“A map does not just chart, it unlocks and formulates meaning; it forms bridges between here and there, between disparate ideas that we did not know were previously connected.”  

-          Reif Larsen


Almost all of us have used ‘Google Maps’ and the GPS (Global Positioning System) service on our mobile phones. But have you wondered who creates these maps? Well, these easy to use, accurate maps and all other types of maps are created by ‘Cartographers’.

‘Cartography’ is the practice and study of making maps and similar graphic representations of reality. The purpose of Cartography is to give a realistic representation of the environment so as to provide information. It is an ancient science and the first maps were in the form of wall paintings. Today, maps are found in digital formats using technologies like GPS (Global Positioning System). Practitioners of Cartography are called ‘Cartographers’. They are responsible for collecting and interpreting information, creating new maps and reproducing older ones. Apart from maps, Cartographers also design and create spreadsheets, diagrams and charts.

Becoming a Cartographer can be a good career decision if you have the right aptitude. Cartographers are always in need as the world is very vast and there are many areas that have not been mapped to usable scales yet. Also, the environment and demographics of a place keep changing, which gives rise to the need of new maps made by skilled Cartographers. They are well paid professionals and are have good growth opportunities in this career. They work in a wide number of fields such as Government Organizations, Surveying and Conservation.

What do Cartographers do?

Cartographers are professionals who aim to use their geographical knowledge to create maps. The job of a Cartographer includes geographical research, data collection and map production. Cartographers interpret and represent data like longitudes, latitudes, elevation, distance, population and demographic characteristics. They are involved with the scientific, technological and artistic aspects of creating maps.

One of the main jobs of a Cartographer is to conduct research and collect information. The information Cartographers collect is related to the geographical and topographical aspects of a region but can also include demographic elements such as population density, precipitation patterns etc. They use various technologies to collect this information including ranging technology (LIDAR) and GIS (Geographical Information System).

Another important task that Cartographers perform is analyzing, interpreting and manipulating the information they have collected so as to use it to create maps. This involves sorting out relevant information from irrelevant data and interpreting that information in a graphical form.

The most important job of a Cartographer is to design and create maps. In the earlier times, maps would have to be drawn by hand but now there are many new types of computer software that assist Cartographers in doing so. Cartographers aim to create maps that are easy to understand and provide the necessary information to the viewers without confusing them.

Cartographers are also required to verify and check the information that they have collected as well as check the accuracy of their maps. This is a very important task as inaccurate maps are of no use and can end up causing misinterpretation of facts and figures.

Cartographers are not only involved in creating new maps, but are also required to correct and reproduce older maps. This involves understanding the information presented in those maps and then interpreting that information as per today’s standards and creating a new copy of an old map.

An essential task that Cartographers perform is liaising with clients and suppliers so as to understand what type of map the client wants and what type of information is to be represented. Suppliers are needed to give vital statistics and information that is helpful in creating the map.

The boom in the IT sector has completely changed the world of Cartography. Information is now collected using aerial photography and satellites rather than physical surveys. Also, accurate maps are designed and created quickly using map – making software. This has made it important for Cartographers to continuously stay updated about these new software and technologies that can assist them in their work.

How to become a Cartographer?

Maps are created for a variety of purposes and to give different type of information, some of which might be general in nature whereas some might be very specific. Cartographers use various high – tech equipment and technologies to create maps such as aerial cameras, satellites, light imaging detection, LIDAR and GIS.  Becoming a successful Cartographer requires knowledge, skills and experience.

To become a Cartographer, you need to concentrate on your studies and drawing skills. Study subjects like Geography and Math. Should ideally choose Science after your 10th, and focus on Math. You can choose Geography as an additional subject after the 10th.

Once you complete your schooling, you should ideally pursue a Graduate course in either Geography or Cartography. Even though a Bachelor’s degree will be enough for entry level jobs, a Master’s degree in the same or related field will help you get better and higher paying jobs.

You need a lot of additional skills apart from you educational degree to become a Cartographer. One of those additional skills is drawing. You should enroll yourselves in short term courses that specialize in mechanical drawing. Even though most maps are created using computer software, your drawing skills will improve the quality and accuracy of your maps and develop you into a successful Cartographer.

Knowledge in different types of map – making software is essential if you want to become a Cartographer as most maps are now created using computer software. Practice on software such as MAPublisher, Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. Proficiency in such software will help you create accurate and attractive maps.

Cartography is a field that is very technical and one cannot grasp the nuances of the profession until and unless one works in the industry. This makes it essential for aspiring Cartographers to work as trainees and interns in as many organizations as possible. This will help you make important contacts as well as teach you about the various technologies and equipment used in the industry.

To become a Cartographer you need to be in touch with the various upcoming technologies and equipments related to the field. This will help you find ways to create better and more attractive maps and also make you into an ideal candidate for a high post. Attend seminars and conferences and subscribe to journals to know more about what is happening around the world in the field of Cartography. An idea about the different types of technologies will help you broaden your perspective and come up with new and effective ways to create maps.

One of the most important things you need to do in order to become a Cartographer is to practice. Read different types of maps and try to reproduce them. Learn the symbols used in those maps and try using them while creating local maps. You can start by trying to create maps of your colony and then so on. This will help you learn more about the process of making a map and develop essential skills which will be important for your success as a Cartographer.


The Banaras Hindu University offers great courses in Geography. It offers a B.A (Hons.) as well as a B.Sc (Hons.) in Geography. It also offers post graduate courses (M.A./M.Sc.) in Geography. You can work as an Intern with the Indian Institute of Geographical Sciences to gain vital experience. If you wish to pursue a Post Graduate Diploma, then Annamalai University, Chennai offers a course in Remote Sensing and Geographic Information Systems. Osmania University, Hyderabad also offers a Post Graduate Diploma in Geographical Cartography. The Department of Geography, Delhi University offers a great post graduate course in Geography. You will be provided with a M.A. in Geography upon completion of the course.

What are the skills required to become a Cartographer?

Cartographers are highly skilled professionals who have the ability to represent information in the form of maps. They need to have a very strong knowledge base in the field of Math, Geography and Statistics. They should be able to analyze and interpret numerical information and convert it into a graphical form. Cartographers need to have exceptional drawing and designing skills that will assist them while creating maps. They should know how to use the various map – making software and should possess great IT skills. They need to have excellent communication skills so as to liaison with clients and suppliers and convey information accurately in their maps. Cartographers should be patient, determined and hardworking individuals who have the ability to pay attention to details and accuracy. Also, they need to be able to work as a part of a team as well as independently.


Is this the right career for me?

Cartographers spend their lives designing maps and working outdoors in order to collect geographical information. They might be required to work for late hours, depending upon the deadline. It is a job that requires constant research learning and can be monotonous. On the other hand, the job of a Cartographer can be well paying and offers great job security.

If your idea of a career involves glamour, fame and adventure, and if you’re not comfortable with Math and Statistics, then Cartography might not be the right career for you. But if you’re fascinated by maps and are interested in learning about how they are created, and if you’re good at learning new software and drawing, then this might be an ideal career for you.


Architects, cartographers and surveyors

Entrance Exam


Steve Jobs, chief executive officer and co-founder of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, urged graduates to pursue their dreams, follow their interests & curiosities and see the opportunities in life's setbacks-- including death itself.