Frequently Asked Questions

How do you make the maps?

Originally, by hand, enhancing the base map layers from the U.S. Geological Survey and created dozens of new layers, each representing a color or a layer of line-work or of type. Each map was built in 30 or more layers that were then combined photo-mechanically for printing. Over the years, computers got faster, software got better, and data sets became more comprehensive and reliable. Since about 2005 we have worked entirely digitally. We are now adding titles based on high-resolution data which has become available only in the last few years. This technological evolution is reflected in the maps.

Are these maps made from photographs?

No, not directly. They’re made from digital data sets, and some of these incorporate information originally gathered by aerial photographs, such as topographical surveys combining field surveys and aerial photos. Nearly all such geographic data is originally produced by government agencies.

Are these maps 3D?

No, they are not plastic "raised-relief" maps; the maps are flat. They appear to be three dimensional because of the landforms shading.

What do the colors mean?

On most of our maps, colors show elevation. Dark greens start at the lowest elevation, lighten with increasing elevation, and shift through yellow to tan to brown, and, usually, to white at the highest elevations. This sequence is arbitrary. It is traditional in fine European mapping, and in practice seems to be clearer than any alternative we’ve tried, even though it shows the hottest, driest parts of Arizona as green! The colors are relative, not absolute: the lowest elevations in Wyoming are higher than all but the highest ridges in Georgia.

On the Land Cover series, colors show what is ON the ground—forest or grassland or wetland, built-up or farmland. Again, the colors are arbitrary—cities aren’t really red, farmland is orange-brown only when the wheat is ready to harvest—but this set of colors seems to work.

What determines what you put on the map – and what you leave off?

It depends on the purpose of the map. Road maps may include thousands of point-to-point mileage figures, or incorporated city limits, and will sacrifice other elements (such as rivers) so as to show roads prominently. The original Raven State Map series was built using USGS base materials that emphasized railroads, so many names appear where railroad sidings once functioned, but may now be entirely gone. But in general, Raven maps are designed to reveal landform patterns, which are either ignored or barely legible on most maps. Roads are de-emphasized, county lines left off, and landforms brought to the foreground.

What is the advantage of a laminated map?

Lamination involves laying down a heated plastic coating which bonds to the printed sheet. Raven offers lamination (front and back) for paper maps. It makes the sheet much more durable and prevents the swelling and shrinking from humidity changes that will eventually cause exposed paper to wrinkle.

A framed laminated map does not require any glass, so the frame can be much lighter and less expensive (or you can simply use push-pins). Finally, laminated maps can be cleaned, unlike plain paper maps. Note: while your can write and erase on the laminated maps with a dry erase marker, permanent markers CANNOT be cleaned off a laminated map.

Important: Raven Fine Art Prints are not offered laminated, only the lithographic editions are.