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From manual map production to computer assisted cartography

William E. Cartwright and David D. Fraser
Department of Land Information
Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology

Cartography, the art and science of map making, has always relied on the technology of the day to enable technically correct, geographically tied and graphically pleasing documents to be produced depicting spatial information. Today's Cartographer utilises "state of the art" computer graphics systems for the assembly, storage and output of map products. Education of future professional Cartographers has traditionally entailed the use of typical industrial methods of map production. Today's programs rely more and more on the use of "high-tech" equipment due to the need to "keep up" with technology used in industry, due to shrinking resources for producing maps by conventional! traditional methods and due to the demand by employers that graduates be au fait with modern map production procedures.

This paper looks at the teaching of Cartography in an undergraduate program at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and the use of computer mapping technology in the academic program.

Today's Cartographer is required to utilise many skills in this graphical/mathematical oriented profession. The traditional concept of the Cartographer as a drawer of maps has changed to that of a designer, compiler, data processor, data assembler, graphic presenter and reproduction expert - all under the "umbrella" of a controlled (controlled by the need for precise geographic location) map production program.

Methods for map production have changed dramatically over recent years. Those involved in educating future Cartographers have a commitment to cartographic excellence, and as such need to ensure that graduates are au fait with current technologies and techniques.

Cartography at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology has endeavoured to "keep pace" with industry and research led changes and to structure teaching programs which enable students to participate in cartographic problem solving using modern day techniques and hardware.

Cartography in Australia

Historically, mapping in Australia can be compartmentalised into six general areas of activities: Early mapping and charring was required for exploration and for the formal settlement of new land and the establishment of its major towns and cities.

This promoted the production of Cadastral plans, under the supervision of surveyors licensed to carry out such work. "Licensed Surveyors" were authorised by the Crown to formally lay out tracts of land to enable the new country to be opened up and for agricultural developments to take place. Cartographers, or more precisely Survey Draftsmen; transformed the surveyors notes (sometimes in the field) into the "County", "Parish" and "Township" plans depicting existing holdings or those new parcels of land which would be available for alienation from the Crown. The role of the Cartographer in Cadastral mapping organisations is little changed today, albeit a more responsible role.

Topographic mapping is undertaken by both military and civil mapping agencies at federal level and by civil bodies at state, regional and local level.

Mineral and fossil fuel exploration employs many Australian Cartographers. Governmental geological mapping agencies, at both Federal and State levels, and private exploration firms produce varied and geographically wide ranging map products.

The planning industry in Australia has blossomed since the early seventies. The need to plan new communities, to re-develop or upgrade existing cities and towns and the demand for a more formal approach to strategic siting and zoning decisions have acted as catalysts to the profession.

In many smaller cartographic offices Cartographers are called upon to produce other graphics or more graphics-oriented maps (carto-graphics).

This entails "different" design and production ideas and techniques to be employed than may have been needed if "conventional" maps were to be produced. Usually, knowledge of photographic, reprographic and printing processes (how they work materials and equipment required and costs) is needed to competently carry out the task.

Cartographic education in Australia

A number of courses have been established and developed throughout Australia to meet industry's demand for professional Cartographers. These have been established in most of the states, however some states remain without advanced tertiary courses.

The current "state of play" for degree level courses is (Cartwright, 1987):

Diploma and/or Certificate level courses are also offered at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology Technical College, Victoria; the Darwin Community College, Northern Territory; the South Australian Institute of Technology; at Wembley College of Technical and Further Education, Western Australia;and Bathurst College of Technical and Further Education in New South Wales.

The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology

The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology Limited opened as the Working Men's College Melbourne in June 1887 enrolling some 600 students. Its origins dated back to 1881 when Francis Ormond, a prominent grazier and philanthropist contributed 5000 pounds for its establishment. 20,000 pounds was left in his will for later development.

Currently RMIT is the largest College of Advanced Education in Australia, and one of the largest tertiary educational Institutions in the country. Its enrolment exceeds 29,000 students which includes some 11,000 undergraduate students and 1,600 postgraduate students. RMIT awarded its own degrees for the first time in 1981 and has subsequently conferred Masters degrees and enrolled Doctorate students.

Parallel with the development of the tertiary sector of the Institute, the non-tertiary sector was reconstituted as the Technical College. Each College pursues its own development and course structure.

The Department of Land Information

The Bachelor of Applied Science in Cartography is undertaken in The Department of Land Information (formally the Department of Surveying), Faculty of Applied Science. The Department offers Bachelor of Applied Science Degrees in Cartography and Surveying; Graduate Diplomas in Automated Cartography and Land Data Management; and a Master of Applied Science Degree by research.


The Department operates both a fully equipped conventional drafting room, with appropriate drawing equipment and map design aids, drawing tables, light tables etc. This is complemented by an automated drafting laboratory, equipped with microcomputers and attached digitisers, plotters, printers and appropriate input/output peripherals. Students also have access to an "Intergraph" CAD system, incorporating multiple monochrome and colour workstations. Students undertaking courses within the department are able to design and produce maps by conventional, digital or composite conventional/digital means. All equipment needed is available for all production stages.

Map production areas are supported by four reprographic laboratories. They contain several process cameras, plate-makers, dyeline machine, a guillotine, an offset press, a Cromalin proofing system, a wet process proofing system, densitometer, registration system and ancillary equipment. A contone printing and processing laboratory is also available to students.

A "MicroBrian" remote sensing system is available for teaching, practicals and research work in the Remote Sensing laboratory. Complementing this system is an Amiga micro computer system, capable of processing remote sensing imagery on a more simple basis than the former system.

The Department has a well equipped Photogrammetric Laboratory. Equipment includes a Comparator Stecometer, a number of Wild A6 plotters, a Wild A9, a Wild B8, a Kern PG2 and a Zeiss Topocart.

Surveying practical exercises are undertaken at a Field Station some five kilometres distant from the main campus. Equipment available includes conventional surveying equipment, electronic distance measuring equipment, total stations and data recording equipment.

The Department has a Global Positioning System, and undertakes joint survey programs with the State's Survey and Mapping Division unit of the Department of Services and Property, who have an identical system.

A recent development has been the acquisition of a microcomputer driven videodisc player and screen, which now enables interactive analogue/digital mapping development to take place.

In all areas of map data capture, compilation, design, production and reproduction; students are able to effectively and efficiently learn new techniques and procedures and to practice these skills. Research students are also able to undertake meaningful and industry related projects.

Bachelor of Applied Science in Cartography

The current Bachelor of Applied Science in Cartography degree (Mathematics or Graphics streams) is available by either full time (3 years) or by part time study (approx. 7 years).

The first year of the course is designed to give students abroad Cartographic base upon which the following two year's theory and practicals are built.

The second year centres upon cartographic techniques. It allows students to apply skills and theory learnt in the first year to mapping projects.

The third year is designed to complete the cartographic education process. Students can specialise in one of four areas Thematic Cartography, Automated Cartography, Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing.

The course consists of core subjects (undertaken by both streams); graphics and mathematics/ computer stream subjects and a number of "support" and "local" /"domestic" subjects.

Traditional and contemporary methods of map production

Conventional "paper" maps

The conventional mapping process "draws" maps onto stable colour separation bases by using either the "positive" or "negative" production process. The "positive" process draws lines, lettering, tones etc. using ink, stick up letters, etc. The "negative" process removes a pre-prepared emulsion using a scribing tools, and then metes these pieces of artwork with negatives for lettering and tones which have been produced photographically.

These "tried and time" cartographic methods are being replaced by automated systems which enable maps to be produced more quickly and which allow easier and more efficient access to data bases.

Computer aided mapping

The "state of the art" mapping methods, especially in large mapping organisations is to employ large computer graphics systems to draw their map products.

Initially mapping systems operated on large mainframe computers. These systems were then superseded by mini computers as both capacity increased and cost decreased. For many years these mini computer driven systems were the basis for automated data capture via photogrammetric plotters, editing on CRT workstations and output via flat bed or drum plotters - the basis for automated map production.

Until the accessibility of microcomputers dramatically changed automated mapping processes (and allowed educational institutes to engage in development of computer mapping systems, which was almost impossible to do with costly minicomputer systems) these minicomputer mapping systems were the "cutting edge" of automated map and plan production.

Microcomputer mapping systems

Microcomputers have revolutionised the use of computers for a whole range of applications, mapping being just one application.

Using microcomputers to produce maps, especially maps which are output as part of an interactive system, means that all elements of that system must satisfy the demands of map production.

Existing microcomputer systems offer alternatives to large computer mapping systems. Mapping software can be readily linked to programs which allow for data manipulation, word processing, electronic spreadsheets, accounting and basic CAD manipulation and hard copy outputs.

Advances in microcomputer design (fortunately accompanied by reduced prices) offer a superior graphic display and a dramatically increased memory capacity.

Teaching cartography using automated techniques

Cartography has traditionally embraced new technology in order to produce better maps in more convenient formats. Since the first printed map in 1472, Cartographers have applied available systems to make more and more maps available to their audience.

Educators working in the field of Cartography have always strived to ensure that graduates from courses have been exposed to the whole range of available techniques and processes.

At the Department of Land Information, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology has always priced itself in it's efforts to offer students access to current technology available for map and graphics production. The Bachelor of Applied Science in Cartography degree has always fostered an interest in producing maps using the most appropriate mapping mediums and equipment and encouraging students to try "different"(different form the norm) methods of map production.

Theory and practical courses have developed from conventional "drawing" skills to those which investigate and develop computer assisted mapping techniques and processes.

Development of automated mapping programmes at RMIT

The following table shows the approximate appearance time of the different stages in the evolution of computer assisted methods of map production at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.

1976Computer assisted cartography using the Cyber mainframe computer. 1978 Fortran established as the official language for the course.
1979Pinhas Yoeli, as visiting professor, introduced many computer graphics algorithms to the course.
1981Establishment of a Cyber terminal room for direct access to the RMIT mainframe computer.
1985Pascal introduced as the official language for the course.
1987Micro computer and computer graphics laboratories established. Access gained to Intergraph workstations.
1987Remote Sensing Reference Centre established.

Computer based teaching

The Department saw the need to keep pace with industry and from 1978 has introduced more and more computer based theory and practice into the degree course. There has always existed a need to provide access to computer terminals for as many students as possible.

Originally the RMIT mainframe computer provided students with access to a powerful computer system. The input method was by card reader, and the turn around time was 24 hours. Progress was slow and frustrating. The students were able to produce plots on the line printer (Symap) and also the Calcomp plotter (Gimms and Fortran graphics routines).

The projects undertaken were not part of the main stream map production exercises and the design of the maps was secondary to the students becoming computer literate. The main map production tasks were still done by manual methods.

The next stage was the introduction of a PDP11/34 minicomputer into the Department. The PDP11/34 was used in a limited manner in the course and did provide final year and post graduate students with access to a system that was used in a number of cartographic establishments in the State.

The main emphasis was on data storage and manipulation and not map output. This was a stage where both the Department and industry were fascinated by computers and what they were capable of doing. The fact that the end products could not match the information value of manually produced maps was not really of great concern as databases were considered more important.

The next major stage, which came with a bit of a rush, was the introduction of microcomputers. These had the power of the PDP11/34 and were a fraction of the cost. There introduction allowed the Department the opportunity to provide, in a class situation, a near 1 to 1 student/ microcomputer work environment. People like to be able to control their own destiny. The Department quickly became quite independent in both its adoption of a 'suitable' programming language and also in the hardware and software used by the students.

The use of microcomputers in the Department is very strong today but there was still the need to allow students to gain hands on experience using the same equipment used by industry for map production.

In early 1987 the Department gained access to the Intergraph work stations at RMIT. The Intergraph system is used by the Department of Defence, The Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works, and the Division of Survey and Mapping (Victoria) for mapping purposes. This access has allowed students to gain a well rounded understanding of computer programming, database management, map design and graphic output and also familiarisation with the equipment used in industry.

With the purchase of a MicroBrian image analysis system, the students now also have access to a sophisticated micro based satellite image analysis system that can be used for cartographic purposes and is being purchased by many government departments. An Amiga microcomputer is also being developed as a low cost image analysis system.

The recent purchase of Sony Videodisc hardware now allows for the production and development of interactive video mapping packages.


On the following page is a figure that attempts to put into order the main evolutionary stages of the introduction of computer assisted methods into the Bachelor of Applied Science in Cartography.

CPUStage of developmentDevelopments

CyberPrimitive graphics
Card input
Mainframe computer
Long turnaround time
Limited input/output
Calcomp plot


In-house peripherals
- digitiser input
- pen plotter output
Limited to one terminal
Hard disc storage
Interactive development
Graphics programming
Database management


Sophisticated interactive development
Screen graphics
Controlled environment
Floppy/hard disc storage
Digitiser, mouse input
Plotter(A3,A0) plotters
Inkjet/Colour printer
Personal work environment
Multiple input /output methods
Separate microcomputer laboratories established
Pascal language.
Colour graphics:
- dynamic
- 3D
Database management
GIS software
In-house software




Well rounded program
Image analysis equipment
Access to equipment used by industry
Development work tied to industry
Remote sensing reference centre established
Mapping on the Intergraph
Interpretation of MSS and SPOT images
GIMMS used for designing maps

VideodiscPlayer, computer hardware and softwareDevelopment of production processes and software skills.

(Fraser, 1987)

Programming languages

What is the best computer language for cartography students to learn? This question has been debated in the Department for a number of years. The students come into the course with either no experience with programming or with a knowledge of the BASIC language.

PASCAL, and more specifically, the Borland version, TURBO PASCAL, was introduced in 1986. This was seen by some as the "student's" language. A language that is structured, easy to learn and easy to debug.

PASCAL certainly is easily understood by the students and is ideal for use on the microcomputers, using the interactive editing capability. Combined with a set of primitive graphics procedures this language allows the students to develop their own simple graphics packages.

Software development

Commercial packages

Software used as part of the course has, in the main, been developed in-house. Experience has shown that graphics and related packages do not perform well in a teaching environment.

Commercial packages used in the course are listed below:

SYMAP - produces simple line printer maps of statistical data. Has served its purpose and will be buried by 1990.
GIMMS - a powerful package with excellent map design capabilities. Limited in that it is not used by industry and is only available on the mainframe computer.
AUTOCAD - Computer aided design package used mainly for map compilation tasks. The latest version is used by many small cartographic establishments.
QIKDRAW - an Australian CAD package. Good screen graphics but lacks effective digitiser input.
INTERGRAPH - allows the students exposure to the main 'turnkey' mapping system used in industry.
WORDSTAR - used by students for assignment preparation.
MICROBRIAN - an excellent micro based image analysis system.
In-house packages

The philosophy of the Department is to give students an understanding of a computer language and to develop in them the ability to undertake 'applied programming'. That is, development of cartographic software with an end use in mind.

This approach allows the student to understand the workings of a geographic information system, a database management system and a computer aided design system.

With this philosophy in mind, the Department has avoided using many 'turnkey' software packages available.

Another reason for the minimal use of commercially produced packages, in a number of areas of the course, is that they have not been designed specifically for cartographic applications. Therefore they tend to have some major drawbacks.

In-house packages have the following advantages:

  1. The package is tailored to the needs of the course.
  2. Code is accessible and can be edited when the need arises.
  3. Modules can be added to the program.
  4. The software can be set up to interact with the peripheral devices used by the Department.
  5. The code can be used as a teaching aid to give students an understanding of the workings of the program.
  6. Multiple copies can be made without breach of copyright.
A number of principal areas of research have been developed by members of the staff. The following are a few of the major software developments used in the undergraduate courses.
  1. Grid Cell Geographic Information System.
  2. Digital Terrain Modelling System.
  3. Stereo digitiser.
  4. Graphics Procedures 'Primitives'.
  5. Basic CAD software.
  6. Map Projections Software.
  7. Surveying Computations software.
  8. Land Information System.

Practical exercises

Both the traditional manual methods and the computer assisted methods of map production have been married together in the course, with a deal of success.

In the first year of the course students produce symbols, grids and simple thematic maps using both map production methods. The manually produced graphics is digitised into a computer graphics system and redesigned to suit such a system. This allows the students to gain an understanding of both analogue and digital data input, analysis and presentation.

In the second year students are rotated through four project areas, spending three weeks in each area and presenting their findings at a mini seminar. Each project area has an emphasis on computer assisted production methods. The project areas are:

  1. Computer assisted design software.
  2. Anaglyph (3D) and dynamic graphics.
  3. Desktop publishing.
  4. Computer assisted mapping
The students also spend time on the Intergraph computer mapping system gaining experience that puts them in good stead when they seek employment at the end of the course.

A mapping camp held in the second semester of the year allows students to compile a base map in digital form and to use a plot of this base map to collect data in the field. This thematic data is then digitised onto the map base and output onto stable base material ready for final map production using the negative map production method.

The third year of the course includes a Computer Mapping subject - the direct application of computer- based mapping packages (commercial, in-house and student-written) to student exercises. This year also sees the manipulation of map projections using student-written programs, the application of computers to photogrammetry and remote sensing and the investigation of "different" ways to produce maps using automated systems.


Each year of the course develops skills in programming and the application of computer systems to map production. The first year of the course introduces students to computers languages and programming and allows them to apply computer mapping to practicals using in-house graphic primitives. The second year of the course develops programming skills and introduces computer graphics. Practicals, applied to map production, allows students to exercise computer drafting and computer graphics routines and Skills. The third year of the course further develops programming and analytical skills and allows for automated mapping techniques to be applied to cartographic/graphic/mathematical problem solving exercises.

The department and those involved in the Cartography degree course are committed to developing innovative map production techniques and the use of contemporary equipment and technologies. Today's education of Cartographers is committed to the application of computer systems to cartographic problem solving.


Cartwright, W. E. (1987). Bachelor of Applied Science in Cartography at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Proceedings of CARTOED '88, Melbourne.

Fraser. D. D. (1987). The Evolution of Computer Assisted Cartography at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology - Advanced College. Proceedings of CARTOED '88, Melbourne.

Bill Cartwright is a Lecturer in the Department of Land Information, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (Advanced College). He has been with the Department for nine years, spending one year as exchange lecturer at the Department of Geography, Portsmouth Polytechnic in the United Kingdom. He was initially employed by the then Country Roads Board of Victoria for four years, then as a Cartographer at Shell Development (Aust.) Pty. Ltd. for two years, at the City of Melbourne Planning Department for a year, and spent five years at the Town and Country Planning Board of Victoria in the position of Supervising Cartographer. Bill holds a Bachelor of Applied Science in Cartography from RMIT, a Postgraduate Diploma in Education (Tertiary) from the Hawthorn Institute of Education and a Postgraduate Diploma in Media Studies from Victoria College. He is a member of the Australian Institute of Cartographers, a member of the Australian Map Circle and a member of the British Cartographic Society.

David Fraser worked with the Department of Crown Lands and Survey for 10 years in the areas of topographic and thematic mapping. He graduated in Cartography from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in 1981 and has been with the Department of Land Information, RMIT for 5 years. His main interests are in computer assisted cartography and remote sensing. He has worked on the Victorian Committee of the Australian Institute of Cartographers and is presently studying for a Masters degree in Environmental Science at Monash University.

Please cite as: Cartwright, W. E. and Fraser, D. D. (1988). From manual map production to computer assisted cartography. In J. Steele and J. G. Hedberg (eds), Designing for Learning in Industry and Education, 150-159. Proceedings of EdTech'88. Canberra: AJET Publications.

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