A cartographer is involved with the scientific, technological and artistic aspects of developing and producing maps. Cartographers present complex information as diagrams, charts and spreadsheets, as well as in the form of conventional maps. Geographical information systems (GIS) and digital-mapping techniques now dominate the role.

Maps and detailed geographical information are needed for a range of purposes, from everyday use by individuals to large-scale industrial development. Cartographers work within a variety of areas, including: publishing; government; the military; surveying; and conservation.

The role varies widely from the development and design of geographical information to more strategic and technical work.


Typical Work Activities

  • Designing maps, graphics, illustrations and layouts.
  • Communicating information through the use of colour, symbols, style and other means.
  • Using computers to compile and produce graphs for specialist and general users.
  • Researching, selecting and evaluating map source data for use in the preparation or revision of maps and charts to various scales.
  • Analysing and evaluating mappable information.
  • Liaising with clients about their requirements.
  • Liaising with external contacts, such as surveyors and designers, regarding the supply of information.
  • Collating data provided by remote sensing techniques (the means by which spatial and environmental data about the earth are acquired by sensors located in satellites and aircraft).
  • Operating a photogrammetric plotting instrument or a digital photogrammetric workstation (dpw), which views the photographs stereoscopically, or in a 3d format.
  • Design, maintenance and manipulation of geographical information (gi) databases.
  • Working with geographical information systems (gis) to see, model and analyse landscape features.
  • Using desktop publishing packages to edit and formulate information.
  • Capturing, maintaining and outputting digital geographic data.
  • Generalising map data to allow for a reduction in scale (derived mapping).
  • Checking and appraising the content and accuracy of maps, charts and printing proofs.
  • Keeping up to date with emerging specialist software.
  • Managing projects, staff and resources, particularly as seniority increases.


Technical Skills

  • An interest in geography and the environment;
  • A keen eye for detail as much of the work involves careful research and the collection and manipulation of data;
  • An eye for layout and design, good spatial awareness and colour vision;
  • It literacy;
  • Analytical ability and problem-solving skills;
  • A methodical and systematic approach to work;
  • High standards of accuracy and attention to set procedures;
  • The ability to interpret data, graphical representations and symbols;
  • The ability to work independently.


Career Development

Career progression depends on the size, structure and nature of the employing organization, as well as the qualities and motivation of the individual. For cartographers working for small companies, geographical mobility can be important for career development. Cartographers in the early stages of their career often work towards gaining greater responsibility for projects and decision-making. This can lead to positions as team leader or into management. Government departments often have structured promotion progression routes. Within large organizations there are more opportunities to transfer to other parts of the business.

Some cartographers move into related areas such as photogrammetry, remote sensing, geographical information systems (GIS) and some aspects of IT-related consultancy. There are opportunities for experienced cartographers to move into self-employment, in supplying a specialist product or service to other cartographic companies or publishers. Cartographers specializing in working with GIS may be eligible to apply for Chartered Geographer (GIS) status.



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