Symbolizing Cities and Towns on Small- to Medium-Scale Maps

There is a difference in the use of symbols, depending on the scale and style of the map. On small-scale maps, cities are usually shown by circles and dots; on large-scale maps by their streets. Medium-scale maps can fall somewhere in between and offer an opportunity to express the map’s unique style.

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Ortelius 2 User Interface

Workflow Changes from Ortelius 1

If you’re an Ortelius 1.9 user, knowing about these workflow changes will smooth your transition to Ortelius 2.

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Layer Transparency

Changing the opacity of all features on an Ortelius’ Drawing Layer is now easy as pie. Unlike the master opacity of individual styles, changing a Drawing Layer’s master opacity affects all features and respects the object stack order within the layer.

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Quick Tip: User Guide Language Localization

German? Japanese? French? We’ve taken our User Guide online and added Google Translate to the mix. If you prefer viewing it in a language besides English, here’s how.

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map draw rivers with tapered strokes

Designing Tapered Rivers with Flowing Styles

Ortelius has always had great tools to create smooth meandering rivers & streams. Now they can look even better with naturally tapering ends. We’ve added an expert Tapered Stroke component to the Style Inspector – you can use it to design your own creative map styles. Here’s how…

Tutorial Details

Program: Ortelius 1.7+ for Mac OS X
Difficulty: Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced
Topics Covered: Style Inspector
Estimated Completion Time: 15 minutes

Draw a Line To Preview Your New Style As It Is Built

Draw a line on the Ortelius drawing canvas so you can preview your changes as you build a new style. Open the Style Inspector. Keep your line selected for the next step.

Prefer doing things hands-on? Give it a try…


Create New Style and Add a Tapered Stroke


Choose ‘Reset’ to create a new ad-hoc style ready for your use.

Add a Tapered Stroke Style Component from the drop-down list by clicking the “+” button. You won’t be using the Fill and Stroke Style Components so they can be removed from the list by clicking the “–” button. Next, we’ll adjust the settings on your new style.

Make Adjustments


Adjust the line width of your river style. From upstream to downstream your river widths will become wider (or thicker). Plan on creating a set of 2 or 3+ stroke styles of varying widths that can be “nested” in your river hierarchy, the upper-most being your tapered stroke.

For example, this tapered style will represent the upper-most river segments that will flow into other down-stream river segments. We’ll create a 3-pt width tapered stroke to flow into a 3-pt width (non-tapered) segment, and then a 4-pt width (non-tapered) segment.

Click the color well to open the Colors panel and choose a new color. You can also adjust the percent and type of taper – we’ll keep the default settings as they work really nicely for rivers. Then uncheck the “Right” setting so your stroke is only tapered on one end.

HINT: When you draw your rivers in the direction from upstream to downstream the taper will be the upstream end. You can always choose Edit > Paths & Tracks > Reverse if you need to flip the direction of the taper.

Add Style To Library


As desired, click at the top of the Style Components list to return to the main Style Inspector window. Type in a name for your new style and click the “Add Style To Library” button. You’ll be prompted to assign the style to an appropriate category and the style will be saved to the Library.

Your new styles are ready for use. Choose a tool, such as the Freehand Track, pick your style from the Styles & Symbols palette, and draw.

Joining Tracks for Smooth Transitions


HINT: To make a smooth transition between two tracks of varying line widths or styles, select the tracks and choose Edit > Paths & Tracks > Join or use the CMND-J keyboard shortcut. A smooth transition will be automatically created between line styles. Smooth transitions apply to connectable tracks, not regular paths.

Randomized Patterns Make Interesting Map Fills

Randomized patterns can add texture and variety to an otherwise flat map. This is an especially good effect for representing features with naturally occurring randomness, such as ground-cover and forests. Ortelius has several tools in the Style Inspector to help you make awesome randomized patterns.

Tutorial Details

Program: Ortelius 1.6+ for Mac OS X
Difficulty: Intermediate to Advanced
Topics Covered: Style Inspector
Estimated Completion Time: 25 minutes

Start with a Shape


Create a shape to be used for your pattern. Here we’ll use the Regular Polygon tool with a nice green fill style to make a shape. You could use the Freehand Path or Bezier Curve tools to make a similar shape that isn’t quite as symmetrical. In the Geometry panel we’ll adjust the shape to have 6-sides, turn on the “Star” shape option and adjust the “Tip” setting to about 70%. We end up with a clover-like shape that we’ll use to represent a tree.

Prefer doing things hands-on? Give it a try…


Make a Sandbox for your New Pattern


Use the Rectangle tool to draw a rectangle for your sandbox. We’ll play in here and you’ll be able to see your pattern as you are creating it. With your sandbox selected, open the Style Inspector and choose ‘Reset’ to reset to the default style. For now your rectangle looks like a dull grey box – but don’t worry, it’s going to get exciting fast!

Add a Pattern Fill


Click the “+” button to add a new Style Component. You’re going to add a “Pattern Fill.” Now, click the shape you made earlier and copy it (CMND-C, right-click > Copy, or Edit > Copy in the main menu). Then paste the shape into the image-well for your Pattern Fill by clicking ‘Paste Image’. With the default settings you are going to get a nice evenly spaced pattern like you see here.

Randomize Pattern


Now, let’s have some fun. You can go ahead and turn off the existing Fill and Stroke by disabling them (un-checking) in the Component list.

We hated to do it, but “Rand” stands for randomized. Why? It’s a long word and we’ve simply run out of room. Okay. So, the best way to get familiar with how these settings work is to play with them. Just keep in mind, very small and closely spaced patterns start using a lot of memory and may slow things down a bit. To get this particular look, we changed the Scale setting to 60%, Spacing to 0, Rand Spacing and Rand Scale to 100%, and Rand Angle to 25%.

Note, in the Inspector you may be seeing units expressed in “cm” or “km” or something rather than “pt” (points) as you see here. You can change your display units by choosing View > Display Units > in the main menu and selecting Points, Drawing Units, or Map Units.

Suppress Clipped Images


But what about those shapes cut in half along the edges of our rectangle? That doesn’t look very natural.

Click to enable the “Suppress clipped images” option to keep most images from getting artificially clipped at the edges of a shape. Here we see how it looks on an irregular shape (right-click to quickly Copy Style and Paste Style onto a new shape). Sweet.

When you’re satisfied with your new style, click on Style in the components list to name it and save it to the Library.



Now that you understand how to make a randomized pattern, go ahead and experiment. For example, you can also use existing images and even Ortelius symbols as the basis for your pattern. Clicking “Image file” in the Style Inspector pane will let you select images from a file on your computer rather than pasting your copied graphic. In that case, small images with alpha-transparency (i.e., no white background) work best.

Here we’ve used the Symbol Stamp tool to add a tree symbol to our canvas. We then copy the symbol and paste it into the Style Inspector to create a different pattern. Since we don’t want these upright trees placed at funky randomized angles, we’ve changed the Rand Angle setting to zero. We’ve also upped the Scale back to about 60% since the image is pretty small already and this pattern does start to slow things down a bit. While for a small area like this or simple effect you could as easily use the Symbol Stamp tool and place symbols individually, it’s easy to see how handy randomized patterns can be.

You’re on your way to creating interesting map fill styles. Have fun!

Oh, The Places You’ve Been! Working With Ortelius Map Templates

Ortelius delivers with dozens of world, region, and country outline templates. Using styles, symbols, and labels, these maps are easily customized. We’ll create a map from start-to-finish that shows the states we’ve visited. Find out how to modify any template map to make it your own.

Tutorial Details

Program : Ortelius 1.9+ for Mac OS X
Difficulty: Beginner
Topics Covered: Customizing Map Templates
Estimated Completion Time: about 45 minutes

Step 1

When first launching Ortelius, you are presented with the Template Browser. You can access templates at any time by choosing File > New From Template… in the main menu. In the “Countries” folder, choose the “United States 2” template and click “New.”

Prefer doing things hands-on? Give it a try…


Step 2

When the template file first opens, you’ll notice it is organized by layers of information. Layers are used to keep your map organized and are discrete – you can only select drawing objects that are in the active layer. Click onto  the “States / Provinces”  layer in the Layers list to make it active. Note, the white arrow indicated the layer is active. A small white dot next to a layer name  indicates a layer is not active, but has some objects still selected within the layer (not shown). Layers can be dragged to re-order.

Step 3

The first thing we’ll do is add labels to the states. Unlike a standard vector drawing program, Ortelius drawing objects can have attribute information stored “behind” the objects. In templates, names are stored and can be used as labels.

With the Select tool, click onto the drawing canvas to make it the focus. Choose Edit > Select All from the main menu (or CMND-A keyboard shortcut). Since “States” is the active layer, all objects within that layer are selected.

Choose Edit > Labels & Text > New Label to automatically add labels for all the selected states. Labels are automatically generated and placed in the weighted center of each drawing object. Note, Ortelius can use any attribute information that is stored for an object as its label. By default, Ortelius uses the attribute “Name” if it exists.

Step 4

Next, we’ll color the states that we’ve visited. First, open the Styles & Symbols palette by clicking its icon on the toolbar. Use the Library drop-down button in the palette to choose the “Color Regions / Territories” category in the built-in collection. This category is filled with styles based on ColorBrewer map color schemes that are specifically designed for quantitative and qualitative maps.

Now, with the “States / Provinces” layer still active, use the Select tool while holding the SHIFT-key to select multiple states. Try to avoid clicking the labels – you can do a few states at a time, and zoom-in as needed. With your desired states selected, double-click onto a style in the Styles & Symbols palette to apply it to your selection. We are using the “Diverging Purple-Orange 2” style.

Step 5

Now let’s color the states we have not visited purple. We could use the Select tool like we did in Step 4, but let’s learn how to use Advanced Find... to quickly make our selection. On the Ortelius toolbar you will see the Find Objects search bar. The little triangle in the search bar opens a drop-down menu. Choose Advanced Find… to open the dialog.

Use this dialog to choose “Style Name” from the first drop-down field. We are searching for objects that contain the word “orange” in the style name. Type “orange” and click “Find.” This will search and select matching objects on the currently active layer.

Step 6

So we’ve quickly selected all the states we’ve already colored orange, now let’s invert the selection. Choose Edit > Select Others from the main menu to switch the selection. Double-click the “Diverging Purple-Orange 6” style to apply a purple style to your selected objects.

Step 7

Let’s make the background of the map a light purple to go with our color scheme. Ortelius has a special “Border Layer” layer that can be quickly filled with any style. Click onto “Border Layer” in the layers list to make it active. Now drag a style from the Styles & Symbols palette and drop it directly onto your drawing canvas (we’re using the “Diverging Purple-Orange 5” style). Ta-da! The border layer is now purple. You can apply fill styles to the border layer like we did here, or line styles to create more of a neat-line frame around your map.

HINT: In addition to double-clicking to apply a style to existing objects, you can drag styles from the palette onto any drawing object.

Step 8

When you add labels in Ortelius, they are placed automatically in the weighted center of the drawing object. Sometimes you’ll want to make adjustments to a label’s placement. With the Select tool, click onto a label to select it and move it around into one of nine standard click positions. Hold the SHIFT-key while moving a label to free-move it into any position. Right-click a label to open its context menu revealing more option, such as “Show Leader Line.”

Here, we’ve made some minor adjustment to the state label positions, and added a leader line for the District of Columbia.

Step 9

Now let’s add a map key (or legend). Click onto the “Title and Text” layer in the layers list to make it active, since that is the layer on which we want to place the legend. In the Styles & Symbols palette, use the Library drop-down button to go to “Map Elements > Legends & Inset Maps” in the built-in collection. Drag the first item “Legend 1” from the palette onto your drawing canvas. This is a special symbol that has already been detached from its master to make it easy to edit.

Now let’s edit the legend. Since this is a complex graphic made from a group of objects, it must be un-grouped for editing. With the Select tool, click onto the legend and choose Graphic > Ungroup from the main menu (or from the right-click contextual menu). This legend had three items, so we’ve deleted one. Double-click onto the text to edit it. We renamed the legend “Places I’ve Been” and the items “Visited” and “Not Visited.” Lastly, we return to “Color Regions” in the Styles & Symbols palette and drag-and-drop the orange and purple styles onto the legend key boxes.

Step 10

A map’s title should be brief and descriptive. With the Select tool, double-click the title to edit the text.

To change fonts, select the title text and open the Fonts palette. Choose your desired font and size. Here we’ve used a fun little font called “2Peas Flea Market” to add a bit of whimsy to our map (font size 72-pts). Drag the text box object handles to adjust its size as needed.

Step 11

Finally, we want to polish off our map by modifying the map scale color scheme. Use the Zoom-in tool to get a closer view as desired. With the Select tool, click onto the scale bar (we are still on the “Title and Text” layer). Click the Object Inspector icon on the toolbar and open the Object Inspector – Features pane. The Object Inspector is context-sensitive – it knows what type of object you have selected and presents available options. To edit the scale bar’s alternating colors, click onto the color-well at the lower-right of the Object Inspector window. The Colors palette will open. To select the color, click the little magnifying-glass icon in the Colors palette and click onto your drawing over the color you want. The Colors palette color-well will adopt your selected color for a perfect match.

To quickly zoom-out to your entire map view, double-click the Pan tool.

Step 12

Your finished map can be saved, exported to a variety of file format options, and printed.

We are printing our map. Adjust your page settings for paper size and orientation as needed by choosing File > Page Setup… in the main menu. To print, choose File > Print… from the main menu. Often the maps you create may be bigger than the paper size in your printer. Ortelius can poster-tile larger maps over multiple printed sheets to be fitted together after printing. To print your entire map to a single page, be sure to check “Fit to Single Page” in the Ortelius print dialog.

Final Image

Congratulations! You’ve completed a custom map from template – and it looks like I’ve got some more places to visit! There is a lot you can do with templates – more or less than what we’ve presented here. We hope you’ve also learned a few tricks for applying styles, editing text, using advanced find, and more. What other topics can you use with map templates? We’d love to see what you come up with!

Creating Expert Styles

In this video, we create custom expert styles from scratch and from clones of existing styles. Find out how to use expert style components to create unique stacked styles.

Managing Your Cartographic Styles and Symbols

In this video tutorial, find out how to use the Ortelius Library Manager to manage all of your cartographic styles and symbols.

Drawing City-Block Style Maps

City-block style maps (sometimes referred to as “European-style”) are characterized by their use of negative space. Shapes – in the form of city blocks – define the positive space, whereas the road areas are negative space. Ortelius excels at designing modern style road maps, with connectable tracks and built-in symbols, and it also has great tools for creating city-block style maps.

Tutorial Details

Program : Ortelius 1.x+
Difficulty: Intermediate
Topics Covered: Combining Objects
Estimated Completion Time: 45 minutes

Source Map


In this example, we trace city blocks from this 1892 map of Odessa (Ukraine, formerly Russia), Wagner & Debe. Some cartographic sleuthing: the map is undated, but was possibly produced earlier than 1892, as the Protestant Hospital, completed in 1892, is not shown (source: North Dakota State University Library online).

When setting up our drawing file, the source map is placed on its own layer and a new layer is created, called “Blocks,” to hold our new drawing objects.

Drawing With the Irregular Polygon Tool


Any of Ortelius’ drawing tools can be used when creating city blocks. Your choice of tool will often depend on the layout and orientation of the blocks you are drawing. The Irregular Polygon tool is an extremely flexible choice when blocks are irregular in shape and orientation. Use the Irregular Polygon tool and a color-filled style to draw individual city blocks, clicking on each corner of the shape. When your final point is placed on top of your first point, the polygon will close automatically. Making sure polygons are closed will assure proper display, particularly if blocks are outlined.

Hint: To clip blocks neatly to maps edges, temporarily disable Layer > Clip Objects To Map Layer in the main menu and draw shapes slightly beyond the map border. Enable it again when you are finished drawing your blocks.

Drawing With the Bezier Path Tool


People are sometimes (quite pleasantly) surprised at how advanced Ortelius’ Bezier Path tool is for drawing shapes with straight lines and curves. Choose the Bezier Path tool and a color-filled style. Although you are drawing a path, it will be represented as a filled object when an area style is applied. Single-click on corner points to trace corners; click and drag curve handles to draw curves; hold the CMND or OPT modifier keys while adjusting the curve handles. Placing your last point on top of the first point automatically ends the path. Optionally, you can formally close the path by choosing Edit > Paths & Tracks > Close from the main menu. Curve handles can be further adjusted as needed.

If you are unfamiliar working with Bezier curves in Ortelius, try your hand with our hands-on exercises.

Hands-on exercise. See Ortelius File > New From Template > Exercises & Demos > 2-Paths Exercise.

Combining Objects


When faced with situations such as this circle with an internal median area (a classic doughnut!), try drawing the circle using the Oval tool and a line symbol then clipping the area out using the Combine > Difference command. Begin this technique by drawing the positive space (the road) and then subtracting it from the background to create your negative space. This technique is described in detail below.

Draw ‘Positive Space’ In Gridded Areas


Where city blocks are laid out in a regularly gridded pattern you can quickly create blocks using path outlines and a few Combine operations. Begin by drawing the road grid with Paths or Tracks. Note you can draw roads of varying widths. Next, draw the background shape (shown here in green) and send it backward under the roads by choosing Graphic > Send To Back from the main menu. We draw the background shape last so you can see your source map while tracing the roads ;).

Edit > Paths & Tracks > Outline


Next, select the roads and choose Edit > Paths & Tracks > Outline from the main menu to turn the roads from lines into polygons.

Combine > Union


Combine all the new road polygons into a single object by selecting them and choosing Combine > Union from the main menu.

Create ‘Negative Space’ Combine > Difference


With the background and foreground polygons selected, choose Combine > Difference from the main menu. The roads will be subtracted from the background polygon creating negative space. The blocks are a single object when selected.

Combine > Break Apart


If further editing is desired, select the blocks object and choose Combine > Break Apart from the main menu. Each block is now its own individual shape object. Optionally, even further refinement is achieved by selecting a block and converting it from a shape to a path (chose Graphic > Convert To Path from the main menu). Each individual corner node can then be moved and edited. Path objects can be converted back to shape objects at any time.

Working with all blocks as a single object is the most efficient way to re-color and symbolize the map. Once you are satisfied with the layout of the blocks, select all and choose Combine > Append to combine all blocks into a single object again.

Add Text

Unlike road features drawn with the Track tool, roads in a city-block style map are not objects – they are negative space. Use the Text Box and Text On Path tools to add label text for roads. To label city blocks and other features, right click the objects and choose Add Label.

Some differences between maps with roads as primary feature vs. blocks as primary feature…
neither “right or wrong” it just depends on the style you’re looking for > both use in large scale (local scale) mapping good for showing neighborhoods, towns, small cities;

some applications of city block style > tourism maps, land use planning maps, location maps, campus maps, pedistrian maps, etc.

Differences (pros/cons)
1. blocks can be easily attributed, e.g., land use/land cover or districts, and new styles applied; can add style components such as shadows to enhance look; because they are negative space and not repersented with objects, street text must be placed with Text tool rather than labeling function associated with point, line, and polygon features;
blocks as focus can result in a more organic looking map with irregular shaped blocks and streets – show nooks and cranies, etc., tends to feature the city blocks as the most prominent feature so good for applications where this is important
2. road maps (with tracks) are more easily labeled using tracks; similar look can be had using cased line styles and connector tracks (show example) though result is more regular spacing; can have background ploygons behind road network to show land use or districts; tends to feature road network as most prominant feature so good for transportation/navigation purposes


Using the techniques described above, you can create your own fully editable European-style city block map. With Ortelius’ slick style swapping, the look of your map is easily updated to create unique versions of this classic map style.

Creating New Symbols Without Starting From Scratch

Existing symbols can provide a great starting point for refining and creating new symbols. When a symbol is originally created, it is assigned as a "master" symbol which can be placed unlimited times on your map. Read more