GEOG 486
Cartography and Visualization

Creating Custom Symbols


There may times when you would like to use a symbol that is not part of the default symbol set that comes with your GIS software. Perhaps your organization has its own set of standard symbols for particular map features, or there may simply not be a choice that you like in the default symbols. One example of this type of standard symbology is the symbol set that the U.S. National Park Service uses for its visitor maps (see below). The Park Service uses a custom set of pictograms to help visitors locate amenities and activities within each park.

A set of graphic icons with related text to show examples of pictograms.
Figure Four examples of pictograms from the National Park Service visitor map symbol set.
Credit: Photo Source

There are many ways to customize and create your own symbology. One of the easiest options is to interactively set the size and color of existing symbols. However, it is also possible to create your own symbols from scratch. For example, suppose that you were asked to make a reference map for a travel magazine. Most magazines have a ‘look’ that they try to build into their graphics and text. Designers often create this ‘look’ by using signature fonts and colors. Your map is supposed to include several points of interest that are described in the accompanying article, and the editor has asked you to design a map that fits with the magazine’s style. One way to satisfy this requirement might be to create symbols that incorporate the magazine’s signature font (which happens to be Bernard MT condensed; see more about fonts in the Lesson 3 Type Characteristics concept gallery item) for the points of interest that are depicted in the map. Because your GIS doesn’t have symbols that incorporate this font, you have to make them yourself. You can incorporate custom symbols by first creating a bitmap of the symbol using illustration software and then importing the symbol into the GIS. Below is an example of some custom ‘point-of-interest’ symbols you could create using the font the editor requested.

A graphic diagram to show custom points-of-interest symbols.
Figure Custom 'point-of-interest' symbols created using the Bernard MT condensed font.
Credit: Photo Source