What You Need to Learn to Become a Cartographer

If you often find yourself attracted to the technical, scientific, or artistic appeals of different jobs, then you should consider a career in cartography. As a cartographer, you’ll be working on designing and creating maps. That will require a diverse set of skills, a certain level of education and specialization, work experience, and getting licensed and certified. If learning the skills needed to design and develop maps sounds like something you can dedicate your life to, then here’s everything you need to know to make your dream come true. 


The basics of learning cartography start with high school, where your algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus will serve in laying your foundation. In addition to these classes, you’ll build knowledge with geography, drafting, art, and computer science courses. While the earlier generations of cartographers didn’t have any need for software, the field has changed since then. You’ll need strong computer skills for design, programming, and error checking, so make sure you start as early as possible. 

While there may not be a cartography specialization in college, the closest thing you can get is a bachelor’s degree in Geographic Information Systems (GIS). You’ll learn a lot about Earth geography in this course, where you’ll explore the subjects of spatial analysis, computer cartography, and remote sensing on a wider scope. You may also find geography programs that take a closer look at cartography, which could work as well. Generally speaking, you want to come out of college with a solid understanding of geography and surveying programs, so make sure to explore your local options accordingly. 

Field Work

During your time as a student, make sure to gain some level of practical experience. The best way to do that is to try your hand with a GIS program or mapping software. Check your course providers in case they provide hands-on training using such equipment or, better yet, if they can give you access to GIS laboratories. This will give you invaluable practical experience that will help you build a better idea about the fieldwork. In case your course provider doesn’t have these options, look for an internship through which you can build this experience. Having field experience is mandatory for getting a license, and you’ll find it very difficult to get a job if you don’t have any practical experience. 

Office Work

As a cartographer, you’ll generally work an office job with a 9-5 routine. You may also go on field visits to assess the location, gather data, and design the map. The fields you work in can be various, such as conservation, surveying, the military, publishing, or with a government agency. To get an idea of what your work as a cartographer can be like, it’s worthwhile to take a closer look at how the passionate team of cartographers at https://www.onestopmap.com express their passion in creative ways. As a team of graphic design and cartography enthusiasts, they tour the world and then express their view of the world in the form of maps. Moving from traditional maps to experimenting with different styles, such as the formal and naturist styles, their work is never boring. 

In order to achieve such meticulously crafted maps, you can expect the responsibilities of a cartographer to include the following:

  • Research and evaluate sources
  • Map design, illustration, layout, and digital visualization
  • Color coding maps
  • Compiling graphs of different demographics and statistics
  • Analyzing statistics to turn them into mappable data
  • Communicating with clients and discussing their requirements
  • Gathering data from surveillance tools
  • Maintaining and updating geographic information databases
  • Modeling and analyzing different landscape features
  • Using GIS software
  • Doing derived mapping

Once you move up the career ladder, you can expect heavier responsibilities. These can be in the form of budgeting, making deals and partnerships, leading projects, and being responsible for a range of products. 


To become remarkable at your job, there’s a list of skills that you must have. This list includes the following:

  • Passion for the environment and geography
  • An eye for detail
  • An artistic eye for design and layout
  • Good spatial awareness
  • Proficient computer and software skills
  • Data interpretation
  • Analytical skills
  • Teamwork
  • A methodical and systematic mindset


Some states require having a license before setting out in the field. According to the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES), you’ll be able to apply for the initial licensure after passing the Fundamentals of Surveying (FS) exam. For the final licensure, you can get it with 4 years of practical experience and passing the Principles of Practice Surveying (PS) exam.

Do you feel like pursuing a career in cartography is right for you? If you do, then you’ll have to start early in high school by paying attention to relative subjects. That will help, but you can still pursue a cartography career if high school was just not for you. Explore your options and aim for a bachelor’s degree in GIS and try your best to get hands-on experience. Make sure to get an internship inside a cartography agency to learn about the job and needed skills. Finally, know the qualification criteria before getting a license.