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Cartography and Fonts

Frutiger StadardI have been working on a street map at 1:24,000 and been struggling with how to make the street names legible. The majority of my cartographic works have utilized either Arial or Verdana fonts for sans serif labels. I have wondered how professional cartographers, i.e. Rand McNally, TexMaps and others can have such small annotation but very little loss of clarity.

While searching for an answer I came across the CartoTalk forums which had discussions about optimal fonts for map making. Quite a few people recommended the following sans serif fonts; Helvetica Condensed, Frutiger, Avenir, Univers and Myriad. For serif fonts there were Sabon, Garamond, Heofler Text and Kepler. Of the sans serif fonts it seems Frutiger was mentioned most often.

I checked a few online stores that sell fonts such as Adobe and LinoType, the average cost of Frutiger Standard and condensed was about $60. As the graphic below depicts, I think $60 was worth it. (I did try some of the better free fonts but they did not meet my needs) The labeling was done in ArcView with standard labeling rules, 8 pt fonts at 1:24,000. The Frutiger letters are distinct and clear, more so than Verdana or Arial. At smaller scales the Frutiger fonts keep their legibility. I am fairly happy with my purchase and will be visiting CartoTalk more often for additional cartography tips.

Fonts Compared

Categories: Cartography, GIS Tags: , , ,
  1. Bobby
    May 28, 2008 at 9:37 pm

    Hey, as a geographer I appreciate what you have written as I have searched through your blog. Just a bit of constructive criticism: I believe that when you are referring to “font” with respect to labeling, you are actually meaning “typeface”. Helvetica Condensed is a typeface, 10 pt. would be a font.



  2. eashton
    June 2, 2008 at 11:19 pm

    “The term typeface is frequently conflated with font” from Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Typeface (accessed 6-1-08). Your right, I will correct the post in the near future.

  3. September 6, 2008 at 8:57 pm

    Have you considered using a Linus based GIS? I believe the GIS GRASS is native to Linux. It’s nice because pretty much everything you would ever need to pay for on Windows is available for free for Linux.

  4. September 6, 2008 at 8:58 pm

    That should say Linux instead of Linus. I’m a bit tired :o)

  5. January 30, 2009 at 7:12 pm

    I also recommend using the Optima family for maps. It comes with a variety of weights, and is legible even in italic variants.

    It is common in maps to use a different family for cultural or man-made fratures (such as city names, street names and administrative units) and for natural features (such as terrain forms, hyrdologic features and landscapes). The Optima family can be used in combination with another font on both classes of labels.

  6. July 1, 2013 at 10:54 pm

    When I initially commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each time
    a comment is added I get four e-mails with the same comment.

    Is there any way you can remove people from that service?

    Bless you!

    • CuriousGIS
      July 2, 2013 at 12:53 pm

      Looking through the options in WordPress and I’m not seeing how to turn this off. Best bet would be either to mark it as spam on your end so you never see it and/or it should have a link to stop sending you emails at the bottom of email itself. Though I will note that the fact you are getting any emails is slightly odd considering hardly anybody comments on these pages since I haven’t touched them for a few years.

  7. August 13, 2013 at 5:33 am

    I think this is among the most vital info for me.
    And i’m glad reading your article. But want to remark on few general things, The website style is ideal, the articles is really nice : D. Good job, cheers

  8. January 23, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    Exactly where did you actually get the recommendations to create ““Cartography and
    Fonts | The Curious GIS”? Regards ,Iola

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