Your Guide to Understanding Map Scales & Beginning New Map Construction
Scratching your head over map scales? Choosing the right one for your upcoming project will be essential to success. Too little detail, and your map will be hard to use. Too much, and you could overwhelm the reader, sending them screaming to more easily decipherable map solutions. To keep you on course, the experts at MapPrinter are here to break things down for you into easily understandable English…
Map Scale 101: What the Heck is a Map Scale?
Simply put, map scale boils down to the amount of detail shown on a map. This ratio of two numbers, such as 1: 25 000, equates to how many times you would have to enlarge a map to make it the actual size of the block of earth the map represents. So if your map you’re looking at is 1: 25 000, each centimeter (or inch, or millimeter, or pica) on the map would represent 25 000 of those same units of measurement on the ground. This is different from the scale bar, which is a point of reference typically included on the map to break down the scale interpretation more easily for readers: For instance, ‘4cm to 1km’ with a line 4cm long to illustrate how this distance equates to 1km of real life space.
Say What? Common Scale Classifications
Common scale classifications, which (should) always end in a round number, can make your mind melt. Why? Because higher numbers = smaller scale maps. Here, the trick is to try not to overthink them:
- Large scale:
Large scale maps are greater than 1:25 000, such as those of a local neighborhood, where more detail (foot paths, individual buildings) would be apparent. Think of large scale maps as zooming in on a small area to give you a bigger, more detailed picture. Individual features shown are large.
- Medium scale:
1:50 000 to 1:100 000 – offering a range of detail between the two, depending on size.
- Small scale:
Small scale maps are less than 1:200 000, such as a page-sized map of Colorado, where limited detail is possible. Think small scale = smaller amounts of information, with included features that are small in size: You’ll see major roads, mountains, and other landmarks shrunk to miniscule size, but you’ll lose the rest… There’s just not enough room on small scale maps to include them without overwhelming the reader.
Mission (Not-So) Impossible: How to Create a Scale Map from an Ordinary Map
Making your own scale map, unbelievably, involves a simple, 4-step process – provided math doesn’t make you scream:
- Find a map of the area you are mapping you like and want to use in your project. (In short, don’t re-invent the wheel.)
- Determine both the actual and measured distances of two points on your chosen map. This should encompass the area you want to include when you create your map. Place a ruler directly on the map, being sure to note how local terrain, such as slope, adds to distance.
- Divide the actual distance by the measured distance to determine the ‘fractional scale’ of your new map. Brain exploding? There are tools to help you calculate map scale given map and ground distances.For instance, if you measured the distance between the 2 points of the area you wish to include in your map, and that area is 20mm long, (input it into the above wizard) and the actual ground distance of that 20mm is 2 km (input this again into the wizard), you’ll discover your map scale = 1: 100 000.
- Now’s the easy part: Write/input the scale numbers on your newly created map.
Coming up short? MapPrinter has the answers to even the most complicated map printing questions. Head off problems at the pass, avoiding common map design and printing errors. Consult with our map printing experts before beginning your next project today.