It's a little tricky to pick label and feature styles (line thickness, colours, etc) in the map canvas because they don't reflect what I would see in my print composer which is at a different scale because of paper size and such.

I haven't found any options in the QGIS options or project properties.

4 Answers 4


In QGIS it's not called Reference Scale.

You can make sure line thickness and font size are visually the same in the map canvas and the print composer (regardless of paper size and extent) if you size your font labels and line styles using Map Units instead of points, mm, etc...

Choosing Map Units in QGIS 2.0.1 Label Properties Window.

There is also the option to use non-map units, and in that case you can just set the map canvas scale to match whatever scale you want to print at to get a quick visual (but not if your map takes a while to render).


You can calculate the "viewing scales" by your preference and then save them for future use using scale templates in QGIS - exporting the scales to XML and then referring to that XML in future map projects.

Settings menu > Map Tools

Predefined Scales

Add/remove your preferred scales, then click the SAVE button to save those scales as an XML. later you can load those scales from the XML into new documents.

  • someone else may know how to find the "viewing scales", but if not you'd need to manually determine the best scale for your thematic print display and then save the scale (scales) for later use using the option above.
    – bjmarra
    Dec 12, 2013 at 16:16
  • Are those just preset scales for zooming in and out? Sorry, I mean for a reference scale so that I can see my map rendered at a specific scale (like the scale that my map would be printed at).
    – SaultDon
    Dec 12, 2013 at 17:44

It would be much easier to enter a reference scale and then give stroke weights and text sizes in paper units for that scale, and have QGIS calculate the rest. I know what kind of stroke weights I need on a map (for example 0.35 pt or 0.125 mm for a countour line), independent of scale. In QGIS now, If I want it to show my map as it will printed at all zooms, I would have to calculate the line weights in meters for every scale. It also makes it much easier if you need to change the reference scale at some stage in the project.


It is possible, in the properties of each layer, go to the "Representation" tab and check "Fixed Reference Scale", indicating the scale we want. You have to do it for each layer, it is a property that QGIS assigns to the symbology of the layer, not to the project or the composition.

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  • 1
    You don't need to do this for each layer. Instead do it for the 1st layer. Then right click > Styles > Copy Style > Rendering. On all other layers you can past it, via: right click > Styles > Paster Styles
    – Vincé
    Aug 17 at 13:06

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