Is there a way people have used to import a paper map as a raster without using a large format scanner. I do not want to cut my map. I'm wondering how much success people have gotten using things like a regular digital camera, and what software they used to process the image to the point where I can just georeference it. I might even try something like microsofts photosynth software, or canons stitching software.

  • In most situations you will get better locational accuracy by georeferencing each image separately, rather than mosaicing the images and georeferencing the mosaic.
    – whuber
    Commented Aug 22, 2011 at 17:48

5 Answers 5


I think if you want to use a camera, you would need to use a stand to ensure that the sensor is parallel to the map. I previously did this and mounted the camera using a monopod leg, clamped to the top of a bookcase. This enabled me to photograph 1m x 1m quite easily, and I didn't need to stitch anything together.

I think stitching it together using any program that deals with panoramas (photoshop or gimp, for example) should not be hard.

  • I've done a similar method and stitched together in Paint.NET: getpaint.net/download.html (free). Commented Aug 20, 2011 at 16:05
  • May have to try this. It's a rather large map (about 2 USGS quads in physical size). I tried a single picture of the whole map, and the resolution isn't nearly good enough.
    – mike
    Commented Aug 20, 2011 at 18:37
  • 5
    @red If you used a point-and-shoot or even a high end camera (such as a DSLR) with a mediocre lens, you were getting about 0.5 mm resolution or worse with your image, which is marginal. A DSLR (or larger format camera) with a large sensor and high-quality lens (corrected for geometric distortions in software with aperture optimally set around f/7 - f/8) will get about 0.2 mm resolution. That's twice as good as the expected resolution from manual digitizing of the map (and exceeds national mapping standards in the US). So a camera literally offers a decent one-shot solution when used right.
    – whuber
    Commented Aug 22, 2011 at 17:54
  • I'm not sure what kind of megapixels you have - but an single image with a 5MP camera (say 2000x2500 pixels is only good for a small part of the map - maybe 8 inches x 10 inches @ 250dpi.
    – mike
    Commented Aug 23, 2011 at 23:14

To get an idea of what is possible, or just to be awed, have a look at the About the Technology section of the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection site, put up by Cartography Associates.


Their optical capture and digitization methods are the gold standard in my opinion.

  • The collection is awesome! Commented Aug 22, 2011 at 21:05

If you need another free (and working, as I experienced) sticher with fine defaults as well as an unbelievable number of manual settings try Hugin.

  • I gave this a try - I may need to read the documentation - it does what I want - but it seem best for images taken from a single point, just rotate the camera.
    – mike
    Commented Aug 20, 2011 at 18:39
  • @redbeard: I've used this successfully for scanned maps. You can set the "camera" parameters to values that resemble a scanner. I was really happy with the results.
    – Jake
    Commented Aug 21, 2011 at 2:15
  • What kind of values did you use?
    – mike
    Commented Aug 23, 2011 at 23:43

You could also try Autostitch -- I have had great luck with it.


You might try kinkos, Staples, or another engineering supply (our area has triangle A&E)
They will have a large format scanner that you get get a raster on cd for $8-15.

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