Why Cartographer Jobs Are Still Relevant in the 21st Century

What Does a Cartographer Do? What Is a Typical Cartographer Salary?

cartographer map guide
What is a cartographer job like in the digital age? Cartographers have adapted to the changing environment of map-making with computer-based design such as GIS.

Last Updated: Jul 20, 2017

The Modern-Day Cartographer Job

Once upon a time, cartographers like Mercator plotted out our globe for explorers to use on heroic journeys across the globe.

No doubt, some of the older maps are works of art.

But times have changed from paper maps to the digital age. While the lost art form of traditional cartography is shifting, its fundamentals remain the same. For example, cartographers still maintain balance, harmony and legibility when creating their visual masterpiece.

Do you want to become a cartographer? Here are some of the things cartographers do in the 21st century.

How Much Is a Cartographer Salary Around the World?

What is the average cartographer salary? The modern map-maker generally enjoys an above-average salary.

We’ve put together an infographic illustrating how much cartographers make. On average in the United States, cartographers are in the mid-to-high pay range of 60,000$ to 70,000$.

GIS Salary Pyramid - Infographic

But what about if you’re looking for a cartographer salary around the world?

As cartographers use design principles of map projections, this job generally requires a degree in geography, Geographic Information Systems or graphic design.

Based on 2016 data, this map charts out the average cartographer salary in various countries from around the world. The value is based on the country currency on an annual basis.

Scroll to the bottom of this article to see a world map with cartgrapher salaries.

READ MORE: GIS Salary Expectations: Climb the GIS Career Ladder

The Lost Art of Cartography?




Some say that cartography has lost its art…

But I disagree.

It involves structured processing, generalization and assembly. For a map to be effective, the graphic characteristics must be carefully chosen and integrated together.

For example, cartographers can use flow maps to show the movement of goods.

flow maps

Or they could exaggerate area with the funky-looking cartogram.

density equalizing cartograms

Now, web mapping is all the buzz. This includes programming languages like JavaScript and new technologies like WebGL.

esri webgl renderer

Lastly, you might have to be able to generate hundreds of maps in minutes. Cartographers have tools to create mapbooks with data driven pages in ArcGIS or the QGIS atlas.

QGIS Atlas

There are more interesting ways to tell a story than there was hundreds of years ago.

Cartography is dependent on visual communication. Your work will be critiqued, and you will make thousands of revisions in your life time.

There are hundreds of tools to produce maps. Here’s a list of the most common cartography software: Esri ArcGIS, QGIS, Mapbox, TileMill, Leaflet, Avenza MAPublisher, Intergraph GeoMedia Pro, Microsoft Office, Adobe Illustrator, InDesign, Photoshop, Flash, and Acrobat.

What Does a Cartographer Do?

Not only do cartographers specialize in the production of maps, but they have to skillful in cartographic design and map-making.

Map Elements Infographic
Check Out The Map Elements Infographic

If you’re thinking of becoming a cartographer, you will have to be skilled in the growing field of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and graphical design.

  • Cartographers do a lot of cartography (surprised?), which is the study of creating maps. The origin comes from charta – “tablet or leaf of paper” and graph – “to draw”. This includes softcopy mapping and quality control/assurance.
  • Cartographers often partake in writing a bit of code with GIS programming. For web mapping, JavaScript is the most popular but other programming languages include Python, SQL, JavaScript, C++ and Java.
  • A lot of GIS layers are stored in spatial databases. For this reason, cartographers need database management skills on how to store and extract information from structured sets of geographic data. Other helpful skills are database development, database administration and asset management.
  • Spatial Analysis uses techniques to manipulate, extract, locate and analyze geographic data. Cartographers use spatial analysis to buffer, clip and explore relationships between features. Modeling, data integration & conversion, geocoding and geomatics are useful skills

map image

What Skills Do Cartographers Require?

  • Knowledge of cartographic design principles including color and symbology theory, map projections, thematic and statistical mapping, topographic and reference mapping, display hierarchies, typography, and data generation.
  • Knowledge of GIS principles including spatial data types, data layers, basic geographic, analytic, and statistical functions; geographic coordinate systems and data formatting.
  • Collect, analyze, and integrate geographic into an effectively designed cartographic product.
  • Proficient in the use of mapping software, hardware, and platforms necessary for cartographic, graphic, and web production, such as Esri ArcView GIS, Esri ArcGIS and Intergraph GeoMedia Pro

The Final Verdict

Cartographers specialize in the production of maps. They analyze and compile geographic data and mix it into a publishable map.

Overall, cartography is a mixture of art, science, and technology. In this respect, cartographers find their job challenging and enjoyable.

Cartographer jobs (only doing cartography) are becoming more rare. It’s difficult to find a job just doing cartography, as you’ll have to be skilled in other fields as well.

There is still a need for a modern day cartographer to tell a story and visually display results.

GIS Cartographer Salaries Map

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