Cartography is the art and science of graphically representing a geographical area, usually on a flat surface such as a map or chart. It may involve the superimposition of political, cultural, or other nongeographical divisions onto the representation of a geographical area.

Cartography is “the science of making maps”, it then goes to “cartography is the theory technique and practice of map-making”, finally broadens out combining all three factors: “Cartography is the art, science, and technology of making maps together with their study as scientific documents and works of art. “

Cartography (in Greek chartis = map and graphein = write) is the study and practice of making maps of the whole or part of the earth.

It combines science, aesthetics, and technique, and is built on the premise that reality can be modeled in ways that communicate spatial information effectively.

Cartography is thus a science and art of designing, constructing and producing maps. It includes almost every operation from original fieldwork to collect data to the final printing and marketing of maps. To some cartography signifies only the mechanics of preparing maps.

Actual drawing is, however, only a part of the total scientific, technical and artistic efforts needed to bring out a map. The processes of designing a map to suit the heterogeneous needs and fancies of users demand knowledge and skills which range from fieldwork to computer programming.


Cartography is a science that has its own individuality. The earth we inhabit is highly complex. It is marked with a great variety not only in its physical configuration and human activities but also in changes through time and space. Cartography devises ways and means to bring order and system, generality and simplicity, refinement and legibility and ease of use and comprehension to an almost incomprehensible range of complex details of the earth (both land and sea) and other celestial bodies through a medium, called map. It is thus a science of communication too with artistic leanings.

It can be compared with architecture in some respects and may be characterized as a technical science too. But it is something more than that for the subject matter of cartography ranges from a small piece of land to the earth as a whole. Further, it is not only the physical earth that falls in its domain of concerns; the man and his activities in relation to the earth he inhabits is its main concern.

Cartography is closely aligned to earth sciences. Its subject matter is the representation of the earth’s surface or the surface of any other planetary body. It seeks to represent the huge and spherical earth on a small paper as realistically as possible.

Cartography can also be defined as an auxiliary science that acts as a bridge between techniques, art, and earth sciences. As a map is a generalized picture of the earth’s surface, the cartographer has the difficult task of generalizing the complex details of this surface. To do this successfully, he has to have a background of not only geography but also other disciplines which need maps. Cartography is, therefore, a science that entails the cooperative efforts of specialists in a variety of fields. The geodesist and the topographic surveyor give the size and shape of the earth and the location of its surface features; the economist, sociologist, geologist, botanist, etc., gives the subject matter to be generalized. The cartographer classifies and generalizes these details and converts them into maps.


Scope of cartography is wide. It includes the conceptualization of various aspects including extent, scale, projection, themes, field survey and its methods, data capturing and compilation, analysis and representation, etc. It starts with physical features or phenomena to cultural features and phenomena.

We can liken cartography to a drama played by two actors, the map maker and map user, with two-stage properties, the map and the data domain (all potential information that might be put on a map). The map maker selects information from the data domain and puts it into map format. The user then observes and responds to this information

Thus, there are four processes in cartography:

  1. Collecting and selecting the data for mapping
  2. Manipulating and generalizing the data, designing and constructing the map
  3. Reading or viewing the map
  4. Responding to or interpreting the information

We can liken cartography to a drama played by to actros (map maker and map user) with two stages properties (data and map)

Present Status and Scope of Cartography

In the modern world, the science of mapping includes not only remote sensing but also cartography and Geographical Information system (GIS). Actually remote sensing functions in harmony with the spatial data collection tools of the mapping sciences which include cartography and GIS. In the year 1986, Dahlberg and Jensen and in 1989, Fisher and Lindenberg developed a model suggesting a three-way interaction between remote- sensing, cartography / surveying and GIS.

Now by combining all these three disciplines i.e. Cartography, Remote Sensing and Geographic Information System (GIS), a new subject Geomatics has been developed. The reality is that the subject matter of cartography includes remote sensing and geographic information system. Now-a-days maps showing complex features are being prepared with high accuracy levels with the help of remote sensing and GIS techniques. Using these techniques, the making of maps has also become much easier and faster.

As soon as the word ‘cartography’ came into existence, it was rapidly adopted across Europe and elsewhere by mapmakers who might previously have been known as cosmographers (concerned with the real or imaginary universe), chart-makers (for sea travelers), chorographers (focused on wider geographical regions) and Platt-makers responsible for large-scale plans or charts. It was also applied, retrospectively, to big names from the past, such as Ptolemy and Mercator (Moellering, 1980). For the last many centuries, cartography has been maintaining the tradition of high-profile map publishing. This view is also held by most GIS manufacturers who restrict the terms ‘mapping’ and ‘visualisation’ to the output or display phase of geospatial data handling. However, this interpretation focuses on only one of the main uses of cartography, the communication of spatial messages.

The other fundamental use has been to make exploration and analysis of spatial data much easier. The most recent official definition, ‘the art, science and technology of making and using maps’ (ICA, 2003), is a better description of the whole subject as employed by humans across history. But when we consider the prehistoric phase of its development, even this may still be to product- focused. More emphasis is required on the core which should be referred to as the essence of cartography.

In Cartography, technology has changed from time to time in order to meet the demands of new generations of mapmakers and map users. The first maps were manually constructed with brushes and parchment and therefore, varied in quality and were limited in distribution. The introduction of the compass, printing press, telescope, sextant, quadrant and vernier helped to a great extent in the creation of far more accurate maps and the ability to make accurate reproductions (Moellering, 1980).

Advances in photochemical technology, such as the lithographic and photochemical processes, have been responsible for producing maps with fine details and resistant to distortion in shape, moisture and wear. As a result the need for engraving was eliminated which further shortened the time it takes to make and reproduce maps (Tobler, 1979).

In the mid to last 20th century far-reaching developments in electronic technology led to a new revolution in cartography. Specifically computer hardware devices such as computer screens, plotters, printers, scanners and analytic stereo plotters along with visualization, image processing, spatial analysis and database software, have opened a new chapter to be called Computer Cartography and this has multiplied the scope of cartography many times. (From Reference 1)


Now-a-days visualization has become very popular and one of the most important techniques of cartographic presentation. Visualisation is necessary because it simplifies to a great extent the understanding of any thing or object. It can be better understood by an old proverb saying that one image is worth more than thousands of words.

Visualisation is an act of learning, i.e. man’s capability to develop images mentally that Concepts of Cartography, Remote Sensing and GIS makes the recognition of pattern and the formation of arrangement possible (Van der Wel, 1994). Visualisation is no new method in computer technology or in digital cartography. The research and efforts in finding out the way how to present diminished and simplified earth’s features and objects have been done even before the introduction of computers cartographic activity, but it is quite certain that digital procedures have contributed in achieving higher quality and quicker performance of such an act and have also opened some new doors for changes in the development and usage of map graphics (Dibiase, 1992; MacEachren, 1990; Franges, 1998).

As the development processes accelerate, the demand from mapping tools grows to present a map immediately, in realistic time on the screen. Such presentations are in accordance with the demands and usages, taking into account the spatial reality. satisfactory visualization with the elements of map graphics. More emphasis is given to the associations and similarity, and also satisfactory translation of spatial information into knowledge.

The development of visualization software requires, especially for mapping purposes, the research of real needs- an aim that users want to reach. The cartographers are required to give their expert opinions for every purposeful specialty, including the data classification, consequences of generalization and association of map symbols. assessment of how a user understands map graphics, etc. Cartographers must have a share in scientific visualization, as they are users and creators of tools, based on scientific and professional knowledge, and also on individual skills (MacEachren, 1990).

In the context of spatial data management, the process of visualization is considered as translation of transformation of spatial data from the database into a drawing. These are mostly the products similar to maps. (From Reference 1)

  • K.K Maltair & S.R Maltair, Rajesh Publications, Concept of Cartography Remote Sensing and Gis, First addition.


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