Tips for better maps and technical drawings


Introduction: What we do

MetaGlyfix was born in technical illustration. The precision, intelligence, and integrity demanded by that craft continue to underpin the MetaGlyfix aesthetic in all its projects.

We have supported the work of scholars in many fields with custom maps and technical illustrations. Most are destined for publication in books or journals, though output can be optimized to meet any end: high-resolution print, web publication, transparencies, slides, handouts, and more.

Working from client sketches, edited models, paste-ups, or merely descriptions, MetaGlyfix can make a clean, precise, stylish illustration. For instance,

[For typical transformations, follow some before and after examples in a case study.]

Whatever the format of the finished map or technical illustration, one can expect:

Many times, concepts evolve as illustrations are graphically developed. MetaGlyfix is known to work tirelessly with authors through countless iterations, neglecting no detail, until all are satisfied (if not exhausted!). However a concept forms in a client’s mind, the following tips for preparing and submitting materials and communicating with MetaGlyfix can help achieve polished results efficiently, with fewer iterations and corrections. Not all tips will apply to every situation, but clients should keep in mind those that do.


What is the purpose of the map or drawing? Will it be published, where will it appear, at what size, for what intended audience, etc.?

Publisher’s style. When applicable, provide a copy of the publisher’s style guidelines and instructions. These may include acceptable file formats, page dimensions, limitations on fonts, font sizes, and line thicknesses, etc.

Explain “style” by example. Provide an example from the journal or series in which the map or illustration will be published, or a previous finished illustration of your own.

Digital or tangible model

To produce a polished map or finished drawing, MetaGlyfix starts with whatever a client can provide. Models, sketches, and originals from which MetaGlyfix works may be hard copy (tangible), digital, or both. Digital files may be original medium (such as a photo, digital illustration, or computer-generated graphic) or a scan of hard copy. An electronic version of all or part an author’s original is often helpful (and sometimes a near necessity), and can supplement hard copy submitted.

Physical media. Physical copies may be plain paper, tracing paper, graph paper, photocopies, published material, poster board — whatever medium is available and best suitable (all things considered).

Digital media. MetaGlyfix can work from files in most standard graphics formats. Best standard formats are TIFF, PNG, and JPEG. Adobe Photoshop (PSD), Adobe Illustrator (AI), and EPS files are fine. Graphics constructed in a word processor document and graphics embedded in a word processor document are usually usable as models for maps and drawings.

[Models for illustrations are not to be confused with illustrative images submitted for printing as is, where images embedded in a word processing or other document are not usable. Note, however, that Microsoft PowerPoint files are not acceptable for any purpose.]

PDFs. A PDF is generally an acceptable equivalent (or supplement) to a tangible print.

File resolution. Because such author supplied digital files are models for the illustrator and will not themselves be incorporated into the finished work, resolution or file size is not critical. However, higher resolution and better quality images are always more versatile and helpful. MetaGlyfix can advise in any case.

The model or sketch

Mark up and editing. Use any reasonable method that best conveys how existing copy should be altered. (MetaGlyfix’s job is to figure out what is wanted and make it work.)

Clean and clear. The cleaner and clearer the model or copy from which MetaGlyfix works, the better.

Two better than one. Sometimes two copies are better than one. In some cases, for example, a client might submit:

Multiple originals. A client may want to combine elements from more than one existing map or drawing.

[The MetaGlyfix Gallery contains some examples of marked-up client sketches or models, and the finished maps created from them.]

Transmission. Graphics files and PDFs may be sent by email or transmitted via ftp.

Text and labels

Upper and lower case. Type text and labels or hand print them as legibly as possible, whether as all caps or mixed upper- and lower-case. However, be sure to specify the style of capitalization MetaGlyfix should follow.

Text styles. Edit text so that styles — bold, italics, case, abbreviations, etc. — are consistent with their meaning or function (on a map, e.g., provinces might be in mixed case, nations in upper case). Indicate any restrictions, preferences, or conventions regarding style.

Greek letters, special symbols, non-Western alphabets. To minimize errors in reading handwriting, provide a brief key to the Greek or non-Western lettering or special symbols. Be sure to distinguish between upper and lower case. Place the key in the margin or on a separate page.

Text placement. With a map or drawing intended for publication, make sure it is clear whether text and labels belong within the illustration itself or as a caption, title, or heading that is to be typeset by the publisher. (Consult the publisher as necessary.) Likewise, ensure that explanatory notes to MetaGlyfix are not confused as part of a drawing.

Identification. Drawings might be identified as, for instance, 1a, 1b, 2, etc., in references to them. Specify whether such identification labels are to be included within the drawing or whether they will be typeset by the journal or other publisher.

Digital file of text. Sometimes text on a poor quality model may be difficult to read. Sometimes a map or drawing may have a great deal of text within the illustration itself. Technical drawings may contain symbols and non-English characters and words. Often maps may have place names that are foreign or not well known. Older sources for maps may have spellings or place names that differ from modern sources or that are otherwise inconsistent. In these and similar circumstances, it is helpful to give MetaGlyfix a separate digital file containing only the text items, each label or text segment on a separate line, listed in any appropriate order. This reference file could be a plain text (ASCII) file, a word-processing document, a spreadsheet, or similarly usable text document. When an illustration project consists of multiple maps or drawings, such text may be consolidated in one file if it is otherwise clear where text items belong.

Size and scale (for technical drawings)

For technical drawings, relative sizes and positioning of elements in sketches or models the client provides may not be precise or even apparent. Part of MetaGlyfix’s task is to make the elements of a drawing (or map) clear and legible and balanced within the confines of the final output — an aesthetic/practical goal. When size, scale, and positioning of elements are critical in themselves, regardless of aesthetics, there are several approaches the client can take.

Individual elements. Some ways to specify absolute or relative sizes of the elements of the finished drawing:

Spacing. Specify whether spacing of individual elements is significant or not — should elements be separated by absolute distances? relative distances? evenly or unevenly spaced?

Finished dimensions

Illustrations for publications. Horizontal boundaries for illustrations appearing in books, journals, newsletters, and newspapers are usually confined to column width (or multiple columns). Vertical boundaries usually allow for top and tail (i.e., bottom) margins.

Exceptions can include landscape orientation of full page plates, and any separate, unbound piece.

Please check with your publisher for specifications and exceptions and provide this information to MetaGlyfix before work begins.

Illustrations not intended for publication. For dissertations, transparencies, handouts, slides, “working papers,” and the like, specify the finished size you would like.

Last updated 08 April 2014 (Tuesday) at 00:02:46 EDT