Scicomm tips: making maps

I had to make a map of Brazil — of a specific province in Brazil called Paraná. The map was for this story, that I also wrote. The map is the second image. I know it looks small and insignificant, but my, that map took me a long time to make.

It first takes a while to process through what maps you will need. Then you have to find them. In my case, I need at the very least a map of Brazil and a map of Paraná. Luckily, I found those shapefiles (map files) easily enough through quick searches. And then I opened up the map software I like to use, which is QGIS.

I like that one because it is free and open-source, and who wants to pay or get reliant on ArcGIS anyways?!

Now, what I still had to figure out was, how would I add the rest of the world in the background. First, I tried with the OpenStreetMap option that is available right in QGIS.

Adriana Alves parana map
Map with OpenStreetMap in the background.

However, I ended up not liking this because way too many cities were labeled, and there were distracting black squiggles that you couldn’t even read everywhere. It just made the map look busy and pock-marked.

Luckily, I then ran into something called Natural Earth. It’s a map-making kit. I found it on this great tutorial that explains how to make pretty maps in QGIS. I have been using this tutorial, I believe, for perhaps 8 years by now. I discovered when I was working in Maryland. And this tutorial is so nice and step-by-step, and it keeps getting updated. It is still as relevant for QGIS today as it was 8 years ago. I swear, every time I make a map in QGIS, I come back to this tutorial. This time, it’s been updated with a link to the Natural Earth kit. I downloaded the kit and used it for my own map of Brazil. It took a bit of clicking around to understand how the maps in the kit are arranged, but I finally figured it out, and I ended up with a nice background of the western hemisphere:

Adriana Alves parana map 3
A nice map showing Paraná in Brazil. Made with Natural Earth.

Maybe I should have made the inset map of Paraná smaller? Well, any case, I’m sure there’s still room for improvements, but it’s a nicer and cleaner map than the first one I made. At least, you can see exactly where Paraná is, right? That was the whole point.

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