Creating your own custom maps

Map Art

Article from Issue 255/2022

Prettymaps combines multiple Python libraries to make it easy to draw maps straight from the OpenStreetMap database.

Maps are terribly important. Without maps we would not know where to go or, in many cases, what to do, either. Accurate maps are essential to planning anything – from a romantic weekend to large-scale urban projects. But maps are also beautiful in and of themselves. If they are customized by their owner, they can become little pieces of art. In this tutorial, I introduce a relatively simple way to generate such art using OpenStreetMap [1] and free and open source software. The results include maps in several styles and shapes that can be used as wall posters; illustrations in brochures and other documents; decorations for mugs, pillows, and other household items; or … just be used on the road, as good old paper maps!


If you have used the Internet at all in the past 15 years, very likely you already know what OpenStreetMap is. But just in case you don't, here is a super-quick definition, focused on the aspect that is directly relevant for this tutorial: OpenStreetMap (OSM) is the Wikipedia concept applied to digital cartography, an online map of the whole world, built and continuously updated by thousands of volunteers from all around the world. It is hard to explain how important OSM is for our society, but anyone interested may find food for thought on this matter in my blog [2].

Here, what really matters is the fact that all the OSM raw data is available for reuse under an open source license and can be downloaded automatically through equally open programming interfaces. It's this availability that makes drawing custom digital maps possible, even for non-programmers and for commercial purposes.


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