About Cartography and Book Typography

Important differences between cartography and book typography:

Like books and other printed things, the overall impression of a map often stems from its typographic design. Often this will be the primary source of critique against it! The type can be too big, too small, to thick, or too thin. Unlike most books, however, maps are multi-layered, complex compositions. The uppermost layer of type often contains the most important information, but must remain legible without covering over too much of the visual detail underneath.

To describe the situation in cartographic design another way, the wrong typeface choice can ruin an otherwise beautiful map! However, even the best typeface design cannot save a map if it is not used properly. A clearly designed hierarchy, using the type in concert with the map’s other elements must be put into place.

Regarding its typographic needs, cartography (maps and plans made for print or screen) is different from traditional print design the following reasons:

  1. On maps and plans, text competes with the graphics. In books and magazines, they normally work alongside one another. Text on maps or plans may include place names, descriptions, additional political or geographic info, elevation, and coordinate points.

  2. Cartographic text cannot be placed over backgrounds that share the same color as the letters.

  3. Cartographic text is also typically placed over many various types of backgrounds – which are usually dark – instead of a common white background, as is the cast with traditional text-based documents.

  4. Small text can be difficult to read when placed over complex, textured backgrounds.

  5. The eye reads text on a map letter-by-letter, instead of through word shapes.

  6. On maps, single lines of text often run across the page diagonally, or on a curve.

  7. Type size and style changes quite a lot on maps.

  8. Much map text is set in quite small point sizes.

Because of these differences, typefaces designed for use in cartography must meet the following standards:

  1. The typeface must be legible in small sizes.

  2. At the same time, the typeface must also be slightly narrow, to avoid line lengths running too long.

  3. The different styles and weights of the typeface must be clearly differentiated from one another.

  4. Individual letters must also all appear different from one another, to help minimize misreadings and misunderstandings.

  5. The typeface must be able to form good word shapes, which will also directly increase legibility.

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