Fundamentals of Mapping

ICSM has designed this site to provide a comprehensive general overview of maps, mapping, cartography and map production. It is not intended to be a definitive reference, but rather to supply a consolidated summary of mapping concepts, principles and practice.

Links are provided to other sites which offer more detailed information.


Magnifying glass

Overview to the Fundamentals of Mapping

A brief outline of the core components to mapping the Earth.

Australia Map

History of Mapping

An outline of the development of map making. It lists some of the significant developments and people involved.

Green Map

Types of Maps

There are many different types of maps, which are generally classified according to what they are attempting to show.


Earth's Coordinate System

The first step in converting the information contained in the real-world onto a ‘piece of paper’ was to devise a system where everything could be uniquely located in that world


Datums – the Basics

A datum is a system which allows the location of latitudes, longitudes and heights to be identified onto the surface of the Earth. As datums is a jargon rich subject it is recommended that you read this section first.

Cross-section Datum

Datums Explained in more Detail

Having grasped the basics concerning datums in the previous section, this section provides greater depth to the topics already discussed and introduces more advanced concepts.

Surveying Instrument

Surveying for Mapping

Surveying and geodetic techniques are used to a calculate the coordinates of points on the surface of the Earth


About Projections

Having developed a coordinate system and measurement techniques for the Earth (including datums), the next problem map makers faced was how to transfer the information from the surface of a 3-dimensional, irregularly shaped sphere (the Earth) to a 2-dimensional flat 'piece of paper'.

Image of a world map

Commonly Used Map Projections

This section shall outline a number of more commonly used projects. This is a selection of the most commonly used projections, but it is by no means a full list.

Black and White Cadastral Map with a Red Circle

Maps as a Summary of the World

A map is not the same size as the piece of the earth it is describing. This sounds obvious, but two important cartographic principles flow from this statement.

Clip art image of a man standing and working at a drawing board

Making your Map

Before embarking on the complex task of producing a map, cartographers must first consider two fundamental points:
(1) the purpose of the map, and
(2) its target audience.

Marginalia Information

Maps have two basic components, the map itself (often called the 'face of the map') and information about the map (commonly called 'marginalia'). The term comes from a convention that all additional information about the map was printed/drawn outside the edge of the map, ie in the margins.

Cartographic image

Cartographic Considerations

In this modern world, maps are either printed onto 'paper' or are viewed electronically (eg on computer screen). The principles of cartographic composition are essentially the same for both.

Image of a paper book open on the table

Map Specifications

Map specifications provide the rules and guidelines for the issues associated with making a map. Specifications are needed for both printed and electronic maps.

Image of braille

Mapping for People with Visual Impairments

Mapping for people who are blind, or have problems seeing, is fundamentally the same as for people with normal vision, but there are a number of significant differences. This is variably called Tactual or Tactile Mapping.


This section contains hyperlinks to mapping and surveying related organisations and institutions.