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Wikitravel Shared:Mapmaking Expedition

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The Mapmaking Expedition is a Wikitravel Expedition to organize and standardize the maps used in Wikitravel.


The old dull saw says that a picture is worth a thousand words, but when a traveller is trying to find their way around a new city, it's more like a million. A clear and simple map can save hours or even days of hassle.

As with other parts of Wikitravel, we think that having a coherent map policy will make each map in Wikitravel more useful. Once a traveller has understood the symbols and conventions of one Wikitravel map, they can quickly understand a new one.


The Mapmaking Expedition has the following goals:

  • To define preferred map file formats
  • To outline a map-making collaboration procedure
  • To enumerate different types of maps
  • To suggest guidelines for including maps in articles
  • To create a common map image layout and symbol vocabulary
  • To provide map templates for quickly making new maps
  • To collect mapmaking resources, that is, software tools and information sources

File formats[edit]

There are two major categories of image file formats: bitmap formats and vector formats. A bitmap format treats an image as a width-by-height array of pixels, each of which has a color. A vector format keeps information about individual parts of the image -- lines, shapes, text, etc. Vector formats tend to be best for computer-generated images -- like Wikitravel maps. They're also much easier to use for collaborative development -- it's much easier to move a line, a symbol, or some text around in a vector format than in a bitmap format.

There are any number of good vector graphics file formats, and some that are pretty standard for cartography. No vector graphics format, however, is widely supported for Web use. For this reason, we need to maintain two versions of map images: a source version in vector file format, and an output version in a Web-standard bitmap format.

There is one file format that's making serious inroads for Web usage: Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG). Because SVG provides an upward compatibility path to allow us to remove the source-output dichotomy, we prefer SVG as the source format for map files. In case SVG is not available, encapsulated PostScript (EPS) files are a secondary source format.

For on-screen and printed output of maps, the lossless compression of PNG files is preferable. PNG map files are sharp and don't have compression artifacts like JPEG files do.

In short: SVG for source, PNG for output. (Yes, it's a long-winded explanation just to come up with 6 letters.)

Mapmaking procedure[edit]

A Wikitravel mapmaker can and should create maps with whatever drawing tools they have available. When uploading a map, however, two files should be uploaded: the source version in SVG format, and the output version in PNG format. If the mapmaker's drawing tool doesn't support SVG as an output format, they should upload whatever source vector file format they can -- preferably Encapsulated PostScript, or (if necessary) Adobe Illustrator. Other Wikitravellers with better tools can download the source file, convert it to SVG, and upload that.

The Image page for the output file should have a link to the source file.

Wikitravellers editing an existing map really, really should work with the source SVG file if possible. After editing the file, they should produce an output PNG file, and upload both files to Wikitravel.

See also: Wikitravel:How to draw a map

Types of maps[edit]

There are several different types of maps that are useful to travellers. Among these are:

  • City street maps. These are simplified maps of the main streets, landmarks, and other important parts of a city, as well as restaurants, bars, and other places listed in the Wikitravel article for a city.
  • District street maps and District maps. For large cities, it might be useful to split up city street maps into district street maps, and then use a city area map to show how major parts of the city relate to each other.
  • Country or regional railway/road maps. This kind of map gives an overview of passenger railways, other public transport, and/or major roads and thoroughfares between cities or large travel sites.
  • Site maps. These are maps of individual tourist destinations, like archeological or historical places (temple complexes, castles) or large museums.
  • Region maps. These are maps of a country that show the Wikitravel-defined regions of the country. There could also be region maps showing regions within a region. And so on.

Other kinds of maps may be useful for Wikitravel; we'll try and list them here as we think of them.

Including maps in articles[edit]

Some maps -- such as small city street maps and site maps -- are small enough to be included in a Wikitravel article. These should be added in to articles directly. Most maps, though, will be too big to be shown as an article; they should be linked to instead of included. See How to add an image for more info on including or linking images.

Map layout[edit]


Map symbols[edit]

One thing that will make our maps more uniform -- and therefore easier to create, update, and use -- is a library of common map symbols. We have a page with the common map symbols available.

The map symbols should all be SVG files. This makes it easier to incorporate them into maps.

Map templates[edit]



When created, Wikitravel maps will be released under a Creative Commons copyright licence. This will mean that any map put on to Wikitravel will be able to be used freely and possibly changed by a later contributor. This means that most maps will either need to be sourced from public domain sources or sources with a compatable copyright release.

Most map producers and suppliers will take strong exception to their work being copied. Although maps are usually copyrighted, the facts and ideas that maps represent are not copyrightable. If you use an existing copyrighted map as a reference source to make your own maps, be sure that you only use it to extract location data. Your data should be compared to maps from other sources too, as some map makers draw their maps with imperfections, meaning that simply copying a map, even if just tracing it by hand, will also include those imperfections and be able to be shown to be a copyright violation.

At the scale most maps are drawn, even tiny lines represent broad brush strokes over the landscape. Commercial city street maps may overstate the size of roadways and most road maps will overstate a road size. If you are drawing a map it may be more appropriate to simplify and stylise the map rather than make it an exact reproduction of a landscape. This will also lessen the chance of being accused of a copyright violation. If more detail is needed, people can always purchase a detailed map.

See the Talk page for discussion on this issue.

Map-making resources[edit]

Public domain map sources[edit]

  • DEMIS World Map Server. Absolutely amazing online service for generating maps of any point on the globe in realtime. License: With this statement DEMIS BV grants you permission to freely copy the PNG images returned by our server and use them for your own purposes, including web pages. We would appreciate a reference to our server but such a reference is not required, nor do we take responsibility for the accuracy or quality of the maps.
  • The United States Census Bureau makes their TigerLine map data of the United States available to the public domain. Note that this is raw database information that needs to be manipulated a bit to be of use.

Graphics tools[edit]

This section lists some tools for making and editing maps in Wikitravel's preferred formats. There's a full list of graphics programs that support SVG on the SVG standard site.

  • Sodipodi. An excellent SVG editor for GNOME. Downloads are also available for MS Windows 95/98/ME/2000/XP users.
  • Inkscape. A fork from the Sodipodi project, powerful SVG-compliant SVG editor. Produces excellent output in .png, Postscript or EPS. This tool is available for Linux (and other Unix variants), Mac OS X, and Windows.
  • h n . o r g triggers WikiTravel's spam detector. I don't know why. So I will munge (#) it: Azimap, by phma. Converts lat/long coordinate lists to SVG using the azimuthal equal area projection.

Map making projects/articles/discussions[edit]