I am confused as to which one is technically the inset figure in the below map. I know an inset map is one which has more detail.

enter image description here

But in this case which one is referred to as an inset map conceptually?

  • 1
    Funny - this looks just like a question I had on a final exam in my intro to GIS class back in college...
    – evv_gis
    May 25, 2015 at 17:19
  • If you think that's funny you try georeferencing a scanned map with inset(s).. I once had to georeference a map that was made from 6 sub maps (or would they be insets, there was no 'main' map..? surely for there to be an inset there should be a 'main' map to relate it). May 26, 2015 at 0:41

2 Answers 2


Figure 1 is the inset map.

An inset is always smaller than the primary map. Inset refers (somewhat obliquely) to a position within the page layout. It is typically completely within (ie set within = inset) the primary map, however it can be partially overlapping or completely outside but still on the same page/layout. If it were on another page/layout (ie, opposite side of a foldout map or other page in book form) it might be referred to as an inset but would more properly be called a detail map. Smaller maps on the same page can also be referred to as detail (larger scale than primary) or overview (smaller scale than primary) maps.

What is shown by the inset is irrelevant, because the term refers to the element itself - not the contents. An inset map does not necessarily show more detail. If you just switched the contents of the two figures, Figure 1 would still be an inset but at that point would be referred to as an overview map rather than a detail map. An inset at the same scale as the primary map can also be used to show areas that are separated by some distance from the area covered by the primary map; for example United States plus an inset of Alaska and Hawaii, as Random832 suggests.

Figure 2 would never be considered an inset map.

It already shows up in the Related Questions section, but just to link it a highly related question is How to produce a better inset map? Also, Farid has already linked to the Esri definition. Some other references:

  • 3
    Exactly, an inset need not be a different scale, an inset map can be a continuation (remote island that's not worth having its own map, peninsula, the same as an area on the map with extra/less layers etc..) but is usually spatially close to the data being shown (i.e. related). Nice links Chris! May 26, 2015 at 0:38

I suppose FIG.1 is the inset map. FIG.2 is simply a map.

Based on ESRI GIS Dictionary,an inset map is:

A small map set within a larger map. An inset map might show a detailed part of the map at a larger scale, or the extent of the existing map drawn at a smaller scale within the context of a larger area.

According to this definition inset map is the map with smaller scale (FIG.1)

  • 2
    In cartography, more details means larger scale. Alternatively, larger scale means smaller area.
    – Martin F
    May 26, 2015 at 22:44
  • In contrast, more details mean smaller scale. scale 1/10000 is smaller that 1/10, but 1/10 has more details (zoomed in). however smaller scales cover more area (less details) May 27, 2015 at 6:11
  • 1
    You are contradicting yourself. Read your own words, carefully.
    – Martin F
    May 27, 2015 at 19:23
  • @MartinF is right (good catch). In your answer, 'smaller' should really be 'larger'.
    – Chris W
    May 27, 2015 at 20:54

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