Back in the Day Part I: Making Paper Maps from Scratch

Map making back in the dayIllustration by Chelsea Ellis
Back in the day, roads and other line features in gazetteers were often traced from source maps and scribed by hand using a variety of line weights and fills.

I left college with a degree in Fine Arts with a concentration in printmaking.

Yes, that’s right, printmaking.

Although I didn’t ever have to ask “do you want to supersize that?” I was somewhat concerned about what employment opportunities would be available to me in the real world with my specialized degree. In my last year at school in 1992, students were advised to pursue opportunities in this new-fangled computer graphics industry. I wasn’t convinced this was the wave of the future, so I settled with the commercial printing industry. I became a map technician for a well-known publisher of traditional atlases and gazetteers.

What’s a Gazetteer? A great question that seems funny today. Nowadays you can go online using your map service of choice (Google Earth, Bing, OpenStreetMaps) type in a place name or an address, adjust your scale and POOF! You can basically produce a map for almost any purpose with just a few mouse clicks.

Wikipedia defines a gazetteer as:

‘‘A geographical dictionary or directory used in conjunction with a map or atlas. They typically contain information concerning the geographical makeup, social statistics and physical features of a country, region, or continent. Content of a gazetteer can include a subject’s location, dimensions of peaks and waterways, population, GDP and literacy rate. This information is generally divided into topics with entries listed in alphabetical order.”

A good analogy might be: a gazetteer is to an atlas as attributes are to features in a GIS database.

Creating a gazetteer involves a fantastic amount of gathering source data, analysis and research, and many waves of mind-numbing proofreading. You need people with surgical attention to detail and an aversion to burnout to make a successful gazetteer. Fortunately, I wasn’t involved in the research or copy editing portions of the process. I was there to make the actual maps, and what fun that was.

Back in the day, roads and other line features were often traced from source maps and scribed by hand using a variety of line weights and fills. I was hired as a map technician, I think, mainly because of my mechanical drawing skills. In the hiring process, the publisher had me take a “scribe test” in which I used sample pieces of scribe coat and a scribe tool to produce lines for a map.

Scribe tool illustrationIllustration by Chelsea Ellis
The scribe tool has a sapphire tip that scrapes clean lines in the scribe coat for map features, essentially creating a negative from the scribe coat.

Scribe coat is a heavy film coated with a material that is easily scraped away using a specialized scribe tool. The scribe tool has a sapphire tip — a real gemstone — that is meant to be dragged along the scribe coat to scrape clean lines for map features, essentially creating a negative. It takes a certain touch to manually scribe: too heavy handed and a gouge could be made in the film underneath; too light handed and a clean line wouldn’t be rendered.

I must have done well in my scribe test, because for the next two months, I hand scribed all of the roads for the Maine state atlas in production and duplicated sheets for printing.

To create “dupes” of my sheets, I dutifully taped a protective cover of newsprint over each corner of the scribe coat sheet (one false move and a dropped sheet could ruin my day) and transported my work to the vacuum-frame room.

The vacuum frame, an essential part of any conventional mapmaker’s work, is an exposure machine that has a large bed fit with a heavy, hinged glass lid.

In the large bed of the vacuum frame, I would lay a sheet of blank, yellow duplication film emulsion side up, lay my work over the film, and close the glass lid. Turning the vacuum frame on, I would hear the vacuum remove the air in the bed, creating a close contact between the original scribe sheet and the duplication film. A timed UV exposure would then create a duplicate image by exposing all of the road lines I created with my scribe tool onto the yellow duplication film. After the dupe was “burned,” I would then run it through an ammonia processor that would transform the dupe film into a layer that would be used in the printing process.

Next … stripping layers into CMYK “flats” and the joy of negative corrections!

To be continued …

Kris Berglund

Kris Berglund is currently the Vice-President of Sales at Blue Marble Geographics and has been with the company for over fifteen years. Kris has been involved with digital mapping technology for over twenty years, and demonstrates a diverse level of experience in cartography, geomatics, technical sales & marketing and business development.

The Myth of Free GIS – A Lesson from Nelson

Car broken down
Like a car, GIS needs to be fueled and maintained to keep it running smoothly.


S everal years ago, while attending a small regional GIS conference, I happened to overhear a snippet of a conversation between two local government officials:

“How much did your town pay for its GIS?” asked the first. “Nothing. We got it for free” came the reply.

Much as I wanted to interject myself in the exchange, decorum prevailed and I was left to mull over how a functional spatial data management system can be established and maintained with no monetary outlay.

I was reminded of this experience early last year when my son turned 16 and, in what is apparently a rite of passage for today’s youth, informed me that he needed a car. Bear with me, there’s an analogy coming here. Several weeks scouring Craigslist eventually turned up a 2000 Hyundai for which the asking price was only a few hundred dollars. This inevitably led to the price verses cost discussion.

“While the purchase price might be within your budget,” I reasoned, “how much will it cost to keep it on the road? You have to consider insurance, fuel, maintenance, and the inevitable and unforeseen repairs that a well-used car will need.”

We bought the car anyway. More on that later.

In a similar vein, a GIS needs to be fueled and maintained to keep it running smoothly and while upfront cost savings might be appealing, the long-term productivity of the system needs continual investment. That’s right, investment.

According to Wikipedia, an investment is, “… an allocation of money (or sometimes another resource, such as time) in the expectation of some benefit in the future.”

GIS is, by its very nature, an investment in which the return on the initial and ongoing disbursement can be seen in many ways: increased productivity, improved efficiency, or in some cases, financial rewards from the sale of GIS derived products or services.

I have to assume that when the aforementioned conference delegates inferred that their GIS was free, they were factoring the initial price of the software and not any of the prerequisite or subsequent cost considerations. Had I decided to join their discussion, I would have suggested that they consider the bigger picture.


While many GIS fundamentalists might argue that a functioning Geographic Information System can be developed without computing technology (location-based data management predates the advent of the personal computer by several centuries if not millennia), in today’s world, GIS is a computer-based discipline. Specific hardware requirements will vary depending on the volume of data and degree of processing required and there is a fairly consistent correlation between the capability of the hardware and the performance and efficiency of the system. For most applications, however, the requirements are relatively modest and in most cases, an off-the-shelf computer will suffice.


GIS software runs the gamut from freeware to highly complex data processing applications costing tens of thousands of dollars. The decision on which level of investment to make will obviously depend on budgetary constraints but must also factor the value that the software provides. An assessment of the options must consider the minimum functional requirements, ease of use, and the support for appropriate data formats. More expensive software will typically offer more robust processing and analysis tools but these high-end functions are often not necessary or applicable to basic GIS workflow. In this light alone, it is entirely appropriate that the two officials whose conversation I overheard had selected an open-source alternative. Why pay a premium price for tools that you will never need.

Parcel data in Global Mapper
Working on parcel data in Blue Marble Geographics’ Global Mapper software.


Over recent years, there has been a significant increase in the availability of public domain data, usually administered by government departments or agencies. High-resolution imagery, elevation data, vector files, and even LiDAR data are often readily accessible on public data archives or through online data portals. While these sources provide a solid foundation for many GIS projects and workflows, they seldom offer a complete data solution in a local, project-specific context. To bridge this data void, GIS administrators must have the wherewithal to collect or create the requisite layers for a specific situation. Furthermore, maintaining data currency and ensuring accuracy and quality is a time-consuming and often a financially burdensome process.


Application Specialist Katrina Schweikert leads a Global Mapper training class at the Blue Marble Geographics office in Hallowell, Maine.

Usually the single most expensive component of a GIS is the person or people that are required for the development and maintenance of the system; the human resources. Larger agencies or departments may be able to afford a dedicated GIS technician to perform the day-to-day GIS tasks however an organization with more modest means will usually have to depend on existing staff or may be forced to outsource certain GIS operations, which ultimately costs more. Training can also incur a considerable financial outlay especially when the software requires an extended period of instruction before it can be effectively used.


In a perfect world, which conventional logic dictates, is an inherently unattainable fallacy, software never fails. In the real world, in which you and I reside, it does. The cost saving derived from open source software is a boon until the point at which something goes awry and without a structured support system, a project may come to an inglorious halt. At the other end of the GIS spectrum, annual maintenance fees that are designed to ensure the smooth operation of high-end software, usually add a considerable amount to the overall cost of the system; much like the cost of maintaining a car.

Ah yes, the car. In what would turn out to be the final eight months of its life, Nelson, as it was inexplicably christened, needed a new radiator, several hoses, and an exhaust overhaul. And in what may have been a prophetic attempt to convey its impending demise, the check engine light appeared just a few days before the Bureau of Motor Vehicles inspection service concluded that it would cost three times as much as the original price to maintain its roadworthy status.

Does this sound like your GIS?

When considering the implementation of a GIS, emphasis should be placed on the letter S in the acronym. The system is more than software and consequently, the cost of the system extends beyond the upfront price of the chosen application. Ultimately, a more important consideration should the value derived from the investment. Low-cost commercial GIS software such as Blue Marble’s Global Mapper maximize this value by balancing cost, functionality, and usability.

David McKittrick is a Senior Application Specialist at Blue Marble Geographics in Hallowell, Maine.  A graduate of the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland, McKittrick has spent over 25 years in the field of GIS and mapping, focusing on the application and implementation spatial technology. McKittrick has designed and delivered hundreds of GIS training classes, seminars, and presentations and has authored dozens of articles and papers for a variety industry and trade publications.

Blue Marble is Traveling to Conferences and Public Training Events Around the Globe

Blue Marble Conferences and Training on a World Map

Blue Marble Geographics is a company of modest size but one that leaves a very large footprint. With customers and users throughout North America and in virtually every county in the world, the company’s technical and sales staff seem to be continually on the road. Seldom does a week go by that we aren’t bidding one colleague bon voyage while welcoming another back into the fold.

This photo contributed by Renier Balt shows new Certified Global Mapper Users at a public training in Mount Edgecombe, KZN, South Africa the first week of February 2017.

As a company that develops the foremost tools for creating visual representations of spatial data (maps, for the layperson) it seems only natural that we share our 2017 travel plans using this media. A cursory glance at the accompanying map reveals an obvious bias towards the Northeastern U.S., our home turf, so to speak, but it is also interesting that folks attending conferences in the Midwestern states have better-than-average chance of encountering a wandering Blue Marble staff member over the coming year.

Increasingly, our trips are taking us beyond these shores with Europe a frequent destination for 2017. As the popularity of the appropriately named Global Mapper continues to expand across the planet, look out for someone in a Blue Marble shirt at an event near you in the future.

For a frequently updated list of events Blue Marble is attending this year, click Here.

Top 5 Things Blue Marble Geographics is Grateful for in 2016

Happy New Year from Blue Marble Geographics!

We made some ambitious goals in 2016, ranging from rebranding our products to updating the look and feel of Global Mapper. It was challenging, but our team made it happen!

Here is a countdown of the top five things Blue Marble is grateful for in 2016:

 5 – A New Website

We needed a website to not only match our new and improved graphics and logos, but to reflect the ease-of-use found in our software. We redesigned our website to be easier to navigate, more mobile friendly, and overall more pleasing to the eye. We even incorporated more of the friendly faces of the people who work at Blue Marble.

Redesigned Blue Marble Geographics website
We cleaned up our website to be nicer to look at and easier to navigate. We updated our social media icons; added our new logo; created a new cart and login for customers; added new imagery from our software; added our new product logos; and used more house photography that features Blue Marble events and employees.

4 – The First Annual Blue Marble User Conference Road Show

In the month of March, Blue Marble staff members took to the road to bring the Blue Marble User Conference experience to as wide an audience as possible. We traveled to locations throughout the U.S. and Canada providing conference attendees with insight on current and future product developments as well as usability tips to help get the most out of Global Mapper and the Geographic Calculator. A variety of industry experts also joined us along the way to share their experience with Blue Marble technology.


Blue Marble training event and user conference
The 2016 Blue Marble User Conferences in Houston, Calgary, San Francisco, Boston, and Pittsburgh featured presentations from Bechtel Infrastructure, BSP Engineers, Inc., Pictometry, EnergyIQ, GEO1, and the Blue Marble Team.

3 – The Release of Global Mapper Mobile for iOS

In a significant development shift, we released a mobile version of our desktop GIS software. Global Mapper Mobile, originally an iOS app and soon to be available for Android devices, extends the reach of a traditional GIS by offering access to virtually all raster and vector spatial datasets where they are needed most: in the field or at a job site. Used in conjunction with the desktop version of Global Mapper, the mobile edition can display both raster and vector layers from any of the 250 supported formats while allowing field editing and markup.


Global Mapper for desktop and mobile
Global Mapper Mobile is a powerful GIS data viewing and field data collection application for iOS that utilizes the device’s GPS capability to provide situational awareness and locational intelligence for remote mapping projects.

2 – The Release of Global Mapper Version 18

Arguably the most significant release in the history of this renowned GIS software, version 18 introduced bold new graphics, reconfigured menus, and improved layer management. With our continued focus on optimizing the use of 3D data, it also offers full-range dynamic rendering of all loaded terrain or LiDAR data and supports the concurrent display of multiple terrain surfaces.


Redesigned Global Mapper
We redesigned and redeveloped Global Mapper for version 18.

1 – You: Our Users

You joined us for training sessions, visited us at conferences, followed us on social media, downloaded our software, shared your software stories with us, and gave us feedback on our products. 2016 would not have been a great year without you!

Attendees of Orlando, FL training
We had full attendance and received some great feedback at our Orlando training this year.

Thank you for all of your support, and we hope you continue to participate with us in 2017 in whatever way you are comfortable. We have more big plans to change the way the world uses and thinks about GIS but we need your help to do it.

2017 Training

Blue Marble Geographics ( is pleased to announce the successful completion of its 2016 Global Mapper Certified Training Program with a sold-out three-day class in Orlando, FL from December 6-8. Blue Marble’s hands-on instructor-led classes have proven to be an indispensable asset for countless users hoping to get the most out of the software. The certified training curriculum effectively introduces novice users to the fundamentals of GIS and spatial data processing while concurrently challenging experienced GIS professionals to improve workflow and productivity.

For over two decades, Blue Marble’s affordable, user-friendly GIS software has been meeting the needs of hundreds of thousands satisfied customers throughout the world. Users come from all industries including software, oil and gas, mining, civil engineering, surveying, and technology companies, as well as government departments and academic institutions.

As well as Orlando, Global Mapper training locations for 2016 included Hallowell, ME (Blue Marble Headquarters), Las Vegas, NV, Vancouver, BC, St Louis, MO, Montreal, QC, London, UK, and Munich, Germany. Additionally, certified Global Mapper partners conducted classes in South Africa, Brazil, and Germany.

For 2017, the Global Mapper training curriculum has been revised and updated to include the new functionality that has recently been incorporated into version 18 as well as the new design and layout of the software. The redesigned course will follow two days of intensive, hands-on training on the core functionality of the application supplemented by an optional day-long class focusing on the capabilities of the LiDAR Module. The instruction process will involve following a series of preconfigured workflows that touch on all of the features and functions of the software using a wide variety of sample datasets. Participants who complete all three days of training will be recognized as Certified Global Mapper users.

The schedule for 2017 includes classes in Denver, CO and Perth, Australia in May and Ottawa, ON in October. Additional dates and locations will be added to meet the demand for training in particular geographic areas.

As well as offering public classes, Blue Marble Applications Specialists are available to deliver company- or organization-specific training programs. With a customized curriculum and flexible schedule, these classes can be conducted onsite or online.

“The Global Mapper Certified Training Program is a vital service that we provide for our customers,” stated Patrick Cunningham, Blue Marble President. “Training attendees routinely cite the knowledge and skills acquired during the class as essential to their increased productivity.”

For more information about the various training options, visit: For all questions about currently scheduled classes, to inquire about public classes in locations other than those listed, or to arrange a custom class for your organization, email
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LiDARUSA: Using Global Mapper to Analyze Stream Morphology for Erosion Control

LiDARUSA uses Global Mapper to analyze stream morphology for erosion control.
LiDARUSA team needed the LiDAR processing tools functionality of Global Mapper to process extremely high amounts of data in an accurate and efficient manner.

LiDARUSA employs a variety of airborne and terrestrial data collection and processing technologies to provide clients with accurate terrain models and volumetric measurements. The stream study project, which was spread across several non-contiguous areas in Western Tennessee, initially required the acquisition of a series of high-density point cloud datasets, each containing billions of points. This data was then processed to identify and reclassify ground points, which were filtered to create a high-resolution ground model.

As part of an ongoing analysis process, additional data will be captured over a prescribed time series and incremental changes in the stream morphology will be measured and analyzed to instigate erosion control procedures.


Because of the nature of the terrain and vegetation cover, neither traditional survey methods nor fixed wing- or helicopter-based data collection were viable options in this project. Instead, LiDARUSA technicians employed a UAV mounted LiDAR collection platform, which is quick and relatively inexpensive to deploy.

While the raw data accurately represented the surfaces that were encountered, there was no distinction made between bare earth and any non-ground features such as tree cover or other obstructions. In order to be of value in the terrain analysis and ultimately in the change detection process, the nature of the surface detected by each point had to be identified and those points representing anything other than ground had to be removed before creating a ground model.

Because a UAV-mounted collection platform was in relatively close proximity to the target surface, the concentration of points and subsequently the volume of data was enormous. Each point cloud contained billions of points with over 1,000 points per square meter so the LiDARUSA team needed to find LiDAR processing software that was able to process extremely high amounts of data in an accurate and efficient manner.


Global Mapper and the accompanying Global Mapper LiDAR Module were chosen by LiDARUSA because they included all of the required point cloud processing capabilities and they provided the means to maximize the return on investment in LiDAR data.

This versatile, fully functional GIS application has been steadily gaining an eager and dedicated worldwide following among geospatial professionals. Recent development work has focused on the visualization and analysis of 3D data, especially LiDAR and other point cloud formats. Global Mapper has allowed LiDARUSA to meet the challenges of processing large amounts of raw data into a usable commodity for its clients.

LiDARUSA uses Global Mapper to process large amounts of raw data
Global Mapper has allowed LiDARUSA to meet the challenges of processing large amounts of raw data into a usable commodity for its clients.


Global Mapper played an essential role in the stream morphology project. The automatic ground point detection process provided the necessary data intelligence to allow non-required points to be quickly and easily removed from the point cloud. Using a customizable algorithm applied to the geometric structure and other attributes of the unclassified data, ground points were identified and isolated prior to creating an elevation grid.

An innovative cross-sectional viewing function in Global Mapper was used to display a cutaway view of a swath of points and to allow manual reclassification or removal of erroneous points. The extent of the swath from a defined linear path was adjusted to allow a more focused view of a target area.

Global Mapper’s powerful gridding tool was then used to convert the ground points into a terrain model, forming the basis for many of the software’s terrain analysis functions. The resolution of this gridded raster layer was optimized from the average point spacing in the original data. Tools in Global Mapper allow the raster layer to be cropped, feathered, tiled, or reprojected before being delivered to the client in any one of dozens of elevation data formats.

To analyze the degree of change between current and future collection periods, LiDARUSA’s technicians will be able to create a model of the difference between two gridded layers by subtracting the Z-values embedded in the pixels of each overlapping layer. The result will be a difference model in which areas with the most change are easily distinguished using either a stock or custom elevation shader. Furthermore, Global Mapper’s volume calculation capability will be used to provide precise measurements of the degree of erosion over the time period.


The choice to use Global Mapper was an easy one for LiDARUSA. According to Daniel A Fagerman, Chief Technology Officer, the most important considerations were the low cost of the software, the availability of the LiDAR Module, and the ease-of-use of the required tools.


Global Mapper is an affordable and easy-to-use GIS application that offers access to an unparalleled variety of spatial datasets and provides just the right level of functionality to satisfy both experienced GIS professionals and beginning users. Equally well suited as a standalone spatial data management tool and as an integral component of an enterprise-wide GIS, Global Mapper is a must-have for anyone who deals with maps or spatial data. The supplementary LiDAR Module provides a powerful set of tools for managing point cloud datasets, including automatic point classification and feature extraction.


Trusted by thousands of GIS professionals around the world, Blue Marble Geographics is a leading developer of software products and services for geospatial data conversion and GIS.  Pioneering work in geomatics and spatial data conversion quickly established this Maine-based company as a key player in the GIS software field.  Today’s professionals turn to Blue Marble for Global Mapper, a low-cost, easy-to-use yet powerful GIS software tool. Blue Marble is known for coordinate conversion and file format expertise and is the developer of The Geographic Calculator, GeoCalc SDK, Global Mapper, LiDAR Module for Global Mapper, and the Global Mapper SDK.