Connectable Tracks

Creating smooth and automatic intersections among tracks is a hallmark of Ortelius. Ortelius’ exclusive Cartography Tools are vector drawing tools made specifically for map design. Connectable tracks have special properties that form smooth intersections, accept adornments, termination styles, labels, special overlay styles, and more. Connectable tracks look similar to regular paths, but they are indeed special.

This User Guide provides steps to accomplish different tasks with Ortelius’ cartography tools. We highly recommend users review Ortelius: Best Practices for Editing Track Networks (PDF) for an in-depth perspective of how tracks work and how to use them for best results.

Overview of the Cartography Tools Palette

Straight Track, Curved Track, Polygonal Track, and Freehand Track tools are the available cartography drawing tools.

Linear Select is a unique tool used in combination with connectable tracks. The Ruler tool is used to measure and interactively set scale.

Connectable Tracks

Ortelius tracks are smart – they know about other tracks, and automatically form networks that can represent a roads, streets, rail or even waterways.

Like all graphical paths, tracks have a natural direction that runs from the starting point to the ending point. Tracks connecting together form a ‘parent – child’ relationship.

To draw a connecting track:

  1. Choose a track tool, such as Curved Track [k] used in this example.
  2. Choose a style from the Styles & Symbols palette.
  3. Draw the first track (the "parent" track). Drawing with track tools is much like drawing with path tools – double-click or use the keyboard Esc to end a track.
  4. Draw a second track (the "child"). Begin your track away from the parent and work towards it so the end point is where you want the junction to be formed. When you click onto the parent track, the track will end automatically and the junction will be formed.

Once you have junctions of multiple tracks, all feeder junctions (children) move if you adjust the parent line. When junctions are made among several connectable tracks, an interconnected network of tracks is created. In particular, child lines will move together with their respective parent line.


Connectable tracks automatically form seamless intersections with other tracks, correctly rendering intersections and taking into account casements and differing colors. Intersections are formed in two ways:

  1. Junctions – Where the end of one track formally connects with another, forming a parent-child relationship.
  2. Overlaps – Where one track overlaps with another tract on the same layer. The intersection is rendered seamlessly, even though no formal connection is made.

IMPORTANT FOR ORTELIUS 1.x USERS: When drawing a street network, you are no longer required to break tracks to form junctions at every intersection. Rather, overlapping tracks may be used (see important workflow changes from Ortelius 1).

A Word About Overlapping Objects

Tracks seamlessly form intersections with the objects they overlap on the same layer – typically those objects are other tracks. But when a track overlaps a different object type, it still forms a kind of intersection. For example, when overlapping:

  1. an image, or
  2. other shape.

The track’s casing disappears where it overlaps the other object, which may produce an undesirable effect. For this reason, tracks representing simialr features, such as roads, should be drawn on their own layer.

Tracks intersecting other objects may be a desirable effect. For example:

3.  a stream that intersects with a pond, or a road with a parking lot.

When another object, such as a shape, overlaps on top of a track (4) junctions are not formed. It is a best practice to organize the content of your map using Layers. For this reason, Layers are important to use when drawing with Connectable Track tools.

HINT: Object rendering responds to the stack order of objects within a given layer.

To Cut Tracks at Intersections

Cutting a track where it overlaps another track is unnecessary for rendering a seamless intersection. When a track is cut at its overlap, it automatically forms junctions with the underlying track and establishes a parent-child relationship. While this is unnecessary for rendering seamless intersections, it can be used to form a network in which the child tracks move if the parent track is moved.

  1. Choose the Cut Path [u] tool.
  2. Click onto the desired intersections to cut the track and form connected junctions with the underlying track.

To Show Tracks as Overlapping

Sometimes, such as in the case of an overpass, it is desirable to show the overlap of two tracks without forming a seamless intersection. An Overpass may be inserted on the top track using the Linear Select tool.

See: Linear Select Insert Overpass

To Cut a Track

Do one of the following:

  • Use the Cut Path [u] tool and click, or use a cutting motion, on the track to be split.
  • Highlighting the track with the Linear Select [n] tool and choose Edit > Paths & Tracks > Split from the main menu.

To Join Tracks

To join tracks:

  1. Select two tracks whose end points are very close together or touching.
  2. Do one of the following:
  • Choose Edit > Paths & Tracks > Join from the main menu.
  • Press the Command-J keyboard shortcut.

HINT: When joining tracks of different widths and/or styles, a transition is made between them so their widths and styles seamlessly blend together. Adjust the type of transition in the Geometry Tab ‘Width Adaptors’.

To Reverse Paths & Tracks

When paths and tracks are drawn, they inherently have a direction, progressing from the start point (the beginning of the line) to the end point. The proper display of some styles (such as a single-ended arrow) and text labels is dependent on the direction of the path.

  1. Select a track(s) or path(s) to reverse.
  2. Choose Edit > Paths & Tracks > Reverse.

HINT: Text labels flow in the direction of tracks. To reverse text labels, you can leave the track as-is and right-click the label to choose Flip Label. Adornments can be rotated by right-clicking and setting the relative orientation by choosing Rotate > [angle]. Related Topic: Using Map Text Labels.

To Smooth a Track

Smooth is used on paths and tracks consisting of linked straight-line segments, such as vector paths imported from shapefiles.

  1. Select a track(s) or path(s) to smooth.
  2. Choose Edit > Paths & Tracks > Smooth to replace these segments with Bezier curves which are calculated to smoothly interpolate between the points.

HINT: Smoothing a path that already consists of curve segments has no effect.

To Add a Buffer Distance Around a Track

Buffers are new polygons that represent an area of specified distance around another object. Buffers can help map readers visualize what other features are near or far from another feature. For example, you can create a 1-mile buffer around a road. Buffers can be created around paths or tracks.

  1. Select a path or track to be buffered.
  2. Choose Edit > Paths & Tracks > Buffer from the main menu. A dialog appears.
  3. Enter the distance for the buffer (note that buffer distance is related to the scale of the drawing) and click OK. A new buffer polygon is created and can be stylized appropriately.