Monthly Archives: December 2011

Communication is Key Talk to your printer when you’re designing the job

Geologic Map of Maryland

Geologic Map of Maryland

Questions will arise and the only silly questions are the ones that didn’t get asked.

Cartography has changed dramatically in the last 20 years.  Our skill used to be measured by our ability to manipulate, via various tools, the physical materials used to draft maps.  Almost any problem encountered could be taken to a journeyman with 25 years of experience who would know the answer because they had been there and done that.

Now, in our digital environment, we have to be problem solvers because what we see is not always what we get.  And what we saw and got this morning is different than what we’re getting this afternoon.  The color plots commonly used for proofing have physical limitations.  A line that is spec’d in the file at one thousandth of an inch will print at four thousandths on the plot because that’s as fine a line that it can do.  Unfortunately it will be accurately represented on a printing plate and therefore almost invisible on the printed sheet.  Information in your file that is seen by a high end ripping platform may not be seen by your preview or desktop applications such as Indesign, Illustrator or photo-shop.  Transparency settings that made your color plot look good on your computer monitor, may make your printed job look terrible.  Every new job is a new Rubik’s cube which has to be sorted out.  The most efficient way for that to occur is if everybody talks.

Finishing Your Map

This map folds to a convenient pocket size.

Determining how the map folds, panel sizes, and placement of cover panels should be an integral part of planning the map.  The objective is to develop a folding sequence that provides the greatest ease of use for the person trying to read it.  The exception to this is where advertising is paramount.  In these cases, the user is made to go past all the ads before they can get to the map.  If the image goes right to the edge of the sheet this “bleed edge” should extend 1/8” beyond the trim to allow for variation in cutting.  Panels/images that fold out, should wrap around the fold edge 1/16” to accommodate variation in folding.  If you’re printing on plastic, where the variation increases, you might consider 3/32” for a wrap.

Drilling down into Map Printing Specs: What ink colors are needed to print your map?

Contour lines printed in a brown spot color on plastic sheet

Contour lines printed in a brown spot color on plastic sheet

In previous posts, we discussed choosing map paper and determining the best size for your map.  This time we will talk about map printing ink colors.

Most maps start out as 4 color process. Due to legibility and print registration issues, you may want to make some elements print as a spot color.

A spot color is an ink that is not one of the four process colors (black, cyan, magenta, yellow).  On maps, spot colors are frequently used to print elements that are not well reproduced via four color process.  This could include fine line work or small type.  Printing a brown contour line, using screen dots of process colors, can result in fuzzy lines because the dots do not visually produce a hard edge.  With small type this can result in fuzzy type which is difficult to read.

Drainage type, on maps with lots of green tints, is frequently printed in a blue that is substantially stronger than cyan.  This is so that the type doesn’t drown in the cyan screens creating the green tints.  Starting at around 40%, drainage lines and type can start to become lost in the heavier cyan screens.  A way around this is to print the drainage lines and type in a stronger blue.  Currently PMS 300 seems to be in vogue although in the past reflex blue was a favorite.

Spot color or 4 color hill shading in combination with land status tints is another important color consideration for map printing.  Without any refinement, the hill shading can change the color of the land status or in some cases obliterate it.  The dot values in the hill shading layer need to be compressed such that the screens in the lower elevations drop to zero.  This allows the land status to be discernible.  Likewise allowing the dot values in higher elevations to tend toward solid would make type, etc. difficult to read if not illegible.

Another reason for a spot color could be the color itself.  If you look at a process color guide that has a swatch of the spot color next to a swatch of the equivalent process build you will note that the process builds only accurately reproduce the color about 50% of the time.  Colors that are integral to a brand have to be “spot” on.

How big should make my map?

Geopogic Map

Geologic Map, 46x46 inches, folded to 9x11, printed on plastic

The intended use of the map is one of the factors that determine the dimensions of a map. The area of interest needs to be shown at a usable scale. The printed area needs to be big enough for photos, or any other desired graphics. The size and shape of the area are too important to the scale and legibility of a map to rely on standard sizes. Paper sheet sizes can be ordered specifically for individual jobs to keep waste and cost down.
What is more important to you, the text and graphics, or the map?

I want to print a map. How do I determine the specifications?

The first thing to be considered when printing a map is the end-user.  A thoughtful examination of how people will use the map will help determine a majority of the specifications that define the product.  Incorporation of these elements will insure the end users interest in the product.

To decide what kind of paper will be best for your map, ask yourself:  Where will people use the map?

W&H Cruising Guide printed on wet strength paper

Nautical chart printed on wet strength paper

Will it be exposed to the elements?   If so, a wet strength stock, or better, a printable plastic would be best suited.  High Wet Strength papers retain 40% of their tensile strength when wet.  It is, however, an uncoated printing surface and is therefore subject to considerable dot gain which can greatly diminish the appearance of graphics.  In particular photos that were dark to start with will get a lot darker resulting in a loss of detail.

Plastics, synthetic sheets, have the surface characteristics of a matte coated stock which is far superior in print quality, to uncoated.  They are impervious to moisture, and have a folding endurance that greatly exceeds any paper.  If you are designing your map for extended use, plastic is great for a durable, long-lasting map. They are also more expensive; although the public seems more than willing to pay for the improved quality and performance.  Plastic is rarely used on a give-away product.  Plastic is specified by thickness not weight.

Shiny paper, such as gloss or dull-coated stocks have excellent print quality.  Unfortunately they are prone to cracking when folded, and hence are better suited to use in book products or maps that don’t get folded.  Gloss stocks are used in folded maps but normally only when the primary purpose of the map is advertising sales.  In these cases print quality takes precedence over functionality.

Will the map be hung on the wall or folded?  If the map is intended to remain flat and get hung on a wall, a heavy weight stock would be of benefit to reduce sagging.   A 100 lb. stock would be a good choice for a flat map destined for a wall.  Most folded maps are printed on 50 to 60 lb. stock.  Generally the larger the map, the thinner and lighter the paper needs to be to accommodate folding.

The weight of the stock is determined by the weight of 500 sheets at the basis size.  Although there are numerous other categories, most paper can be described as cover weight or text weight, with the cover stocks being the thicker and heavier ones.    The basis size of cover stock is 20 x 26 inches.  Text stock is 25 x 38 inches.  Hence, a 60 lb. text stock is one in which 500 sheets of 25 x 38 paper weighs 60 lbs.

A way to achieve multiple uses of a map would be to run multiple paper stocks at time of printing.  It should be noted, however, that multiple paper surfaces will result in multiple appearances.


Welcome to the MapPrinter blog.  We, are Holly and Mark, of Williams & Heintz Map Corp.  We will share our knowledge and passion for map printing with you here. We hope we will have lots of great discussions about maps, and printing.

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