I produce a lot of maps with inland lakes, rivers and streams overlaid over a dem surface symbolized with a color graduation (green for lows and brown for higher elevations) I also use a semi-transparent shaded relief to enhance the terrain. I have a standard blue color I often used for both lakes and streams but I noticed that sometimes the hydrology does not stand out enough. I experimented with outline for the lakes and with dark and light blues but nothing seems to work for every map.

Can someone recommend a good color/method for symbolizing lakes/streams/rivers?

Is there a generally accepted standard theme for symbolizing lakes/streams/rivers? (Ontario, Canada)

  • Are these maps for the web or print maps? Commented Feb 19, 2011 at 6:28
  • print maps. Very detailed 1:20,000 (m) and larger Commented Feb 19, 2011 at 15:17

3 Answers 3


Are there any international standards for map symbology?

That question has good suggestions for map symbols. The accepted answer links to this document on hydrography.

  • thanks. I've skimmed trough this document before. Northwestern Ontario in Canada has a very unique hydrology and topography and although I am using similar symbology as the European standard it also does not work well with the underlying surface color ramp. Natural Resources Canada has a similar set of standards but it does not work well with the complex surface I need to display in my maps. (blue color blends visually with some surface colors) Commented Feb 19, 2011 at 15:31
  • At large scales use contours. These can continue within lakes using a dark blue shade.
  • Try adjusting the transparency based on the size of the lake. A very small feature does not need to be as transparent as a very large feature.
  • Use a slightly lighter color for the outline of the transparency. It is important to remember that the color you ultimately get from a transparency is not what you actually set. Choose an outline that contrasts to the average mix post-transparency rather than the color you actually set.
  • Try adjusting the shade based on the depth, similar to the Crater Lake example at ESRI

If the greens and browns are dark, then have you tried white? I've certainly seen that before. Otherwise perhaps someone on cartotalk.com could help?

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