How to print high resolution county/street maps
March 21, 2008 6:33 PM   Subscribe

I need to print a huge map, but I need a high resolution source, or vector graphics. I will be printing this on a large 64" color plotter. I found a place that sells pdf/vector files, but they are wanting near $100 dollars, and I don't think they even cover our County. I was hoping there was some software out there that allows this, or better yet, some way to output large images from google maps. Any suggestions? Thanks!
posted by passtehbrainz to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
It would help if you told exactly what you need a map of.
posted by nathan_teske at 6:45 PM on March 21, 2008

I've had success stitching together screengrabs from google maps. (This does not comply with their copyright, which depending on your purpose may be a problem.) I think they have a link for licensing info, though which you might be able to find out about ordering something from them, but I think you're probably looking at $100 or more that way too.
I just beefed the computer display up to 1600x1200 so that fewer screengrabs would be needed (as each is now larger), then used the PrintScreen button and photoshop. Dump all the grabs into layers, crop the image so all layers are now free of UI elements, then assemble. Bit of a bore, but you get into a rhythm and get through them soon enough.
There are also the competing services to check out too - Yahoo maps, MS, etc.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:50 PM on March 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Go to Look up the reference maps in the world factbook. You can open the maps up in Illustrator. They are full vector files with plenty of layers. You can edit as much as you want and then print out the results.
posted by b1tr0t at 6:51 PM on March 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I'm not sure what you need but the Libre Map Project has an awful lot of free maps.
posted by jessamyn at 6:54 PM on March 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

try mapagigante?
posted by ofthestrait at 7:02 PM on March 21, 2008

It would be helpful if you provided more information:

What type of map are you wanting to print out? Custom GIS/Reference Type maps, or screenshots form Google Earth? Something else?
Where are you? (US? UK? Somewhere else?)

If you're in the US and you're looking to print a custom county map or city map, you might have some success contacting the GIS department in the city/county government and see if they can provide a .pdf version of what you're wanting to map. If you live near a University or College, their library might be able to help you create vector versions of shapefiles that you can use.

If you're not in the US, these options may not apply. Some countries are more protective of their GIS files than others.

Also if you're looking for something other than GIS/Reference maps then we're probably going to need more info.
posted by cptspalding at 7:08 PM on March 21, 2008

It would help to know where you are, but if you are in the United States you should know that all map data produced by government money is available free to the public. There are a lot of free maps available for the US because of this, whereas getting digital maps for somewhere like the UK (where the Ordinance Survey feeds off the govenm't teat but still charges researchers £1000s to access the data, and yes, I'm bitter) is a lot harder.

You can download GIS data from the USGS, and they also seem to do maps here - maps from USGS.

But if you are in the US, what you need should be out there, and probably for free. It may, however, come in a format like GIS shapefiles which are difficult to access. You can get free GIS software, but I don't actually whether GIS programs have a compatible standard. (I've just recently begun to learn GIS - but our class has been downloading all sorts of data on the local county from the census bureau, USGS, etc, to practice on.)
posted by jb at 9:35 PM on March 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

It depends on what you are looking for as the to the best source. Are you looking for state information, county, or city? Try the governments for your state, county or city. I work every day with cad files and know where to easily find them at least for my locality.
posted by JJ86 at 5:44 AM on March 22, 2008

If your intent is to have large, sharp clean prints of the maps, I would highly advise against doing anything that involves screencaps.
Stitching together screengrabs of Google maps (no matter how high you boost your display's resolution) is still going to give you low-resolution (72 dpi) graphics which will look like pixelated junk when printed so large. You definitely need .ai, .eps, or .pdf files.
If you download the CIA maps, make sure you get the PDF versions (not the jpeg). That's a great resource, btw. Nice find.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:00 AM on March 22, 2008

Awesome thread, thanks for posting this question.
posted by Area Control at 8:35 AM on March 22, 2008

What are you talking about, Thorzdad? Stitching together screencaps can get you arbitrarily high resolution. There's no reason to say that Illustrator or PDF files are necessarily better than stitching together screencaps.
posted by saeculorum at 9:39 AM on March 22, 2008

What are you talking about saeculorum? The difference is vector vs. bitmap. Vector images can be reproduced to rediculous sizes, whereas with bitmaps - you get grainy, pixelated maps.

passtehbrainz: If you tell us where you are at, we can help you out. It really depends on what you want on your map.
posted by bigmusic at 5:39 PM on March 22, 2008

bigmusic: Bitmapped images can have arbitrarily high resolutions though - there's nothing preventing you from spending all day stitching together Google maps images to get a 18000 x 12000 image, which could be printed at 300 ppi at 60" x 40". There's nothing about bitmaps that makes them automatically grainy when printed at large sizes. I'm honestly not sure what either you or Thorzdad are talking about.
posted by saeculorum at 7:10 PM on March 22, 2008

saeculorum: This is picture of the moon.

zoom in as much as you can go with image viewer. and see, pixelated (you can see the individual pixels) - this not something you want on a map. Generally if you are using a raster(bitmap) image on map, you never zoom to that level - but if you are making a large format map - as the asker is talking about - you want to start off with vectors so you don't see the pixels - you don't get the jagged lines like in raster image.

However, while vector graphics the preferred formats to work with maps - aerial/satellite data isn't in vectors - it is raster data - so like satellite images or flyovers - you can't make that into vector data. Which is why on - for example - Google maps you can't zoom all the way in because if you zoomed all the way in the information is so pixelated as to be useless. Besides aerial data, the only other data that is commonly represented as raster is the old USGS topographic maps - but they are being converted to vector formats slowly.

For a basic overview of the difference between vector vs raster (bitmap) here's a good forum post on the subject.
posted by bigmusic at 8:55 PM on March 22, 2008

bigmusic: I think we're talking about different things here. I understand what you're talking about. You're missing my point though. Vectored graphics are always bitmapped for printing. Printers can only print discrete points of ink, toner, wax, etc. Provided a bitmap has sufficiently many pixels to print a large image at a resolution that prevents pixelization, there is no difference between a bitmapped source and a vectored source. I don't mean to be a pain, but I really don't understand how you can say that a printed 300 ppi bitmap will look worse than a vectorized graphic rendered at 300 ppi. They are the same.
posted by saeculorum at 9:08 PM on March 22, 2008

He's printing it on a plotter. A plotter is used to print vector graphics.

But even if he was printing on an inkjet or a laser printer - raster graphics don't scale well - up or down. He would have to print at exactly the same resolution as the screencap for it to look good decent. Is it likely to happen in any situation? Nope. Raster images only work well for one resolution. For this and many other reasons, vector image formats are the best for map work.
posted by bigmusic at 9:28 PM on March 22, 2008

Plotters are just large-format inkjet printers. I don't think pen-based plotters have existed for at least 10 years. There are no (current) printers that print vectored images. All vector graphics are bitmapped prior to printing. All of my statements are still true. Moreover, raster images don't have one resolution - they have the resolution they are printed at (or displayed at). As such, that resolution can be arbitrarily small (resulting in a gigantic output image) or arbitrarily large (resulting in a tiny output image). The OP can simply choose their resolution to be whatever they like, then print at that size.

I don't disagree that vector images are best for maps, but saying that printing a Google Maps image will always look horrible is absolutely incorrect.
posted by saeculorum at 9:32 PM on March 22, 2008

Sorry for all the silly bickering about raster vs. vector OP. Anyhow, here is how you do what you are asking - I am assuming you are in the US and using windows.

The program we are going to use for this is TaktukGIS Viewer.

The data that you are looking for can be found on this ArcGIS's Tiger Data Page. This data is from 2000, so it might not be completely accurate on all of the roads / zipcodes. But this is most likely the data that most of the pay for maps are based on, so I wouldn't worry about it too much.

So to get our data we are going to use:

1. We select the state
2. Pick your county of the dropdown box.
3. On the next screen we have a list of the Shapefiles for that county. You want a street map. So the data we download is (check mark these):

County 2000
Line Features Hydrography
Line Features Roads
Water Polygons

Download the presented package and unzip everything into the same folder. (There are going to be zipfiles inside the main zipfile so unzip everything into the same folder - you don't need the readme files).

Fire up TatukGIS Viewer.

First we need to import the layers into the program.

Go to the Layer Menu. Select Add.

Navigate to the folder where everything is unzipped at and select everything (shift down arrow key.) and open it.

Now it is going to look like crap at this point - that's ok.

We need to adjust the layer properties of each of these now to make them look more presentable.

Notice that the layers have a gobledy gook first part of their name and the last part of their name is the descriptive part. So it's wat for the water layer and cty00 for the county outline layer, lkA for the Road Lines and lkH for the hydrography lines.

So turn off all layers except the cty00 layer. We need to change this layer's properties so that's just the outline of the county.

Right click on the layer, and select properties.
It should default to the Area tab - now select solid for the pattern and the color as white. Hit Ok.

Now drag the cty00 layer all the way to the bottom of the Layer list (legend).

Now turn on the Water layer (wat).

Properties | Area
Pattern should be solid and color some kind of blue.
Click on Outline and change the style to Clear Press OK.
Now drag the water layer just about the cty00 layer.

Hydrography Lines - lkH (turn it on)

Layer Properties | Should default to the Line tab.
Change the color to same color blue as wat layer.
Press OK, drag that layer just about the wat layer.

Road Lines - lkA (turn it on)

Layer properties | Should default to the Line tab. | Switch to Label tab.

On the dropdown of the field select - FENAME
Make sure the "visible" box is check marked.

On the color button, change it to white. Press OK.

Make sure the lkA layer is above the lkH layer in the legend box.

Now center the image by pressing F3.

Now to print it. File | Print preview Make sure that "Visible extent" is check marked. Turn off Date, and Legend. Turn on Scale.

Now print it. Done. Here's a sample of this with Polk County, TN data.
posted by bigmusic at 10:55 PM on March 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

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