Cartographers are the minds behind map making. They turn landscapes, urban areas and more into quantifiable, user-friendly documents for use by multiple audiences.
What is a Cartographer?
As a cartographer it’s your responsibility to condense detailed landscapes and urban areas into easily digestible maps. You could cover a variety of geographical spaces from large areas of countryside to city and transport maps. Your work spans everything from the science behind map making to the user experience.
Your work could range across a variety of different sectors. These could include urban planning as part of public service, working for a specific map making company, council work, private landowners and even the military (such as being an air cartographer).
Your responsibilities as a cartographer will vary depending on which industry you work in. They will also vary depending on your experience, and the type of landscape you’re mapping. Some common responsibilities include:
A degree isn’t directly necessary for mapping jobs. However, the detailed knowledge you’ll need in the role means it’s a very helpful start.
- Liaising with clients and/or stakeholders to get a detailed understanding of the requirements of a project.
- Taking on detailed field research to identify key areas for inclusion.
- Deciding the graphic design of the project, integrating user experience, accessibility needs and aesthetics related to the project.
- Working with a wider team of designers, geographers and information technologists, especially when working on large projects.
- Utilising digital cartography with cartography software such as geographical information systems (GIS) and image capturing technology to gather as much information as possible about the areas to be mapped.
- If you’re working in publishing, liaising with other team members on the graphics and text of the rest of the project to ensure your map fits seamlessly with the wider items.
- Using graphic design software such as Adobe Photoshop and InDesign to create your maps.
- Proofreading and copyediting any information that goes along with your map, such as keys or summaries, to ensure they accurately reflect the purposes of the map work.
- Keeping up to date with any policies or governmental requirements around cartography as well as new cartography tools and pass this information on to your wider team.
A cartographer salary varies depending on your level of experience, the company you work for, and your location.
If you go down the apprenticeship route, expect to earn £4.81 per hour in your first year (as long as you are over 19). For subsequent years you’ll earn the minimum wage for your age.
You may be able to earn more on a consultancy basis if you offer your skills independently to businesses. The more experienced you are, the more you can charge.
A degree isn’t directly necessary for mapping jobs. However, the detailed knowledge you’ll need in the role means it’s a very helpful start. Specific cartography degrees are usually at masters level, with the expectation that you will have already studied for a relevant undergraduate degree beforehand. Some examples of degrees that will set you in good stead for this career path include:
Alternatively, you could apply for a geographic technician apprenticeship relevant to the cartography field. Examples include a geospatial survey technician apprenticeship or a geospatial and mapping science specialist degree apprenticeship. You’ll usually need a minimum of 5 GCSEs at grades 9-4 (A*-C) for an apprenticeship, as well as A Levels for degree apprenticeships.
Training and development
Much of your training as a cartographer will happen during your degree or apprenticeship study. However, you’ll also develop your craft a great deal on the job.
You’ll develop a good understanding of a cartographer’s role as part of your studies.
Some individuals who studied a generalised degree at undergraduate level choose to take a more detailed masters degree afterwards. This is to develop their specialist knowledge of cartography, especially if there is a particular area of the field they’d like to pursue work in. Masters degrees include:
You can also access further training and education through various cartographic societies. The British Cartographic Society (BCS) offers resources and networking events to develop your knowledge of the field, while the International Map Industry Association offers a more global bank of information and events.
Your skills as a cartographer will come from your previous study, and your practical experience within the role. These include:
- Excellent attention to detail - you’ll be mapping both large and minute scale information.
- A robust geographical knowledge.
- Confident with geographical information systems (GIS) and an ability to pick up new forms of technology as they develop within the industry.
- A working knowledge of basic graphic design and accessibility principles.
- An ability to work well within an interdisciplinary team.
- Excellent written communication skills - you may need to file reports and pass on detailed information about your work.
- Excellent verbal communication skills, especially in terms of presenting information to clients and stakeholders.
- Specialist knowledge within your area of work, such as military work, estate planning or domestic areas.
- Problem solving skills - you may be faced with issues or disagreements in terms of plotting key geographic information, and you’ll need to be able to work through these quickly.
You’ll develop a good understanding of a cartographer’s role as part of your studies. This can help you stand out from the crowd when it comes to job applications.
If you’re currently studying, it’s a great idea to reach out to your course tutors. This is especially true if they have particular expertise in cartography. You can ask them if they have any contracts in industry, and if so, put you in touch to gather some work experience and shadowing time.
If you aren’t able to find work via a contact, try directly reaching out to local companies with a cartographic focus, your local council and local government.
As you build on your experience within a company, you can work your way up to more senior positions. The speed at which you do this and accessibility of positions will depend on company size - you may need to move around to access higher paid positions. With expertise, you could also focus on a particular area of cartography, such as urban planning or being a digital cartographer.
As a cartographer it’s your responsibility to condense detailed landscapes and urban areas into easily digestible maps.
Some cartographers choose to take their skills and work in a self employed capacity. They may offer their skills on a consultancy basis, or offer advisory services for large companies.
With the right amount of experience, you could delve further into study and take on PhD research. Once completed, this could set you up to apply for academic positions, teaching students in the areas of your interest and getting your own research papers published.