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Vector Map

Updated on May 5, 2015
Political map of Europe custom edited with Adobe Illustrator
Political map of Europe custom edited with Adobe Illustrator

Do you want complete control over the look and content of your maps? A vector map is the solution. Quality vector maps need to meet certain criteria in layers, naming of objects and accuracy. Layers are used to quickly concentrate your design on particular content of the map, like sea area, countries, rivers. Naming of objects, in alphabetical order, gives you the opportunity to pinpoint that exact country or river in a matter of seconds. Of course, a quality vector map needs to be accurate and up-to-date.


Screenshot of possible layers for a Vector Map in Adobe Illustrator CC
Screenshot of possible layers for a Vector Map in Adobe Illustrator CC

A quality vector map cannot go without the proper use of layers. Layers let you quickly navigate the map, gives the possibility to easily set the visibility of rivers, concentrate on the country areas and more. Some examples of layers can be sea area, country area, country border, coastline, river and name capital. It is important that layers are properly named to find your way around a vector map fast and easily.

If you want to work accurate, easily and quickly, layers are an absolute must. Each map can have a different layer set. Maybe there is no sea visible in the area shown on the map, so a sea layer would not be present.

Scalable and Printable

Image quality achieved with a Vector Map. Map of South Africa.
Image quality achieved with a Vector Map. Map of South Africa.

Due to the nature of a vector file, vector maps can be scaled to any size you want without losing any quality. They stay sharp at any size. Vector maps are great to make prints, for example, a sharp and crisp wall map. Therefore, they are great for use in graphic design and print design.

Easy editable

Editable vector map of the world with countries and capitals.
Editable vector map of the world with countries and capitals.

Through the use of layers, proper naming in alphabetical order you can navigate vector maps easily. All objects are individually selectable. Give those objects the color, stroke, special effect you need to incorporate them into your design or project. You are only limited by the graphic design software you are using. We recommend Adobe Illustrator.

Accurate and Up-to-date

Maps need to be accurate and up-to-date. As the world changes, your base vector maps need to be adapted to the new situation. You can find a lot of free vector world maps, but be aware they are mostly not accurate. Take the new country of South Sudan for instance. It gained its independence from Sudan in 2011. Yet, vector maps that reflect this situation, are mostly to be found with commercial map providers. The same goes for Montenegro or Kosovo.

Software to edit a vector map

Logo Adobe Illustrator
Logo Adobe Illustrator | Source

Vector maps are made and need to be edited in a vector software package. Although you can open files in vector format in software like Adobe Photoshop, they will be converted into pixels, and you will lose the advantages that make a vector map your map of choice: layers, editable and scalable.

The most popular software package used to edit vector maps is, without a doubt, Adobe Illustrator. Currently on version CC 2014, Adobe Illustrator gives you the right tools to make your edits to a vector map. You can go into those layers, pinpoint individual objects and edit them with the powerful software that Adobe Illustrator is.

Other software to edit vector maps: CorelDraw, Inkscape and many more. Adobe Freehand used to be a popular software package to make and edit this sort of files. But Adobe Freehand has discontinued support several years ago.

Software to make a vector map

Generally speaking you have two options when creating a vector map.

  1. Draw it by hand. Use, for instance, a screenshot of Google maps, place it on a separate layer and start drawing using bezier curves or using a Wacom tablet. Plenty of tutorials on the internet can be found on this topic. If you have a great source of outline maps, you could also try to let your software package trace the source material.
  2. GIS (Geographic Information System). Learn to work with one of the many available GIS-packages like Mapublisher, ArcGIS, Manifold, and many more. Learn to search for data that those software packages can use to quickly draw accurate data. A very good, accurate and up-to-date free data source is without a doubt Natural Earth. Natural Earth data is maintained by the work of many volunteers. There are plenty of other resources scattered around the World Wide Web, both free and paid. Just enter something like "gis data" or "shapefiles" in a search engine and you're good to go.

Map Styles

Maps can be drawn in a plethora of map styles. Ultimate goal is to make maps that are both attractive to the reader and yet readable enough. It is important that the message, the map wants to bring to the reader, is right there. It should be obvious what the map means.

Below you can find some examples of map styles for politically oriented maps. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. As a test, you could check which map style your most comfortable with.

Please make your choice:

Which map style do you prefer?

See results
Political vector map of Italy.
Political vector map of Italy.
Political vector map of South America.
Political vector map of South America.
Political vector map of France.
Political vector map of France.
Political vector map of the world with shaded relief.
Political vector map of the world with shaded relief.
Outline map of the United States of America.
Outline map of the United States of America.

Rate these map styles

Cast your vote for these different map styles.

Images taken from, editable vector maps.


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