploading your map, please always do so to Wikitravel Shared and remember to upload both the bitmap (.png) and the vector (.svg) versions. That way others can add to your map at a later stage.


The following Wikitravel map-makers are happy to give specific help and advice to others. Please feel perfectly free to leave any questions and requests should be left on their user talk page—you are not bothering them!

Inkscape tips and tricks[edit]

Please all map-makers use this section to add useful tips and tricks for using Inkscape.

  • Use the edit path nodes tool (F2) for manipulating streets, since this keeps the stroke width constant.
  • To extend a street, select it with edit path nodes tool and then choose the Bezier tool. Any nodes you add will become a part of the same object.
  • Use ALT-cursor keys to 'nudge' objects into the right place.
  • Objects can be combined into layers, which can be made visible or invisible by clicking on the "eye" icon. The following layer stack makes it easy to 'peel part' various components of a map: background - satellite data - area highlight - street map - area annotations.
  • Locking layers that you are not actively working on can save you a lot of trouble by making it impossible to accidentally move or change objects on the locked layers.
  • Inkscape is not the most stable of programs and is prone to hanging. It has an autosave feature in the latest version, but it's not 100% reliable; remember to save your work regularly.
  • In Inkscape, be warned that grouping items together from different layers will bring them up to the layer of the highest item in the selection.
  • Combining paths (ctrl-k) or grouping (ctrl-g) paths with the exact same attributes (streets, parks, water) can save a lot of time, as it allows you to change identical paths with a single click. To automatically select paths with the same attributes, hit ctrl-x to bring up the XML editor; highlight and copy (ctrl-c) an item relevant item under style (such as fill:XXXXXXFF); then hit ctrl-f to bring up the find box; and paste (ctrl-v) the item into the it's style field. From there press enter, and you will have selected every path in your SVG with that particular attribute!
  • The union, difference, and intersection tools from the path menu are incredibly useful for precise manipulation of objects. It will take a bit of experimentation to master their use, but this is especially worthwhile for handling complex geography, or creating interlocking color fields to display neighborhoods or regions on your map.
  • Before performing operations, always close the XML editor, which will otherwise display every individual change painfully slowly.