What’re these?

Hyper-detailed LED-backlit vintage & original maps, fine lines down to 1/160th of an inch, energy efficient at ~10 watts/square foot. Like a big paper map with a candle glow: plug it in, bring a magnifying glass and get lost. There’s a bit more on Instagram.

Everyone loves an illuminated map.
Everyone loves an illuminated map.
Everyone loves an illuminated map.
Everyone loves an illuminated map.

Where can I get one?

Etsy; reach out for custom work, sizes range from 9x12" to 20x30 feet.

Neat idea; I love maps.

You have any hung up?

An old Baltimore street map. My sister-in-law gave it to me.

Don’t those old maps look great? It’s funny, if someone has a favorite map it’s never less than 40 years old.

Some of those old maps are works of art.

Those old maps took a lot of time and many hands; mapmaking used to be a real Process.

100 years ago cartographers had to know geodesy, trigonometry, drafting. If your map needed to show terrain you’d hire an engraver to scratch hachures into a metal plate, or an artist to draw hills and valleys in watercolors, graphite, charcoal. Then to get a map into a reader’s hands you needed a letterer to add text and a lithographer to make the print.

It must be all computers now.

Exactly. Nearly all contemporary maps are made the same way: download a pile of geographic data, discard what should not be shown on the map, make the remainder look nice in a design program or with code.

It’s an inversion of the old way of mapmaking: instead of starting with a blank page, you start with a cluttered map and winnow things out.

Who even makes maps nowadays?

Cartographers are still around. There are probably more cartographers working today than ever before: editorial cartographers, interactive cartographers, land management cartographers, atlas cartographers, government cartographers, all sorts of ‘tographers making maps that move, maps that stay still, maps that change by the second, maps of eternal things, load-bearing maps, nonsense maps. 

Huh. But they don’t look like the old ones.

Nope; almost every map you’ll see outside of a theme park is made via database output. Computers made mapmaking cheap, so the maps are cheap, so they look cheap.

Luckily there are still cartographers and artists making beautiful maps, on and off the computer:

That’s good to hear.

I’m optimistic; it has never been easier to make a great map. You should try it sometime.  


Yes, tell your friends, tell your family, tell everyone who Loves Maps: you can, and should, make maps. It’s not magic, it’s just practice.

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