Cartographer: job description

Last updated: 19 Jul 2023, 08:56

Cartographers study, design, produce and distribute digital and printed maps, charts, and diagrams. Their work is used by public sector organisations and commercial organisations, such as satnav manufacturers.

A map with pins stuck in marking locations.

Cartographer : Salaries | Employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Cartographers can be involved at all stages of map-making, including liaising with clients, carrying out research and checking accuracy, as well as designing maps themselves.

Typical duties include:

  • using specialist databases such as a Geographic Information System (GIS) to view and analyse landscapes graphically.
  • evaluating data for use in map/chart design.
  • using specialist software to design and edit maps.
  • viewing photographs, images, drone footage and other information.
  • establishing clients’ needs, such as the level of detail needed or intended map users, and agreeing a brief.
  • carrying out surveys.
  • working with other land-related professionals such as surveyors , and design professionals such as graphic designers .
  • creating and maintaining databases.
  • checking the accuracy of maps.

Information technology plays an important role in cartography. Traditional scribing, tracing and lettering map-making processes have been replaced with remote sensing, computerised mapping and GIS packages. Data is collected, stored and transferred electronically, and computers are used to design, create, produce and share maps.

Despite the land-based nature of the role, you’re likely to be desk-based for much of the time. Some travel to sites may be needed, and this could involve travelling to remote sites, working unsocial hours and staying away from home.

Graduate salaries

Salary survey websites suggest that salaries for cartographers tend to start at around £21,000. As with most specialist roles, your earnings will increase as you gain experience and build skills. Average salaries for cartographers are around £30,000.

Typical employers of cartographers

  • The British Geological Survey.
  • Ordnance Survey.
  • Government departments and agencies.
  • private consultancies.
  • Transport for London.
  • Commercial map publishers.
  • Surveying firms.
  • Local authorities.
  • The armed forces

With experience, you could become self-employed and work as a consultant, or set up a small consulting firm with other cartographers.

Qualifications and training required

To become a cartographer you will usually need a degree in a relevant subject such as geology, earth sciences, civil/structural engineering, surveying, geography, geophysics/geochemistry, marine sciences, oceanography, computer science or software engineering. You’ll learn the practical aspects of the role on the job.

Specialist postgraduate courses in topics such as GIS and surveying are also available, as are short courses in relevant practical skills such as photogrammetry (capturing information from photos using specialist devices) and digital mapping.

School leavers can enter the profession by gaining experience in the Royal Air Force (RAF) or the Army, both of which will train you in cartographic techniques.

Key skills for cartographers

  • Attention to detail.
  • The ability to learn specialist skills, particularly IT skills.
  • Excellent spatial awareness.
  • Design skills.
  • The ability to work as part of a team, including working with people outside your discipline (such as graphic designers).
  • Problem solving skills .
  • Good communication skills .

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