making a printable map
September 30, 2008 12:01 PM   Subscribe

How to make a print quality map of office locations that includes county boundaries.

I'm working on creating a map for print that shows the various cities where our offices are located. Our non-profit locale is defined by counties, so my map needs to show the counties that comprise our operational area, the cities in which our offices are located, and hopefully some kind of highlighted road marker between the locations.
I can easily get the cities and road marker by adding destinations on, but am having problems with the county boundaries part. Plus I don't think that's copyright free, plus the 72 DPI screen grab will print horribly.
My budget for this is basically zero, so purchasing software isn't possible. What are some options for getting this done in a quality fashion?
posted by D-ten to Travel & Transportation (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't know where you are, but I'd bet your state/province/whatever has GIS data available somewhere. (Here are some datasets for Illinois.) You can combine different datasets in open-source GIS software like uDig or QGIS, select which features you want visible, set styles for different map elements and labels, etc. GIS data is vector-based, so it shouldn't be a problem to export to some raster image format at whatever resolution you need.
posted by enn at 12:14 PM on September 30, 2008

Use Google Earth instead of Google Maps. I don't work with it much, but on the few occasions I did, having it draw county, zip code, state, etc., boundaries was very easy.

And boundary data is most certainly in the public domain.
posted by Doofus Magoo at 12:30 PM on September 30, 2008

At a certain level Yahoo Maps (10km or 15km) shows the county boundaries. Also the printouts don't look half bad.
posted by mhaw at 12:40 PM on September 30, 2008

It's not really doable without Geographic Information System (GIS) software, and the free GIS software is practically worthless to anyone who doesn't already know about mapping.

If you're a non-profit, talk to someone at the city, county or regional planning authority (ie, a metropolitan planning organization). It's very likely that there's a GIS whiz there will be able to pump something out very quickly if you ask nicely. They'll already have the data at their fingertips. You'll get a jpeg or tiff that can be printed at Kinkos, or maybe even a free plot.

Call 'em up, ask to set up a time to come in and talk to their GIS person face-to-face. At the time of the meeting, bring addresses you want mapped or GPS coordinates of your locations and a box of donuts.

I know it would work on me and most other under-loved government employees I know. :)

Short of that, use screen caps from google earth and stitch them together in Photoshop or the Gimp. Google Earth has all of the geographic data you want.
posted by paanta at 12:50 PM on September 30, 2008

This under-loved government employee probably wouldn't do it for free (or a box of donuts). Never mind that, since you're dealing with a large area of space (multiple counties), your local regional planning GIS person may not even have all of the data readily available (I'm a city employee and barely have information on the county). Our GIS department (of four) has policies and procedures for doing outside work.

You can probably get the data for free relatively easily from the census, as mentioned above. Now, making the map would probably be harder. I think you are running into that quality/price/speed triangle if you've ever seen it. If you want good quality and essentially free you have to do it yourself, which means you or one of your coworkers needs to know how to use GIS software. Which can be varying degrees of hard, depending on your temperament and abilities. If you do get that far, you'll be able to make the map exactly to your obsessive specifications, and likely end up with a good quality print product. I think otherwise you'll have a hard time finding options that don't involve somewhat questionable quality and a web-based map service such as Google Maps.
posted by that girl at 3:07 PM on September 30, 2008

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