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I am just getting started using QGIS. I am aiming to create a heat map of Census tracts in Georgia based on population. I have all of the data - the population for each census tract in Georgia.

I've been able to create the heat map successfully by importing a census tract shapefile and following this tutorial: http://qgis.spatialthoughts.com/2012/03/using-tabular-data-in-qgis.html

However I am stuck on how to add a nice looking map layer underneath which will show common geographical features - highways, cities, water courses etc. I have tried importing OSM data from cloudmade but there is far too much detail. The map is supposed to be fairly high level but the shapefiles from there show every single road. I am trying to replace MS MapPoint (no 2010 census tracts). The functionality I am trying to get would allow for different levels of detail depending on how far I zoom. Generally just showing major roads / cities etc. I don't mind if this is automatic or manual.

Could anyone point me in the right direction? Any help would be much appreciated.

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Some options:

  1. Use the OpenLayers Plugin. This plugin allows you to use Google, Bing or OSM's tiles as background image.

  2. Create a custom vector style similar to Google or OSM. Underdark made a series of post on how to do this with OSM data using the New Symbology Rule based rendering. She even provided the qml in github.

  • Thanks! Underdark's solution, at first look, seems more complex but more flexible. A good option. – user8575 Jul 2 '12 at 14:47
  • The OpenLayers Plugin link now 404s. – David Richerby Mar 4 '18 at 20:02
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The OpenLayers Plugin is intended to provide numerous background maps in Qgis such as Google Maps or Terrain. Anyway, sometimes Google is not suitable for your needs, because its style conflicts with your overlays.

For this reason, I managed to tweak the OpenLayers Plugin in order to load Google Maps styled, allowing you to display your own customized Google Maps just as the other Google layers.

Be aware that Google tiles resolution is quite poor for printing.

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