Basic Map Elements

Basic Map Elements
Basic Map Elements

A Maps represent information by using symbols that are identified in a legend of the map. There are many elements that need to be included while creating maps. Maps are used to reveals something interesting and displaying the processed data about the geographic features, their attributes, and the relationship between them. Let’s see the Basic Map Elements.

Basic Map Elements

Before starting to make a map, a cartographer should think about “It’s Meaning”. Cartographers used to tell some interesting story to their audience through maps.

Most of the maps usually contain Basic elements, these are the Golden Rules Of Cartography.


One of an essential element of Map usually draws attention by its dominant size, It should be in a larger font and should match the needs of the theme of the audience. Should be an answer to “What? Where? When?”. The map Title should reflect the purpose of the map clearly to the viewer. It usually includes the map theme and the geographic location. It should be larger than other text on the map you want people to immediately see the text and understand what it is that they’re looking at. So feature the title prominently in your map layout.

Tips- Map Title should not be underlined.


The Legend lists all the unknown or unique map symbols used on the map and what they depict. However, this is still a key element for map reading. All the symbols should appear exactly as it appears on the map. Without the legend, it is hard to understand the symbols used on a map. A legend should consist of examples of the symbols on the map with the labels containing the text. Generally, Legend on the map follows the order as a point, line, and polygons. So you want to make sure that all of the entries into your legends are clearly labeled. If the symbol does not appear on the map then it should not appear on the legend.

Tips- Only the word “Legend” should be written on your map.

Map Scale

Map Scale Provides the important information to the viewer or the map users regarding linear relations on the map. The reader must be able to determine the relationship between a unit of measure on the map and a unit of measure in the real world. A scale can be indicated as numerical (for example 1:50,000) or graphical.

Therefore a scale showing a 1:50,000 scale means that every 1 paper map unit represents 50,000 real-world units. For example 1:50,000 in inches means that, on the map, a measurement of one inch equals 50,000 inches in real life. Therefore your responsibility as a cartographer to ensure that the map has a scale be that the scale is accurate remember scales are accurate along standard parallels so the standard parallel has to be shown on your map and make sure that the method used to communicate the scale is appropriate for the situation that you are using your map for the purpose that the map was created and for the audience that’s going to be using your map so it’s absolutely not the case that you can just go up in a software package and say insert scale and use the default.

Tips- The dimension and thickness of a graphical scale have to be adapted to the map content.

North arrow

According to the Cartographic rules, each map should have a north arrow. By convention, North is always towards the top of the Page. North Arrow is used to show the Orientation. This allows the user to determine the direction of the map. Historically these have been pretty complicated when you’re talking about doing a compass rose or something like that from a few hundred years ago. North is at the top of the map that sort of cartographic convention that we put north of the top of the map but that does not have to be the case there may be some circumstances where you’re deliberately not putting north at the top of the map but unless you have a very good reason to do otherwise you should follow cartographic convention and have the North arrow at the top of the map.

Tips- The north arrow must be well readable.

Border and Neatlines

Both are optional, borders define where the map area exactly stops. Borders are the thickest lines on the map and closest to map edges. Neat lines are finer lines than borders. The map needs to have is a border or neat line this is also sometimes called a map frame this is very important to make sure that you are crisping off the edges of your map, many times if you don’t have a border around your entire page the map looks unfinished or the map looks incomplete.


Map Credits include the map data source: especially on the thematic map, the name of author i.e: Cartographer, map creation or publication dates, the name of the map projection used and other explanatory material. Map Creation Date is useful and important in those maps, which are related to current affairs or weather. Just put name of the cartographer or in the event that you happen to be for an agency you could probably put the name of the agency that was responsible for the production of the map.

Tips- Credits should always be written smallest as possible.


Labels are important parts of a map. They are used to provide descriptive and important information onto or next to the features on the map. Labels on the map need to be placed with purpose. They should not be overlap because they become unreadable.

Tips- Use the same font for the map frame, map layout, and the map content.

What is most important and what is least important on the map even though all of these elements are required you want someone to be able to look at your map see the title so they understand what it’s about take a look at the map itself the display frame that you’re showing and then they need to be able to see the legend so they can interpret the map those are big keys. So whenever you’re creating your maps you should be sure to include all of this information and communicate it to your map user.

If you think that we have missed something important in “Basic Map Elements”, Then please comment us with your suggestions.


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