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Career as a Cartographer

Updated: Jun 1, 2020

Who is a Cartographer?

The first maps were manually constructed with brushes and parchment, dating back many centuries. From the 15th to the 17th century, during the Age of Exploration, cartographers used these maps that had been passed down through the centuries to create new ones based on new surveying techniques and explorers' observations.

Today, cartography is a mixture of art, science, and technology. Cartographers use geodetic surveys and remote sensing systems to measure, analyses, and create maps and charts for po-litical, cultural, and educational purposes.

What does a Cartographer do?

Cartographers typically do fieldwork to collect and verify data used in creating maps. They will also:

  • Collect and analyze geographical data, such as population density, demographic characteristics, and annual precipitation patterns.

  • Examine and compile data from ground surveys, reports, aerial photographs, and satellite images to prepare thematic maps

  • Prepare thematic maps in digital or graphic form to be used for social, environmental, political, business, educational, and design purposes.

  • Revise existing maps and charts to make corrections, adjustments, and updates.

  • Cartographers use information from geodetic surveys and remote sensing sys-tems, including aerial cameras, satellites, and technologies such as light-imaging detection and ranging (LIDAR).

  • LIDAR uses lasers attached to planes and other equipment to digitally map the topography of the earth. LIDAR is often more accurate than traditional surveying methods and can also be used to collect other forms of data, such as the location and density of forest canopies.

  • Data from LIDAR is used to provide spatial information to specialists in water re-source engineering, geology, seismology, forestry, construction, and other fields.

Types of Cartography

General vs. thematic cartography

  • General cartography involves those maps that are constructed for a general audience and thus contain a variety of features. General maps exhibit many reference and location systems and often are produced in a series.

  • Thematic cartography involves maps of specific geographic themes, oriented to-ward specific audiences. As the volume of geographic data has exploded over the last century, thematic cartography has become increasingly useful and necessary to interpret spatial, cultural and social data.

Topographic vs. topological

  • A topographic map is primarily concerned with the topographic description of a place, including (especially in the 20th and 21st centuries) the use of contour lines showing elevation. Terrain or relief can be shown in a variety of ways.

  • A topological map is a very general type of map, the kind one might sketch on a napkin. It often disregards scale and detail in the interest of clarity of communicating specific route or relational information.

Workplace and Environment of a Cartographer:

Cartographers spend much of their time in offices using computers with large moni-tors, so they can easily study and extract information from aerial photographs and other sources.

However, certain jobs require extensive fieldwork to acquire data and verify results. They typically do fieldwork to collect and verify data

used in creating maps.

Knowledge Areas to be Acquired

Cartography involves the creation of maps.

Geography is the study of humans and the environment in which they live.

Together, the two fields are applied to research in a host of areas, such as climatol-ogy, agriculture, the environment and marketing.

Inside Geography and Cartography

Geography and cartography are interrelated social and natural sciences dealing with the characteristics of the Earth's surface, the people who inhabit different areas of the planet and map making. Cartography employs geographic information systems (GIS) technology to create computerized maps for tracking diverse types of information, such as population growth, environmental hazards, traffic patterns, natural resources and weather patterns.


  • an interest in geography and the environment

  • a keen eye for detail as much of the work involves careful research and the collection and manipulation of data

  • an eye for layout and design, good spatial awareness and colour vision

  • IT literacy

  • analytical ability and problem-solving skills

  • Teamwork skills in order to produce maps quickly and effectively

  • a methodical and systematic approach to work

  • high standards of accuracy and attention to set procedures

  • the ability to interpret data, graphical representations and symbols

  • the ability to work independently.

A Typical Workday

On a daily basis, Cartographers and Photogrammetrists determine map content and layout, as well as production specifications such as scale, size, projection, and co-lours, and direct production to ensure that specifications are followed. They identify, scale, and orient geodetic points, elevations, and other planimetric or topographic features, applying standard mathematical formulas.

A typical day for a Cartographer and Photogrammetrist will also include:

  • Prepare and alter trace maps, charts, tables, detailed drawings, and three-dimensional optical models of terrain using stereoscopic plotting and computer graphics equipment.

  • Compile data required for map preparation, including aerial photographs, sur-vey notes, records, reports, and original maps.

  • Collect information about specific features of the Earth, using aerial photogra-phy and other digital remote sensing techniques.

  • Delineate aerial photographic detail, such as control points, hydrography, topo-graphy, and cultural features, using precision stereo-plotting apparatus or drafting instruments.

  • Study legal records to establish boundaries of local, national, and international properties.

Personality Traits

  • Cartographers tend to be predominantly investigative individuals, which means that they are quite inquisitive and curious people that often like to spend time alone with their thoughts. They also tend to be realistic, which means that they often enjoy working outdoors or applying themselves to a hands-on project.


An investigative person is someone who lives in the mind. To solve problems, they prefer reading and studying, books and text, rather than their using their hands. They tend to analyze situations before making decisions. Investigative people are independent thinkers that are both curious and insightful.

An investigative person is someone who lives in the mind. To solve problems, they prefer reading and studying, books and text, rather than their using their hands. They tend to analyze situations before making decisions. Investigative people are independent thinkers that are both curious and insightful.


A realistic person is someone who is very body-oriented. This individual enjoys using their hands and eyes to solve practical problems. They like doing outdoor, mechanical, and physical activities. It’s very natural for a realistic person to relate to the physical world—this type of person usually does not deal with problems concerning ideas, data, or people, but rather, they like to concentrate on problems they can solve with their hands.

A realistic person is someone who is very body-oriented. This individual enjoys using their hands and eyes to solve practical problems. They like doing outdoor, mechanical, and physical activities. It’s very natural for a realistic person to relate to the physical world—this type of person usually does not deal with problems concerning ideas, data, or people, but rather, they like to concentrate on problems they can solve with their hands.


Candidates who are interested in this cartography field usually require at least a bachelor’s degree in engineering or physical science or cartography or geography. They can also pursue undergraduate degree in drafting, mathematics and surveying and measurements. Computer knowledge such as computer assisted design (CAD), computer-assisted mapping (CAM), satellite navigation, and computer-assisted cartography (CAC) is essential. In some situations, they are also required to do fieldwork in order to get an exposure in cartography. Most of the countries will require licensing for cartographers and the licensing requirements may vary depending on the country or state where the candidates wish to work.

Job Outlook

Enormous employment opportunities are available for cartographers not only in the public sector but also in the private sector now. Companies in the private sector are now recognizing the skill that a geographically-trained cartographer individual can bring to their use. Many trained professionals can be found working as cartographers (map makers), GIS specialists, analysis, scientists, researchers, and many at other important positions in big organizations. Experienced cartographers can also be found working as instructors, professors, and researchers at schools, colleges, and in universities.


For starter one can get anywhere near Rs.15,000 to Rs.20,000 and if one decides to join some overseas organization, he can get anywhere near Rs.5,00,000 to Rs.10,000,00 per year depending upon the organization. After gaining some on job experience one gets as good as Rs.50,000 per month and more.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What hours do cartographers work?

Cartographers don’t work in a particularly intense environment, and flexible working hours are quite common. The majority of cartographers, however, choose to work a typical nine-to-five. Some cartographers work on a freelance basis.

Who employs cartographers?

Cartographers work within a variety of areas, including publishing, government, surveying and conservation. The government is one of the main employers of carto-graphers, in departments including Ordnance Survey, the Ministry of Defence, tour-ism departments and the Department of Transport. Several private sector organiza-tions using GIS and remote sensing technology also require the service of a qualified Cartographer. You could work for local authority planning departments, oil and utility companies, universities, commercial map publishers and the Geological Survey. Cartographers can join NGOs and other developmental agencies engaged in population studies, rural development and various environmental issues. Cartographers can also join the Survey of India or state Survey Departments or Private organizations such as Eicher maps, Google maps etc. Teaching in schools/colleges/universities is also a good option for a Cartographer. They can work with various research institutes. Some Cartographers, called project cartographers, work on a short-term freelance basis. Businesses that deal with selling maps, producing maps for encyclopedias, reference books and atlases, publishers, planners, engineers, architects also need cartographers.

Is there a difference between Cartographers and Photogrammetrists?

Both the Cartographers and Photogrammetrists are the professionals working in the same field, geography. Even though the professionals’ job sounds similar, there are many differences between them. Cartographers are those professionals who are mainly engaged in creating geographic maps. Photogrammetrists are professionals who map wide range of geographic information.

Cartography is a specialized field that involves the study and practice of making geographic maps. The extremely trained professionals in this particular area are called cartographers. Their responsibility is to perform the cartographic tasks and measure and map the earth’s surface and its various components. They collect, as-sess and interpret the geographic data obtained from surveys and concerned photo-graphs gained through satellites or aircrafts. The information thus obtained is used to create clear and precise maps. The maps created by them clearly describe the physical and social characteristics of specific land areas. These experts carry out geographic researches also.

Photogrammetry is also related to the geographic field which deals in determining the geometric features of objects by using photographic images. Photogrammetrists are highly trained experts who focus in measuring and mapping the earth’s surface. They use the photographs to gain, evaluate, understand and map wide variety of geographic information. These professionals also work with spatial and non-spatial data. They map and oversee the aerial and ground surveys, operations of airborne cameras and capturing of images. They also carry out the projects requested by oth-er professionals.

Is there a difference between Cartographers and Demographer?

Demography is a science which is a subsection of sociology. The job of a demo-grapher involves the studies related to the various trends in population relating to the distribution of the population in a country. Apart from analyzing the population trends, demographers also find out the different factors which led to the increase or decrease of population. Demographers conduct different statistical surveys and arrive on specific conclusions with respect to the population trends. Demographers are also called population sociologists are also capable of forecasting the future population trends which can be of great help to the various social service firms, government etc. to reframe their policies accordingly. Cartographer also called as mapping scientists are involved in the study and preparation of geographical maps. These professionals conduct surveys and collect information from aerial photographs etc. which will be used in making drawings related to various areas on earth surface. The drawings made by the cartographers give precise and specific information regarding the physical and social characteristics of different areas in earth.

What Are the Dangers of Being a Cartographers?

The good news: Unless you're really bad at walking up and down stairs, you're probably not going to break a leg or displace a joint while being a cartographer. Actually, you're probably not in much physical danger at all. Even field work isn't very dangerous; you'll basically just be standing in one place and taking pictures of the landscape.

The worst-case scenario is that you step in an ant pile or get your foot caught in a hole. You might get a sprain or break from the latter...but you'll probably avoid those issues by just, you know, looking where you're walking.

Is cartography an art or a science?

Cartography is the art, science and technology of making maps, together with their study as scientific documents and works of art (I.C.A in Meynen 1973).

Cartography is the discipline dealing with the conception, production, dissemination and study of maps (I.C.A. in Anonymous 1992).

What is the job like?

Most cartographers work full-time schedules. Professionals who travel to do field-work might work longer days. "Cartographers balance many pieces of software that do everything from assisting with data collection, storage and cleaning, to analysis tools, to finally, creating the finalized piece," Buckingham explains. "One day can be spent on one of those steps, or all of those steps, depending on the scope of the project, and the number of projects that a cartographer may be balancing in a given day. Additionally, cartographers spend a lot of time researching their topic, through their own research or by working with domain experts. This helps the cartographer determine what questions to ask of the data, and the appropriate way to represent it."

There are stresses. Buckingham says that data is messy. When a client is looking for a creative solution to a bunch of jumbled, messy data, cartographers might get writer's block. "One thing that is both stressful and deeply rewarding are how rapidly things are changing in this industry," Buckingham says. "It provides the opportunity to be learning constantly, yet it can mean that something you programmed last year is now out of date."

"The most rewarding part of cartography is helping someone see their data in a new way. I have worked with an author who was an expert in his field, and had re-searched a topic for 10 years. When he saw a map of the subject matter, he ex-pressed joy in fully understanding what had happened because he had never seen the data represented spatially.”

Is it worth becoming a cartographer?

Workers might as well have a job that's enjoyable and a career that's fulfilling. A job with a low stress level, good work-life balance and solid prospects to improve, get promoted and earn a higher salary would make many employees happy.

What are the related degree options for a Cartographers?

Once an area has been mapped and boundaries and features clearly defined, a landscape architect makes use of the data in order to design and develop outdoor areas that can include parks, recreation areas, campuses and private residences or businesses. Taking into consideration for the environmental and aesthetic aspects of the area, they confer with the client to determine the client's needs and desires. Entry into the profession requires either a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture (BLA) or A bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture (BSLA). In order to produce buildings, roadways, airports, bridges and the like within the boundaries of a particular surveyed area, the cervices of a civil engineer come into play. Prospective civil engineers must earn a bachelor's degree in either civil engineering technology or one of the civil engineering specialties such as structural engineering, geotechnical engineering, construction engineering or transportation engineering. Using information provided by surveyors and cartographers, they examine and analyze plans for an area in order to complete the desired construction. They see to it that the project will comply with local, state, federal and environmental regulations and, once approved, monitor its progress to completion.

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