What happens in the lab; a showcase of GIS Student creations & other good stuff.

Category: GIS 321 (Page 1 of 2)

Publishing GIS data in Adobe Creative Suite

~ A guest blog post by ADGISer Barry McLane

I’m a big fan of Adobe Creative Suite, and have been working with Photoshop and Illustrator for some time. Last fall [in GIS 321] I discovered that ArcMap can export to Illustrator (AI) files, and I’ve since been finalizing all of my maps in Illustrator. The publishing capabilities of ArcMap are decent – especially in contrast with other GIS software – but the output quality eventually caps out.

Some of the graphic design features of Photoshop and Illustrator are absolutely necessary to reach a high level of cartographic quality.

Color management and opacity settings – to name only a few – are areas where Illustrator really outshines ArcMap. The library of raster effects in Photoshop are really useful as well, and can give maps a very customized look.

I recently had the opportunity to work with Tourism Rossland, and created maps for their new road biking brochure. I sourced all the spatial data, and compiled the map layers in ArcMap 10.2 using fixed extent data frames for each map. I then exported the raw layers into Photoshop (rasters) and Illustrator (vectors). This workflow offered up a good change of scenery, as 90% of the work was done using non-GIS software.

The fixed extend data frames are really key. They enable the user to continually make changes/additions in ArcMap, and import them into the existing Illustrator file without the need to re-align layers. Illustrator maintains the grouping of layers, which is very helpful.

Map elements, such as scale bars and legends, are also separated into groups.

I used Illustrator to do the vector work: feature symbolizing, text labels, symbols etc., and Photoshop to build the base maps, which are a composite of multiple hillshade and DEM tiles. I exported the hillshade and DEM rasters as TIFF files, and stacked them into a single Photoshop (PSD) file. This allowed for maximum flexibility with the tone and contrast of the basemaps. The elevation profiles were made using the Strava route planner. I imported screenshots of the profiles into Illustrator, and used them as templates to create new profiles from scratch.

This project was a great learning experience for me, and I feel lucky to have worked with such professional people. The graphic designer, Shelley Ackerman, and author Terry Miller really did a bang up job. The brochure design is top notch, and the tongue-in-cheek ride descriptions are hilarious. It has been published as an 8 panel, double folding brochure that Tourism Rossland distributes to events and storefronts across the region, to promote Rossland as a road cycling destination.

The process of exporting ArcMap documents into Illustrator isn’t without it’s nuances, though. Here’s a few tips/lessons that I’ve learned over the past 6 months:

  1. In ArcMap, no layers can contain any level of transparency, otherwise they will be exported as an un-editable full-page raster. This is usually the main source of problems when exporting to AI.
  2. The resolution at which you export will also affect the vectors, which strays from the traditional concept that vectors are “resolution independent”.
  3. Only one raster image can be exported at a time. Multiple exported raster layers will be flattened into a single layer on the AI side. I find it simplest to export rasters as TIFF files, and place them in the AI document separately.
  4. The layers nest themselves in groups in AI, and 2 clipping masks are created for each layer. The concept of clipping masks can be annoying and difficult to grasp at first, but they are ultimately what allow users to add newly exported layers without the need to re-align. More info on Illustrator clipping masks here.
  5. Keep features simple when exporting, and do all the symbolization in AI. No need to duplicate the process.
  6. Exporting text from ArcMap to Illustrator is in general pretty buggy, so I just don’t bother. I do the annotation work once in Illustrator, where it is more flexible anyway.
Check Barry’s fine work in detail on his own site.  Front & back of the brochure


The importance of being a discerning map reader

~A guest blog post by GIS student Katie James

I can’t recall just how many maps I have seen throughout my life, but there were many and they weren’t all alike. Some of the first maps I encountered were mental maps most likely starting in the 1st grade. If these weren’t bright illustrations of the United States, they were maps I created that identified where my house was located in relation to others in my neighborhood, and where the best hiding places were.

Our perception of what is important enough to be displayed and what isn’t, is left to the cartographer’s discretion.

But before we get started….

What is cartography anyway?

Cartography, the art and science of graphically representing a geographical area, usually on a flat surface such as a map or chart; it may involve the superimposition of political, cultural, or other nongeographical divisions onto the representation of a geographical area.”

Source:  Encyclopedia Britannic.”Cartography.” Retrieved on October 13, 2013

Essentially, a cartographer has control over how information is displayed. Understanding the role of a cartographer is vital in regards to becoming a discerning map reader. Ranging from projection, purpose, audience, content, colour choice, title, focus, etc. the map-maker has a wide range of artistic arsenal that enables them to create a misleading map. Of course this is not the case for all maps. Due to generalization (information selected for display, based on scale of map, purpose, etc.), even the most honest maps display a representation of the real world, not the real world in its entirety.

A closer look…

The maps below show the same information, however through the use of 3 different projections they appear dissimilar. The maps were used as propaganda during the Cold War to represent the USSR and its allies. As a tool to try to convince citizens to increase military expenditure, the Mercator projection nailed it by making the USSR and allies appear that much larger and stretched because of its high latitudes. Don’t forget the colour choice. Scary right? The encroaching red blob across the world doesn’t look promising. If you were a concerned citizen, what map would you find more intimidating?

Source: Walbert, D. “Projections and Propaganda.” Learn NC: Map skills and higher-order thinking. Retrieved on October 13, 2013

Mercator projection

Mercator projection

Robinson projection

Robinson projection

Peters projection

Peters projection

My goal is not to scare or cause distrust in maps; rather to generate a better understanding of map creation and display as a whole. Maps are a great resource for many purposes, and can represent information better than other forms of data collection and analysis. Bottom line, the next time you read a map, be conscious of what its purpose is intended for, and better yet who created it.

For your viewing pleasure!

“A good map is both a useful tool and a magic carpet to far away places”



GIS Technology in disaster management

~A guest student blog post by GISer Andrew Jones

With natural disasters increasing in magnitude and frequency, technology has an important role to play in the management of relief efforts. The use of open source technologies and readily available off the shelf products can provide realistic, cost effective solutions.This blog post looks at the these technologies and how they can be employed in the developing world.

There are private organizations and charities that have been set up to assist in dealing with the aftermath of natural and man made disasters. The Sahana software foundation was set up in Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the 2004 Tsunami to assist the management of  relief efforts following natural disasters. The foundation has since evolved into a provider of open source disaster management software. They are

“dedicated to the mission of saving lives by providing information management solutions that enable organizations and communities to better prepare for and respond to disasters”

Access to remotely sensed data can make the management of disaster zones a far more intuitive, visual process, and the disaster charter aims to make this data accessible. The charter is an agreement between countries that allows for disaster management agencies to obtain up to date satellite imagery for the disaster affected areas.

One of the major issues for disaster management efforts in developing countries is a lack of existing technological infrastructure.  A usable network that can provide means of reporting VGI, communications, and relief coordination is essential. An innovative network topology that can be utilized in these scenarios is a meshnet, which is essentially a decentralized method of networking. This method has been recently popularized as an alternative to internet infrastructure by project meshnet.

A potential meshnet configuration in a disaster zone

A potential meshnet configuration in a disaster zone

The delivery of aid in disaster zones is also an area that can greatly benefit by utilizing the advancement in technologies. Drone technology, like this example in Australia  could easily be used to deliver aid where conventional vehicles cannot. Another example of drone use is in Colorado this year to map the floods.

Book delivery in Australia by drone by Zookal

Book delivery in Australia by drone by Zookal

Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) is a valuable source of information and when combined with the other technologies mentioned above can make a big difference in the management of disasters. The widespread availability of smart mobile phones (even in developing countries) makes the utilization of these technologies a huge benefit. Many people have access to a device that can communicate, record video and photos with location information, and participate in a meshnet. This information is so invaluable in the wake of a disaster, UNICEF have commissioned a project that provides the tools for citizens to upload data about their local areas to live webmaps.

The convergence of these technologies is allowing innovative and affordable solutions to be applied to disaster management.

The charities and volunteer organizations are able to help empower the locals to take control of their own disaster management. Open source philosophy and utilization of affordable off the shelf products can make these solutions possible for developing nations. If you want to use your knowledge for the greater good, consider volunteering for one of the organizations mentioned above.

~by Andrew Jones, GIS student



Cartography, the art of map making

~ the following is another guest blog post by Selkirk GIS student, Lorraine Brown:

Cartography can be a serious science but also it can produce a wonderful work of art. Classic cartographic methods include hand drawn features and elements with each calculation done with care.

Today these works of art can be worth thousands of dollars to collectors; reproductions are made and more moderately priced for the artistic eye.

old skool cartography
Checking value

With modern technology GIS software has allowed us to speed up the process. It allows some manipulation of the elements but not full control. This still may restrict the artistic nature of the cartographer. The use of additional software rendering can increase the visual appeal. Photoshop, Illustrator and many more, are some of the tools used to achieve this look.

making maps

Interested in reading more?  Check out the following links….

There is more than one way to use maps and cartography!

A great collection of antique maps and mapping tools!

A fine art selection of great cartographic maps for sale online!

~By Lorraine Brown



GIS, an epic discovery

An ADGIS student guest blog post by Lauren Maluta

It was in my third “Intro to GIS” class that I actually discovered what GIS was, or rather what it meant. GIS had fallen into my lap as a requirement for the Environmental Planning program I was taking at Selkirk College.

Like most people with the right combination of outdoorsy and computer illiterate, it was a battle to wrap my head around and I didn’t understand the purpose or desire of such a discipline before this third class.

It wasn’t my new found ability to digitize, extract selected features, or import XY data that made it all clear. It was the fact that my instructor came to our 1:00 pm class after spending the morning ski touring. An epic discovery.

This was the trigger that turned the mandatory class into something to be sought after. I was enamored by the idea of working from home doing what I love or working far away from home while traveling:

a love for GIS came shortly afterwards. I understood what studying GIS could mean and it got me thinking, where can this field take you?

With a little Internet research I determined the deep, complex, multi-layered answer to this question: everywhere. GIS is a difficult profession to explain to those who aren’t aware of it because it’s applicable to most industries. Basically covering everything from environmental to industrial to social and back again.

Here are some examples of GIS:

GIS is used to map the spread and control of Chagas disease in South America ChagasDisease

It’s used to track Reindeer in the Kamchatka region of Russia, and to monitor sensitive ecosystems in West Africa. We use it to visualize the oceanic spread of radiation from Japan:NOAA



It’s also used to find the nearest MacDonald’s on your next trip to Nepal:

So whatever aNepalspect of GIS your skills and desires are geared towards, know that the opportunities are global and expansive, and if you’re having trouble finding the internal guidance to get you there – check out these links:


~ by Lauren Maluta

New media field trip

Yesterday we went to Selkirk College‘s Tenth Street campus where the Digital Arts New Media program happens.  It was a really fun morning with our tour guides and creative geniuses, Jason Taylor and Justin Beaulieu, and a good fit for our New Media GIS 321 class.

We saw a demo for remotely controlling maps using human movement, learned about screen goo, played with home made arcades, learned about laser etching and cutting, 3D printing and a whole bunch of other neat stuff including supporting open source software, websites and community groups.

Here’s a list of notable sites to check out for more info:

  1. Kinect http://www.kinecthacks.com/  Kinect-controlled interactive lasers.
  2. Natural User Interface http://nuigroup.com/log an open source interactive media community researching and creating sensing and display techniques to benefit artistic, commercial and educational applications
  3. Makerbot replicator http://store.makerbot.com/replicator-404.html 3D printing.  With the MakerBot Replicator™, you can invent the future and also be a hero around the house. Make shower curtain rings, bath plugs, door knobs, or create custom gifts for special occasions
  4. 123d http://www.123dapp.com/ make awesome stuff in 3D cause flat is boring
  5. Meshlab http://meshlab.sourceforge.net/ open source, portable and extensible system for the processing and editing of unstructured d 3D triangular meshes
  6. Tinkercad https://tinkercad.com/ mind to design in minutes – an easy way to turn your idea into a professional 3D cad model
  7. Ardunio http://www.arduino.cc/ Arduino is an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software. It’s intended for artists, designers, hobbyists, and anyone interested in creating interactive objects or environments.
  8. Raspberry pi http://www.raspberrypie.org/ a very small computer – about the same size as a credit card but packs a punch and is priced at $25 .
  9. Makerzine: http://www.makezine.com  Makes, unites, inspires and informs people who undertake projects in their own backyard.
  10. Thingiverse http://www.thingiverse.com/ – digital designs for real physical objects
  11. Ashoka http://canada.ashoka.org/ changemaker: A global association of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs – individuals with system-changing solutions for the world’s most urgent social problems.

And some photos of the day:


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