Digital Cartography

Cartography is the knowledge associated with the art, science, and technology of maps. Maps portray spatial relationships among selected phenomena of interest and increasingly are used for analysis and synthesis. Through digital cartography and web mapping, however, it is possible for almost anyone to produce a bad map in minutes. Although cartography has undergone a radical transformation through the introduction of digital technology, fundamental principles remain. Doing computer cartography well requires a broad understanding of graphicacy as a language (as well as numeracy and literacy). This course provides an introduction to the principles, concepts, software, and hardware necessary to produce good maps, especially in the context (and limitations) of geographic information systems (GIS) and the web.

You will be asked to work through a series of modules that present information relating to a specific topic. You will also complete a series of cartography projects to reinforce the material. Lastly, you will complete term projects. Please see the sequencing document for our suggestions as to the order in which to work through the material. We have also provided PDF versions of the lectures with the notes included.

This course makes use of the ArcGIS Pro software package from the Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI). Directions for installing the software have been provided. If you are not a West Virginia University student, you can still complete the labs but you will need to obtain access to the software on your own. You will also need access to a vector graphics editing software, such as Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape. Although not demonstrated here, map layouts can be produced using free, open-source GIS software, such as QGIS. QGIS and Inkscape can be used if you do not license ArcGIS Pro and/or Adobe Illustrator.

If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to contact us. We hope to continue to update and improve this course.

If you would like to reference an accompanying text, several options are discussed in the introductory module.

After completing this course you will be able to:

  • produce audience-appropriate maps using geospatial data, geospatial software, and vector graphics editing software.
  • explain the purpose of cartography and recognize the elements of cartographic representation.
  • appropriately symbolize and classify data.
  • use graphical parameters to visualize data.

This course was produced by West Virginia View ( with support from AmericaView ( This material is based upon work supported by the U.S. Geological Survey under Grant/Cooperative Agreement No. G18AP00077. The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of the U.S. Geological Survey. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute their endorsement by the U.S. Geological Survey.