Is digitizing of map features completely dead?

For example, when and why do you still digitize features from a map?

It can be heads digitizing up from a scanned paper map (or image, or whatever) or using a traditional digitizing tablet. It can also just be digital and heads-up (i.e. you never had the paper map).

Do you ever still utilize manual feature digitization to create points, lines, or polygons?

I need this information for a statistical technique I am developing.


Any VGIS examples? Any Archaeology examples?

  • 1
    historical mapping - the British library has a project bl.uk/maps alive and well – Mapperz Jan 17 '15 at 20:55
  • Excellent. Just what I was looking for. Other examples? – If you do not know- just GIS Jan 17 '15 at 20:57
  • Geological maps (result of a field work). – gene Jan 17 '15 at 21:06
  • Gene, Can you expand a little. You collect data in the field on a map and then digitize it. You draw items on a referenced paper map? – If you do not know- just GIS Jan 17 '15 at 22:01
  • Any VGIS examples. What about Archaeologists? – If you do not know- just GIS Jan 19 '15 at 15:09

Following the request "Gene, Can you expand a little" for geological maps,here are the explanations using Aprèn a interpretar un mapa geològic of the Institut Geològic de Catalunya:

1) First, geological field work : Field work

enter image description hereenter image description hereenter image description here

figures from Field work

2) Laboratory work: geological map construction, cross sections, etc. (paper, GIS,look at 4)): Cabinet work

enter image description here

figure from Cabinet work

3) Digitization of the final paper map for publication or Web mapping (for example in Carte géologique de Wallonie viewer).

enter image description here

extract of a published geological map

4) Some geologists use directly a GIS for 1) and 2) but the resulting maps are difficult to use for publication because of topological problems in the original geologists shapefiles.


I have a side project at the moment that looks at the historical routes of horse-driven and electric trams in New Zealand cities. I have some old maps of these that I have scanned and georeferenced. I will have to heads-up digitise these, as no autovectorisation proceedure seems to work—the pictures are all monochrome, labels and text overlap, routes I want to keep separate overlap, etc. It is only tractable because the total number of routes is quite small (<100).

  • So you basically georeference the paper map and then heads-up digitized routes as lines? – If you do not know- just GIS Jan 17 '15 at 22:01
  • Yep, as well as other features on the maps. There are a few stables/depots represented as points, etc. Basically I need all the elements from the map as vector features so I can perform analysis tasks and style them thematically. – alphabetasoup Jan 17 '15 at 22:19

I use this method when I am trying to draw existing gathering systems and transmission pipeline routes that are given to us by clients when they do not or are not willing to give us their .shp files. I can get maps of these lines on the internet of the pipeline is large enough then use the georeferencing tool to lay them into Arc.

  • Georeference fist or last? – If you do not know- just GIS Jan 17 '15 at 22:46
  • Georeferenced the image, then I digitize the pipelines or gathering systems. – gyoung1986 Jan 18 '15 at 3:20

For work related projects, where GIS data and layers are seldom available, I extract the data from maps and official documents that were published. As gyoung1986 mentioned, these data usually comprise of infrastructure, but I also found myself digitizing borders and other political boundaries, as well as the incorporated areas of interest, from PDF maps.


As mentioned by Mapperz historical paper maps/drawings still get digitized. Three examples include the digitizing of old coal mine plans, the digitizing of land parcels, and digitizing building plans.

With the parcel data we were using Esri's parcel fabric so rather than digitize we used the survey measurements on the plan and then used least squares adjustments to bring the data into the right coordinate space while for the building plans we georeferenced first and then tried automating the digitizing through use of Esri's ArcScan extension for ArcMap.


There is a company here in town that a large portion of their business is manually digitizing plan and profile sheets for gas and oil companies. Presumably because the CAD files aren't available or it would be just as much work or more to translate them into the desired GIS data structure.

I and others I know of frequently digitize field notes and sketches (for a variety of fields, including forestry, survey, design, urban planning, parking studies, etc.).

Examples have already been given of historical data such as cadastral maps, rail lines, town layouts and building locations, mine tunnels and claims, stagecoach routes, etc. Pretty much anything from before aerial imagery was available.

Even if keeping this limited to digitizing from maps and not any kind of aerial or satellite imagery, when I was doing digitizing a few years ago there were some situations where if the imagery was obstructed or unclear we would digitize directly from an ancillary source, typically some form of topographic map or gazetteer.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.