I have a few projects where I'm plotting various things on a map that's broken down by neighborhood (this, basically). It's looking like I need to make my own shapefile but with absolutely no GIS knowledge of any kind I'm utterly stumped about how to do this. Everything I've found so far relies on expensive proprietary software and technical procedures that are way over my head, it looks like a lot of it even presupposes you already have a shapefile and just need to convert it to a different format.

Is there some way a layman can load up a map of a city and draw their own?


Since apparently there is no way to directly message the staff who locked this: This question is not opinion based. Whether a program exists that allows someone to visually draw polygonal shapes on top of a map and save the result as a shapefile is a question answerable only by objective facts.

  • 2
    as Kingfisher suggests below, QGIS Is going to be best to start with a shapefile. Consider it a spreadsheet with an extra column of map data... if you want to add another column, you can do that in QGIS. Often times cities will have their data available for free on an open data portal, as Denver does (for neighborhood data), which is a good place to start. Dec 18, 2019 at 14:10
  • If you need to make simple polygons or lines with basic descriptions, creating kml files in Google Earth is a good option. Here is a good tutorial: apollomapping.com/how-to/creating-kmz-file-google-earth
    – Aaron
    Dec 18, 2019 at 16:42
  • @Aaron would that be visual only or would it have the underlying functionality that allows me to do things like load it into R and create live plots of neighborhoods color coded by rent per square meter and so on?
    – D3SL
    Dec 19, 2019 at 12:06
  • You can contact all we in the chat. Also, you can tag users (@user_name) there to send an inbox notification to them. Friendly adjective is not beeing defined by objective facts. If you can edit your question to define the friendly adjective in objective terms, or changing it, I will vote to reopen. Dec 25, 2019 at 20:42
  • Hi @GabrielDeLuca , I can see that you did not read either my question or my edit. "Friendly" is not part of the question at all, it is just a figure of speech to emphasize my skill level in this field. My question is very clear and is separated by a linebreak. I asked: "Is there some way a layman can load up a map of a city and draw their own?" This is an objective question: Does a program exist that requires only that a user draw shapes on a map by hand to make a shapefile. I made this even more clear in the edit I added.
    – D3SL
    Dec 26, 2019 at 23:33

2 Answers 2


QGIS is a free, open source GIS. It can be downloaded at https://qgis.org/en/site/forusers/download.html.

The program comes with some tutorials, including how to create a shapefile. This is the link https://docs.qgis.org/2.8/en/docs/training_manual/create_vector_data/create_new_vector.html.


geojson.io provides you with a very simple web application allowing to draw your own geometries (points, lines or areas) and save it in various formats including *.shp format.

Pro: It does not require any software installation.

Con: For more advanced digitalisation tools (such as snapping which might be usefull for you), you should go for something else such as QGIS !

  • Fantastic, this looks like exactly what I need in terms of someone with no technical GIS skills being able to physically draw shapes directly on a map. When you mention advanced digitalisation tools such as snapping, what exactly do you mean? The ability to recognize the underlying data of the map itself (roads/etc) or the ability to create perfectly abutting polygons by "snapping" to each others' vertexes and lines?
    – D3SL
    Dec 19, 2019 at 12:23
  • Snapping is about abutting geometries. See extended description here: desktop.arcgis.com/en/arcmap/10.3/manage-data/…
    – julien
    Dec 20, 2019 at 7:05
  • Ok that might wind up being a big time and headache saver. I think I'll try QGIS first and if I can't wrap my head around it fall back to geojson.io
    – D3SL
    Dec 26, 2019 at 23:34

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