Types of maps

Maps can be described as anything which shows the location of something visually. But within that, there are a wide variety of types of maps.

Topographic maps

These types of maps are what you may think of when you consider something like an OS Explorer or Landranger map. They show a representation of the landscape on a 2D surface – often used as a printed map for navigational purposes. Their purpose is to portray the landscape in a way which is useful for a wide range of people. They will often show information such as elevation, land use, tourist symbols, and transport routes.

Thematic maps

Thematic maps are slightly different in that they represent a specific set of information – or theme - which is the focus of the map. They usually contain more of a narrative around a specific place and will often show this information against a washed out backdrop map. They are a useful type of map to show information on things like population density, environmental metrics or disease spread, where this data has a geographical element attached to it. There are lots of different techniques for displaying data on a thematic map – see the section in the OS guide to data visualisation for guidance on the best thematic mapping technique for different types of data.

Web maps

Web maps have become more and more popular in the digital age, and include things like Google Maps or scrollable interactive mapping platforms. They are usually interactive, with functionality to search for things included within the map – and allow the user to zoom in and out to see more or less detail on the map.

Web maps are often interactive, allowing the user to pan and zoom the map to their area of interest.

Last updated