GIS, Mapping and Cartography Tools to Get You Started on Your Next Project

GIS, Mapping and Cartography Tools to Get You Started on Your Next Project

If you are new to GIS and mapping or just want to find out what tools are available, it can be confusing hunting around for the right ones. I’ve put together a list of tools and resources for various applications. I hope this guide will let you zero in on the the right tools you need and get started on your next project post haste!

  1. Process Geographic Raster and Vector Data
    QGIS is a fantastic tool to get started with data processing such as manipulating vector data (shapefiles) or working with raster data. It is a free and open source desktop GIS program and has great documentation and training materials. There is a full range of user-built tools and add ons, but these sometimes can have issues or bugs, so tread carefully. 

    If you need a full suite of GIS analysis tools, ArcMap for home use is a great option.  The cost is only $100/yr for all tools and extensions. This is useful if you are already familiar with the interface of ArcMap or need to utilize their popular extensions: Spatial Analyst, Network Analyst or Geostatistical Analyst and you donhave access to a copy through school or work.

  2. Build a Beautiful Basemap
    If you need to create a beautiful thematic basemap for an interactive map, Mapbox Studio (for desktop) or Mapbox Editor (for browser) are fantastic options.  These tools are great for styling basemaps using OpenStreetMap data, your own data and cartocss. Your basemap can then be published to vector tiles and hosted in your Mapbox account or extracted and published as raster tiles (see this blog post as a guide).

  3. Publish an Interactive Map on the Web
    If you want to do substantial data analysis and editing of data before you publish to the web, then I’d recommend working in QGIS and then publishing with Leaflet using this plug-in.  This guide is a great resource and will help you get up and running quickly. 

    CartoDB is another great option for some really clean and attractive web mapping. Sign up for a free account, drag in a zipped shapefile or csv and start styling. It allows you to build time-lapse animations and other sophisticated visualizations while still being very easy to use. Check their map gallery for inspiration.

  4. Quickly Analyze Over 1 Million Records
    If you need to crunch a ton of data, PostGIS is the way to go. Check out this guide which has fantastic step by step instructions for getting data into a PostGIS database. PostGIS data can be used within QGIS as well. CartoDB, mentioned above, is built on PostGIS so you can do the same queries within that web mapping application, but if you are working with very large data, you might encounter limits on file size within CartoDB.

  5. Perform Advanced Spatial Statistics
    GeoDa is an awesome desktop tool capable of advanced spatial statistical analysis such as spatial regression, Morans I, Local Indicators of Spatial Association (LISA), histograms, thiessen polygons, scatterplots and boxplots. This is a free application with some serious statistical chops.

  6. Design a Beautiful and Accessible Map
    Check out Colorbrewer to discover attractive and intuitive color palettes for your project and don’t forget to consider accessibility to ensure your
    map can be enjoyed by individuals with color blindness or low vision.

Want to hear what others are doing in the industry? NACIS is probably the most cutting edge GIS/Cartography conference running with a schedule featuring dozens of talks that address innovative and exciting techniques.  Many of these are truly expanding the scope and advancing the state of the art for the industry. Additionally, FOSS4G NA features numerous technical talks, many of which hosted by the creators of some of the above tools.  Interested in learning more? Visit a Maptime chapter near you and build your skills at their hands-on project nights.