Zoom In or Zoom Out? Choosing the Best Map Scale
Essential to the appearance and functionality of your map, determining map scale is no small endeavor. A reduction which seeks to translate real world dimensions to those of the map plane, careful consideration and calculation is necessary to achieving winning map results. Greatly affecting the design process, necessary elements in your map will vary based on this selection alone. Fortunately, though this process is anything but simple, there are a few basic rules that can help you reach a suitable decision.
Factors to Consider to Help You Choose an Appropriate Map Scale
Thinking through these matters in the pre-design phase can help you to more easily determine an appropriate map size and scale.
- Print Medium
The primary factor affecting scale, your paper selection will greatly impact final scaling decisions. Consider: Tiny A5 size stock (5.8×8.3”) will not work for a poster-sized nautical map… Nor will overwhelmingly large A0 (33.1×46.8”) newspaper stock work for mapping a small park trail.
- The Math
Map scale is technically defined as the ratio of map distance to actual distance. Seasoned cartographers knows the numerator should always be a round number – no making up your own scale (for example, 1:25 355 is a no-no). Look to these typical classifications instead:
- Large scale: Greater than 1:25 000; for example, a map of a local neighborhood, where more detail, such as individual buildings, would be apparent.
- Medium scale: 1:50 000 to 1:100 000.
- Small scale: Less than 1:200 000; for example, a page-sized map of Switzerland, where limited detail is possible.
Some map themes offer limited scale options. For example, population density maps, should not be larger than 1:100 000 to avoid misrepresentation.
When choosing a scale, consider purpose versus functionality. Keep in mind, large scale maps are typically not economic, are more difficult to handle, and can be misleading. On the flipside, small scale maps can be difficult to read and overly complicated. Necessary details should help you narrow down such scale needs. In the case of any size map, however, one rule always applies: Purpose should always trump creative design.
Consider measuring and counting. Should the map be detailed and precise, such as a large scale theme park map, or more generalized?
- Map Variables
How many variables are you adding to your map? Would it be preferable to create a series of maps rather than one that is overwhelmingly jam-packed?
- Printing Costs
Generally speaking, larger maps cost more to produce.
- Map Folding
If the map will be folded or printed front to back, you may be able to choose a smaller size.
Struggling with design? At MapPrinter, we’ve been places, and can help get you to your dream map printing destination. Ensure stellar results. Consult with an experienced map printing professional at MapPrinter today.