Plug-in will let you become a sophisticated mapmaker

Pros and cons:
+ Best of GIS and graphics creation
+ Many tools for map enhancement
– Lot of training and resources required

Real-life requirements:
Adobe Illustrator under Win9x, NT or Mac OS; 200-MHz processor; 64M of RAM;
17-inch monitor; at least 4M free on hard drive

Whether your agency’s geographic data deals with demographics, public
infrastructure or the environment, displaying it graphically is a tough assignment.

The GCN Lab took a look at Avenza Software Inc.’s MAPublisher plug-in for the
Illustrator graphics package from Adobe Systems Inc.

MAPublisher sets up a geographic information system application within Illustrator. The
combination not only manipulates GIS data but also displays it handsomely.

To run MAPublisher, you need Adobe Illustrator 7.0 or higher running under Microsoft
Windows or Apple Mac OS. I tested it under Windows on a Pentium with 32M of RAM. The
package would run better on a PC with more RAM, as the vendor says.

The base 32M is enough for an occasional cartographer, but anyone who works regularly
on maps ought to have at least 128M.

If the memory requirement sounds high, remember that developing GIS maps from large
data sets on the fly was not something a desktop PC user could even try until recently.

MAPublisher was easy to install despite the absence of wizardly bells and whistles. The
program CD-ROM has plenty of mapmaking tools and templates.

The CD-ROM’s documentation is in Adobe Portable Document Format, and the disk
includes a copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader 3.01. Word searches were easy and the
documentation thorough.

For example, the online user guide explains map creation step by step. Considering how
complex GIS maps can be, step-by-step lessons are probably the best route.

Besides online documentation, the CD-ROM includes sample GIS data and maps. There are
nifty tools such as a font for the symbols and pictographs used on National Park Service
maps. Also on the CD, in Illustrator format, are patterns and symbols for Geological
Survey maps.

Having worked with the Census Bureau’s Topologically Integrated Geographic
Encoding and Reference files before, I knew how much data underlies a GIS map. Though
MAPublisher is not for the faint of heart, it lets you access the information you need and
display it in an understandable way.

The package works with data from many sources, including vector map formats such as
Arc/Info Generate and ArcView Shapefile from Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc.
of Redlands, Calif.; MapInfo from MapInfo Corp. of Troy, N.Y.; AutoCAD from Autodesk Inc.
of San Rafael, Calif.; and the Geological Survey’s DLG and SDTS formats.

Each set of GIS data displays as a separate layer. You can set up a map once and
reconfigure it in minutes to show other data. After the software translates the data into
an image, you use Illustrator’s tools to enhance the map.

One feature lets you scale an image file, such as a satellite image, to correspond to
spatial information on a map. The online tutorial details how to make a street map of
Toronto and overlay an image of part of the city on it.

The image must be a georeferenced .jpg or .tif file, so you will need to know the
origin coordinates for the image and its pixel size. USGS often provides such data files,
usually bearing .hdr or .tfw extensions.

Considering how many users work with GIS maps, the combination of MAPublisher and Adobe
Illustrator makes sense. Rarely do you see a map of GIS information alone.

GIS maps are most useful for putting other information into context. You can draw and
insert maps into documents on the fly, making them look the way you want instead of the
way your GIS software displays them.

MAPublisher will meet the needs of government workers who have to wring spatial meaning
from piles of GIS data. And its integration with Adobe Illustrator speeds up GIS mapping
and presentation. All in all, MAPublisher gets the gist of GIS.

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