Scale is the partnership that the shown feature top top map needs to its actual dimension in the actual word (more: map scale). All maps are modeled representations of the genuine world and also therefore the features are reduced in size as soon as mapped. In other words, range is the measure up of the lot of palliation a mapped feature has come its actual equivalent on the ground.

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Representing range on a Map

All maps will have actually an indicator of the range of the map. A map that doesn’t conform to a particular scale will certainly be indicated by the words “not to scale” (or NTS). This symbol is most typically found top top graphic style maps such as the “we space here” or “how to acquire here” format maps used on invitations. Since GIS relies on a minimum threshold the accuracy and precision, every GIS based maps will have a scale.


There are three ways to display the range of a map: graphics (or bar), verbal, and also representative fraction. Graphic scales, additionally know together bar scales, as indicated by the name, present the scale graphically.


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Bar scale showing graphically the proportion of map units to ground units. The optimal scale shows the equivalent ground measure in kilometers (km) and also the bottom bar scale mirrors the comparable length in miles.

A verbal scale is message based, with the scale displayed as a number and type of unit measurement same to a stated unit measure on the ground. The left side of the verbal is the unit of measure up on the map and the best side that the ratio is the unit measurement on the ground. For instance the verbal scale, 1″ = 100′ method that one customs measured the the map represented 100 feet top top the ground. This form of scale is sometimes perplexed with Representative fraction (RF) scales.

RF scales is also a text based scale but no units space shown. The scale is a simple ratio the map come ground measurement v a colon in between the two dimensions . Because that example, a RF range of 1 : 1,200 way that every one unit ~ above the map is equal to 1,200 systems on the ground. Over there is no notation of the actual unit kind used on a RF scale. Therefore a RF scale of 1:1,200 is the exact same scale together a verbal range of 1″ = 100′.

Large versus little Scale

Maps are described as either huge scale or tiny scale. Big scale maps display a smaller sized amount of area through a higher amount the detail. The geographical extent presented on a huge scale map is small. A huge scaled map expressed together a representative scale would have actually a smaller number come the right of the ratio. Because that example, a large scale map might have a RF range of 1 : 1,000. Huge scale maps are typically used to present neighborhoods, a localize area, small towns, etc.

Small range maps display a larger geographic area with couple of details ~ above them. The RF range of a tiny scale map would have a much larger number to the ideal of the colon such together 1 : 1,000,000. Tiny scale maps are provided to present the degree of whole country, region, or continent.

How scale Affects feature Representation

The bigger the range of the map, the better the attributes that can be detailed. A map that reflects the water network the a small area may show the river as a polygon layer and also will show the tributaries of the river. A little scale map spanning the area would present that very same river as a heat feature and also the tributaries would be removed (a process known together generalization). The smaller sized the range of the map, the less the actual information of a function is preserved. Smaller scale maps have actually river features that have actually the lines smoothed out whereas a huge scale map would certainly show much more detail about the twists and also turns the that same river.

So why not display the same level of information regardless of the map scale? There are two main reasons. The first reason is the noise level. Mirroring a lot of detail for functions on a small scale map would reason a most confusion on the map. By reduce the amount of information to display only the most important aspects of a feature, the map mirrors a clearer photo of the area. The 2nd reason is the document size. Functions that have actually a many of detail are bigger in paper size. Because that a little scale map, loading several large layers will slow down the map production.

An example of little Scale Versus large Scale Representation

Marina del Rey is one area that Los Angeles County that hasone that the largest man-made tiny boat harbors in the united States.


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The representation of this harbor on maps that the area is dependence on the range of the great used. The layer showing the counties because that the entire United States shown in the image listed below has a an extremely generalized shore line because that this area. The is practically no information in the coastline and also the harbor is not stood for at all.


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Marina del Rey area on a small scale map. The harbor is not presented at every on the map.

The map listed below shows the same coast with a great of every counties because that the state that California. While quiet a little scale layer, the shore shows more detail. The Marina del Rey harbor is stood for by a tiny inlet on the map.


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Marina del Rey area ~ above a county map that the state the California.

In a large scale layer created to display just the county of Los Angeles boundary, the coast for this area consists of the greatest level of detail, and a recognizable harbor is represented.


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Marina del Rey in ~ the county level.

The examples of how the detail of a coastline alters depending top top the scale of the layer help to illustrate too the prestige of very closely considering the scale of any data used for mapping and also spatial analysis. Small scale data inherently is less accurate and also less comprehensive than large scale data. Using tiny scale data for large scale analysis can bring about gross errors. Data produced for little scale purposes must not be provided in big scale maps. Big scale data uneven generalized, need to not be offered in little scale maps.

Watch: huge Scale Versus small Scale Maps

Related Resources

What’s in a Map?– know the basic elements that consist of a well formed map.

See more: How Long Does It Take To Learn Calligraphy In Two Months, 5 Things To Know Before Jumping Into Calligraphy

Cartographic Resources– resources for learning more about cartography and cartographic techniques.

The write-up is a part of the growing GIS important series, featuring info about an easy concepts provided in GIS.

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