What is a Thematic Map? 6 Types of Thematic Maps

World Map Population Density - Mapping Software

Maps have come a long way from the general reference maps of the past. While they were once only used for directions and getting from point A to point B, today’s maps display all kinds of data and findings.

This is where thematic maps come in. If you’re looking to use a map to tell a specific story then you’ll likely need to utilize some kind of thematic map to do so.

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about this useful map variation.

What is a Thematic Map?

Thematic maps are single-topic maps that focus on specific themes or phenomena, such as population density, rainfall and precipitation levels, vegetation distribution, and poverty. This differs from reference maps which include a number of different elements like roads, topography, and political boundaries.

Thematic maps have attributes that make spatial patterns more clear, shedding new light on the theme in questions and allowing for further insights.

Why Use a Thematic Map?

These maps are very useful when you want to analyze the spatial distribution of your information, or look for any geographic patterns and trends contained within your data sets. They are also an excellent way to search for correlations between data in two different locations.

There are likely a number of important insights contained in your data that may not be evident when viewing it in a spreadsheet. Thematic maps let you visualize your location-based information and bring it to life, making those insights much easier to spot. 

Examples of Thematic Maps

There are many different types of thematic maps available through GIS software. Here are six map types you should be familiar with:

Choropleth Maps

Median Age Sales Territories - Thematic Maps

Choropleth maps represent data values in geographic areas with different colors and patterns. Data is categorized into classes, with each class assigned a unique color or pattern. 

For example, if you’re mapping sales data you could classify any sales amount under $5000, yellow, amounts between $5000 and $10,000 orange, and amounts over $15,000 red. Those colors are then used for different sales territories so users instantly know which category a territory falls into.

Dot Density Maps

These maps represent each data point with a dot and are a great way to measure density. Regions with a large number of dots packed close to together are easily identified as high-density areas, whereas regions with few or no dots are clearly areas where your data is lacking. 

Dot maps have been around for a long time but are still extremely popular due to their simplicity and wide range of applications.

Isopleth Maps

Isopleth maps use colors and shades to represent data, similar to choropleth maps. However, they differ in that data isn’t grouped within predefined boundaries such as census tracts, counties, or states.

Instead, contoured lines divide the map into different areas and show where data levels change. 

Heat Maps

Heat Mapping Tool - Thematic Map

Heat maps measure density across a map. Like many other map types, they represent data using color. Darker shades indicate higher density areas while lighter shades show lower density areas.

This type of map doesn’t use geographic boundaries. Instead, it works similarly to a dot density map. Plot individual data points on the map with colors assigned based on the distribution and number of points in a given area.

Graduated Symbol Maps

These maps show data using varying sizes of symbols. Larger symbols represent higher concentrations of data while smaller symbols represent lower concentrations of data. 

Similar to choropleth maps, data is placed into different categories. However, instead of color or shades representing data, different symbol sizes stand in for data categories. The number of symbol sizes depends on the number of categories you decide to create.

If you don’t want to divide your data into classes you can use a proportional symbol map, which scales the size of its symbols with an absolute magnitude.

Create Your Ideal Map with Maptive

Want to build your own interactive maps to customize and share? Sign up for a free trial and start creating your maps today.

7 Map Mistakes to Avoid

Heat Map - Sales Use Case

Maps are extremely powerful and useful tools when they’re used correctly. However, we’ve all seen maps that are too cluttered, hard on the eyes, and didn’t have a clear point. 

With all the tools available on mapping platforms, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when creating your map. What features should you use? What data should you focus on? How should you make it look?

While it’s never been easier to create a beautiful interactive map there are also a lot of traps to fall into that will ruin it if you’re not careful.

With that said, here are seven common map mistakes to watch out for when building your map.


1. Creating a Map that’s Not Visually Appealing


This is especially important for maps being posted online where there’s plenty of other content to compete against. If your map isn’t visually engaging people are going to scroll right past it.

So, how do you create a map that will make users stop and take notice? Follow the same rules you would when creating a website.

To start, use a clean and simple design that’s easy to understand. Use bright colors to catch people’s attention and make sure your text and labels are easy to read. Google Maps is a great example of this.

While maps shouldn’t be judged completely on their looks it’s often what will draw people in, so don’t overlook these important points.


2. Including Too Much Data


Dot Distribution Map - Map Mistakes

If you’re like most businesses these days you collect a lot of data. That’s great, just don’t include all of it on the same map.

When people are faced with too much information they can get overwhelmed and often just shut down. That’s not the effect you want your map to have.

Instead, identify the most important data points and cut out any information that isn’t absolutely necessary.


3. Not Having a Clear Message


This an extension of our last point, but it’s an important consideration. For the best results, define a clear message that you want your map to convey.

Including interesting data is great, but what insight do you want people to walk away with when they’re finished with your map?

Don’t try to cover too many topics at once. Narrow it down to one key point and build your map around that. Once you settle on a message the other elements of your map should fall into place.


4. Not Using the Right Data


Common Map Mistakes

Another common mistake is choosing the wrong data. This can be the difference between your map really making an impact on your audience or falling completely flat.

When creating maps a lot of people simply copy other people’s work. For example, let’s say you’re measuring sales within the United States. Most other maps might just focus on total sales. But don’t be afraid to explore different options.

Think carefully about your message and what data will work best. Maybe the average sales price or total revenue will better support your case.

You likely have a lot of information, databases, and resources to draw from, so don’t get stuck using the same two or three data points. Explore all your options and select the ones that will make your point with the highest degree of accuracy.


5. Using Too Many Elements


With so many tools and options available it’s easy to get a little carried away when building your map. Features like map markers, heat maps, and radii are great on their own, but on the same map, the combination of elements can make things very confusing for the user.

As you’ve probably noticed there’s a common theme here: keep it simple. Don’t clutter your map with unnecessary elements and features.

Identify one or two tools that will work best and stick with those to make things nice and easy for your audience.


6. Choosing the Wrong Type of Map


There are so many maps to choose from: heat maps, choropleth maps, radius maps, and more. All of them have their pros and cons so it’s important to choose the right one for your project.

Too often people get comfortable with one kind of map. But if you branch out a bit you may find another map does a better job of making your point.

Make sure to experiment with a number of different options to make sure you’re utilizing the best type of map for the job. You can always show people a few designs and collect their comments to see which version works best.


7. Not Including a Legend


Map Legend - Map Mistakes

Your map might make perfect sense to you, but you need to consider your audience as well. They weren’t involved in the creation process so it might not be obvious to them what you’re trying to say.

A simple and clear legend lays out what different colors and symbols represent and basically walks users through how everything works.

Make sure to include a legend on all your maps so your audience can quickly understand the story you’re telling.

Create Clear and Effective Maps with Maptive

Now that you know which map mistakes to avoid, you are ready to start building your own interactive maps! Sign up for a free trial and start creating your maps today.

10 Different Kinds of Maps to Use for Your Business

Pin Map - Mapping Software

While physical maps are mostly a thing of the past, digital maps are being utilized more than ever before. Use them to help you analyze data, share important insights with your team, and educate customers about your business. 

But, the best part is that you’re not limited to one kind of map. Many different kinds of maps can effectively share your findings or convey your message. We recommend experimenting with multiple maps to see which one works best for your needs.

Don’t know where to start? Here are our 10 favorite kinds of maps.

Topographical Map

This is one of the most basic map variations but it’s still extremely useful. Topographic maps display the physical features of the land’s surface, shown through the use of contoured lines or shaded areas. This includes flat surfaces, shallow areas, hills, mountain ranges, and trees. Most modern mapping platforms, like Maptive and Google Maps, contain some level of topography.

These maps have obvious benefits for hikers, campers, hunters, and other outdoors people. However, they’re also used extensively by surveyors, builders, and urban planners.

Road Map

Route Map - Mapping Software

Technology has allowed maps to be used for a wide range of applications. However, their most common use is still helping people get from point A to point B. Road maps display the layout of various minor roads, streets, and major highways and navigate you to your desired destination.

Use Maptive’s routing tool to find the quickest route between two points or multiple locations on your map.

Pin Map

Pin maps are very simple but very effective. With these types of maps, a pin represents each data point. Use these maps to plot the location of places, people, sales, and virtually anything else.

Create pin maps with Maptive in just a few steps. Simply upload your spreadsheet data to automatically plot your location-based information. Customize the size and color of your pins, and add additional information to each pin that’s accessed through a clickable popup. 

Cluster Map

Cluster Map - Different Types of Maps

When your data becomes too dense for pin maps, cluster maps simplify your visualization. With this type of map, you’ll cluster tightly packed markers together into an icon that displays key information. If you want to see the individual map markers simply zoom in closer. The more you zoom in the more pins will be visible.

To create a cluster map with Maptive, simply turn the “Cluster Dense Markers” option on.

Heat Map

Heat Map - Different Types of Maps

When it comes to figures such as sales, customers, and population, you want to be able to see where most of your data is coming from. Are your sales stronger in certain regions? Where are most of your customers located? 

Heat maps use color to represent data, with darker shaded areas indicating a high number of data points packed tightly together, whereas lighter shaded areas indicate sparse data in a particular area. 

Maptive’s heat-mapping tool makes it easy to create these types of maps to display a wide range of information.

Dot Density Map

Dot density maps (also known as dot distribution maps) work similarly to heat maps except they use dots rather than colors. Each dot represents a data point, making them an effective way to measure density.

Areas with many dots clustered together indicate high density, while areas with few or no dots indicate low density. Dot density maps have maintained popularity for over a century because of their simplicity and effectiveness.

Zip Code Maps

Zip Code Map - Different Kinds of Maps

Many businesses, especially sales businesses, often look for ways to segment their service area and customer base. In most cases, boundaries such as states, counties, and even cities, do not provide the level of insight you need. This is where drawing zip codes on your map is extremely useful.

Use Maptive’s boundary tool to easily create a zip code map for sales territories, analyzing localized demographic data, establishing distribution centers, and much more.

Territory Maps

Sales territories segment customers and create an even playing field for salespeople. If your business utilizes territories, use mapping software to make creating and managing them easier. 

Maptive offers two tools to map territories. Use the boundary tool to create territories based on the locations of geographic boundaries, such as zip codes, cities, counties, and states. Or, create custom territories based on your data with the territory tool. 

Choropleth Maps

Demographic Map - Different Kinds of Maps

Choropleth maps use colors and patterns to represent statistical data within a geographic area. Different colors represent different classifications of data. Generally, lighter colors/shades represent lower numbers and darker colors/shades stand for higher numbers.

For example, a choropleth map often represents sales for different territories. Territories that have under $10,000 in sales could be yellow, territories that have between $10,000 – $20,000 could be orange, and territories with over $20,000 could be red.

Population Map

Knowing the population of a given area is valuable information for virtually any business. Whether you want to analyze your current service area, form your sales and marketing strategy, or look into opening a new location, population density matters. 

Population maps come in a number of varieties, including heat maps, dot-density maps, choropleth maps, and more. Maptive provides the latest population data for both the United States and Canada, giving you the ability to create a wide range of population maps for your business.

Time Zone Maps

Does your business have offices in different states or countries? Do you serve customers all around the world? If so, you likely contend with time zone differences on a daily basis.

Time zone maps make it easy to visualize the time in different areas. So, plot key locations on your own unique map to quickly see which time zone they fall into. This means you always know when team members work and what times are best to call customers about potential sales.

Create Your Ideal Map with Maptive

Use Maptive’s wide range of tools and customization options to build several different kinds of maps in minutes. Sign up for a free trial and start creating your maps today.