Map-making software that allows picking individual geographical features?
November 20, 2011 7:42 PM   Subscribe

Is there any software (online or Mac) that will help me to make clean, simple custom maps for a classroom? Ideally, I'd start with a simple, blank outline map, then be able to add features one at a time. (For example, perhaps I'd select "Ohio River" from a dropdown menu, and then it would appear on the map.)

I'm not looking for anything that only allows me to add pushpin-style marks, as I need to be able to show each geographical feature in its entirety, not just one point on it. I'm also not looking for anything that requires me to draw the features manually, since I can already do that by hand. I need to be able to add the features one-by-one, not as a group - having a map overlay of ALL major rivers, cities, etc. won't work.
posted by SpiralT to Education (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
There is a nifty online system that does most of what you want, the interagency active fire mapping program. However it's pretty focused on mapping active fires. But it's got all kinds of GIS like features: you can turn on and off the roads, streams, terrain. I wonder if you could co-opt it?
posted by zomg at 7:55 PM on November 20, 2011

Hm. I'm pretty aware of what's out there and I haven't heard of anything that meets your precise requirements. ArcGIS Online would come close; they have rather plain base maps and you can search for layers to add. Sorry no link, I'm on my phone, but just search for arcgis online.
posted by desjardins at 8:06 PM on November 20, 2011

Response by poster: I looked at ArcGIS, and while it's pretty awesome, it's not geared toward the sort of fine-tuning I want. (For example, if I search for a Mississippi River layer, there's nothing that *only* has the Mississippi.)
posted by SpiralT at 8:11 PM on November 20, 2011

It sounds like you would need some sort of GIS tool to achieve what you describe. One workflow that could work, would be to use QGIS (free, open-source) and some vector editing program like Inkscape (also free) and PowerPoint/Keynote. Then, you can locate the data you want somewhere online (there are lots of free GIS sources of geographic data), load it into QGIS, export as a vector and then tweak it in Inkscape or PowerPoint.

It's a lot of work though! You might also have luck asking your question on (or future GIS data questions).
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 8:26 PM on November 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

ArcGIS Explorer is designed to do exactly what you want, and it's free. QGIS is also excellent but might have a bit more of a learning curve.
posted by cromagnon at 1:46 AM on November 21, 2011

Another approach that occurs to me is to look for an SVG map at Wikimedia Commons that has the basic elements you need and then subtract and add things in Inkscape to customize it.
posted by XMLicious at 4:02 AM on November 21, 2011

SimpleMapper might be an option.
posted by dhruva at 5:12 AM on November 21, 2011

ArcGIS does have that fine tuning available in many different forms. One could create a feature layer showing only the Mississippi or alternatively, create a definition query selecting out the Mississippi for starters. There are probably some other ways of doing that. The full package is pretty expensive and probably overkill for those needs. I'm not sure if those features are found in ArcGIS explorer.
posted by buttercup at 7:53 AM on November 21, 2011

I was going to say I don't think ArcGIS is available for Macs but I guess you do have some options.
posted by desjardins at 9:20 AM on November 21, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions, all... looks like I'm going to stick with making my own, though. All of these would mean spending more time, not less, and I'd be less happy with the results.
posted by SpiralT at 11:22 PM on November 25, 2011

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