I am looking for an alternative software product for cartography other than ArcGIS and Adobe Illustrator. The graphic quality in ArcGIS outputs is substantially poor when compared to outputs in illustrator, yet illustrator is not a true cartographic software package. Any open source? Any extensions to ArcGIS or Illustrator that would enhance performance? Read a couple referrals to MAPublisher in other forums, yet this package is too expensive ($2000+).

12 Answers 12


I've tried (not professionaly) MAPublisher. For what I could assess, it greatly improves the workflow for professional map design. I mean, truly professional.

Most people work with a GIS software and then export it to a graphics package. What Ian described is that you can work with any GIS software that exports to SVG and then import it in a design software, such as Illy, Corel Draw, Inkscape, etc.

The OS solution that I would recomend is that same as iant: QGIS + Inkscape. The two softwares together aren't as powerful as ArcGIS + Illustrator but you can create amazing maps with it.

edit oh and one ArcGIS extension that WILL improve quality and production is Maplex. It has a different labelling engine and it is fantastic. It can do amazing things for you, since it automagically places 90% of the labels for you, has great font/style control, etc.


QGIS can output as SVG which will allow you to edit it in Illustrator (or Inkscape).

  • 4
    The SVG Print Composer for QGIS 1.6 has the fine print: "The SVG export function in Qgis has several problems due to bugs and deficiencies in the Qt4 svg code. In particular, there are problems with layers not being clipped to the map bounding box. If you require a vector-based output file from Qgis it is suggested that you try printing to PostScript if the SVG output is not satisfactory."
    – Mike T
    Mar 20, 2011 at 8:13

Probably not in the same league as ArcGIS and MAPublisher, but you could check out Maperitive. Currently it's oriented towards OpenStreetMap data, but I plan to add shapefile support in the near future (I'm the author BTW). It's not a full-blown GIS package, but the price is competitive ($0).

Since you were mentioning Illustrator: Maperitive has an export-svg command which generates SVGs specifically designed for Illustrator (and Inkscape).


Manifold GIS is a great option, it can do pretty much anything ArcGis can do, albiet sometimes you'll need to use spatial sql or some programming, and best of all, it's less than $500.

Edit: I was asked to provide some more details, so here goes. In general, I don't find the cartographic tools in Manifold parituclar intuitive, but if you take some time to read the lengthy and comprehensive documentation, you'll generally find what you need. There are some showcase maps from users on their website:


You can export to lots of image formats, or vector formats like pdf, adobe illustrator or kml. Also, I noticed that they actually do now offer a money back 10 day trial, so you can try it out more easily:


Check out their site, or ask about it on their forum, you'll get responses quickly -



  • 1
    Welcome to GIS.se :) Please point out Manifold's cartographic attributes which make this an answer to the question, otherwise it reads like spam. I didn't downvote your answer, but I expect that's why someone else did. Unfortunately mentions of Manifold trigger this reaction more readily than other softwares do. In other venues Manifold users have tended to be rather...enthusiastic... in extolling Manifold's virtues and criticising others' shortcomings. So people are wary. Mar 20, 2011 at 6:25
  • lol, had no idea people had already had experiences like that with Manifold, I work with both ArcGIS and Manifold, and can speak to eithers benefits and shortcomings. I'll edit the post a bit now, wasn't sure how many details to include-
    – chrismarx
    Mar 22, 2011 at 16:31

a desktop solution for cartography is Migratio You can import shapefiles and work on it to edit complex maps.

You can create maps by menu items or you can write programs to import data and fully setup your presentation.


OCAD (not Free like QGIS) but does a good job cartographically


enter image description here

functionality PDF - Exports to Adobe Illustrator.



Check out the CARIS software suite (www.caris.com). Utilised by many, if not most, of International Hydrographic Organisation (IHO) affiliated Hydrographic Offices. CARIS Composer and or CARIS GIS pro is probably what you're looking for. Not cheap though, but nor is ARC Map.


I think GVSig has the ability to export map to SVG file. You can then work on it with Inkscape. If not yet, it should be on the roadmap. At least, you would be able to process through PDF, as follow : http://listserv.gva.es/pipermail/gvsig_internacional/2010-November/006327.html


Try www.mapcreator.eu vector software, for maps, books enz


I posted a similar question on the CartoTalk forums, but recieved a similarly negative response. All of the above tools seem to be ways of exporting from GIS software to a graphics format, which is something I'm sure you already know how to do.

It would be very useful if someone coded a basic extension to Adobe Illustrator that provided the most useful part of MapPublisher - importing and georeferencing shapefiles - without all of the extra cartographic functionality.


Canvas with GIS+ ? Vector drawing software for cartography. Never used it, but it's definitely cheaper than MaPublisher.



Not really a desktop solution but Mapnik (really high quality rendering) and Mapserver both enabled you to render SVG using cairo. So you generate your maps and like most others solutions you use Inkscape to finish the job.

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