Map design: a list of helpful online resources

Whether they’ve been making maps for 20 years or two weeks, just like any designer, cartographers need inspiration when starting their latest project.  Inspiration can come from many places and take many forms.  Here at Ordnance Survey we use a range of resources and we want to share some of them with you.  In this post we list several online resources that can help with your latest map design; from choosing the right colour palette to selecting great fonts.  Some of these resources are specific to map-making and some are more general.  It is worth noting that they are not tools for making maps but tools to help with the map design process.

Although by no means a definitive list, these are some of the tools and resources that we refer to and use regularly and we have sorted them into four categories: colours, fonts, symbols and map inspiration:



The use of colour is very often fundamental to the success of a map.  Colour can help with many elements of map design from improving visual contrast to simply catching the eye.   

ColorBrewer 2.0 is a great tool for selecting colour schemes that are specific to maps, especially helpful when mapping various classes of data.

Color Scheme Designer lets you choose colour schemes based on various parameters and the ‘Randomize Palette’ option is a great way to get colour inspiration. 

Adobe Kuler is a web-hosted application for generating colour themes and allows you to experiment quickly with colour variations and browse themes from the Kuler community. 

COLOURlovers is a creative community where people from around the world create and share colours, palettes and patterns, discuss the latest trends and explore colourful articles. 

hailpixel is a wonderful browser-based colour picker from designer Devin Hunt that allows you to create colour swatches with ease.  It’s also really fun to use! 

Raphaeljs.com/picker is a nice, easy-to-use colour picker that returns a hex code. 

RGB & Hex converter is a simple conversion tool for RGB and Hex colour values by Kenji Kojima. 

There are also lots of mobile apps that can help with colour selection and palette creation, enabling you to get inspired wherever you are.  These include Magic Color Picker, I Love Color and Real Colours.



Choosing the right fonts for a map can really enhance the aesthetics and usability and can also set the tone of a map.  Fonts can be used as a method to group associated features and establish a hierarchy. 

Here is a list of websites offering a huge range of free fonts:

1001 Free Fonts


Google fonts

Open Font Library

Urban fonts  

And here are some great sources of premium fonts:

Adobe Type




TypeBrewer is a free help tool that gives non-specialist mapmakers a chance to explore typography in a semi-structured environment. 



“Symbols are the graphic language of maps; the selection and design of symbols are a major part of creating a successful map” – Judith A. Tyner, Principles of Map Design (2010) 

Maki is a simple point of interest symbol set made for web cartography.  It is an open source project by MapBox. 

The Noun Project has a huge library of icons, many of which are great for mapping.  They are available to download and use under a creative commons license. 


Map inspiration 

Like all designers, cartographers will seek inspiration from various sources.  Making a map allows a cartographer to exercise their own creativity but it is never a bad idea to look at other peoples work in order to stimulate ideas. 

CartoTalk is a public forum for cartography and design which has over 12,000 members.  There is a map gallery where people post their map designs and get feedback from other cartographers. 

Pinterest is a content sharing service that allows members to share images, videos and other objects on their virtual pin boards.  If you search for words like ‘maps’ or ‘cartography’ you will find a whole host of inspiring images. 

Designspiration is similar to Pinterest and you can search any word to return a wide range of images.  You can also search based on specific colours. 

Google image search is always a reliable method if you are looking for visual inspiration.  Again search for words like ‘maps’, ‘cartography’ or add in more specific text based on your project. 

Atlas of Design is not strictly an online resource but this book from NACIS contains some fantastic examples of modern cartographic design.  We have a copy and would highly recommend it!

Also, keep an eye on the Ordnance Survey Flickr pages as we’ll soon be using it to showcase a variety of our own maps.

There are loads more helpful tools and resources online that we haven’t mentioned here and it’s also good practice to read blogs from fellow cartographers and designers.  There are also lots of fantastic books available on the art and application of cartography – we might cover those in a future blog post.

We hope you find these resources useful – if there is any that you use that are not listed above then please let us know in the comments section.  It would be great to hear about what inspires and aids your map designs!

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16 Responses

  1. I love these! I’ve started doing some data visualisation using maps and these will come in very handy as I tinker about on Photoshop. Thanks!


  2. Thanks Robert Steele. Glad you find it useful and like it 😉
    Its given out free to all those that attend our Better Mapping Seminars, or can be ordered directly for just £6 delivered at http://www.cartography.org.uk/booklet. Multiple orders can be placed with admin@cartography.org.uk

    I always find it a handy reference when I cant remember a URL to find things, or my computer is too busy processing!

    Clare Seldon (BCS webmaster) @bcsweb

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  9. Denis Payne

    Colorbrewer is also great at suggesting colours for those with colour vision problems. 1 in 10 (or thereabouts) men will have difficulties with some colours – most often red and green.

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