Map Fonts

Siyu Cao

Lakeside, released in May 2013, is a font inspired by topographical maps. The brainchild of Siyu Cao, Lakeside “is a typeface inspired by natural forms and topography. Letter forms are defined by positive and negative space, which could be compared to mountains (positive) and lakes (negative) in nature. The design is based on the language of cartography and the 3D visualization of the typeface follows the contours of each letter. The typeface could be further integrated with architecture, creating green public space that can be read from high above.” It’s not available for download—was this a proof of concept?—and it’s rather hard to see how it could be used in the real world. [A Map a Day] has a number of fonts inspired by the lettering on old maps whose licenses are relatively affordable; they remind me a bit of the IM Fell series of fonts (one of which I use for The Map Room’s wordmark).

But the font you use on your map should almost certainly not be so obviously mappy. There’s at least one font designed for maps. Back in 2005 I told you about Cisalpin, a humanist lineal font designed by Felix Arnold for use in cartography. It’s available for licensing on Linotype.

But that’s not to say that other fonts shouldn’t be used; here’s a Cartotalk thread from 2005 and another from 2011 that talk about the best fonts to use on maps.

More font-related links. Writing on the ArcGIS Blog in 2008, Aileen Buckley offered minimum size guidelines for text and symbols on maps, based on viewing distance and whether the map is printed or on a screen. Gretchen Peterson’s blog has a typography categoryTypeBrewer, a tool to explore typography in a mapmaking context that I told you about in 2008, is temporarily offline, unfortunately.