How to Become a Cartographer


If you want to become a cartographer, you first need to determine if this career path is a good fit for you. Does the following describe you?


• You are proficient in computer-aided design (CAD)

• You are interested in geography and mapping

• You pay close attention to detail when working

• You enjoy reviewing maps, aerial photos and surveys


Those who become cartographers are typically individuals with a natural aptitude and interest in computers and computer-aided design (CAD). They also tend to have an eye for layout and design and good spatial awareness.


A career in this field is an excellent choice for those who want a career that allows them to leverage their people, computer modeling, and information compiling skills into a well-paying career that offers much room for growth.


Below we've outlined what you'll need to begin a career as a cartographer. We've also included helpful information for this career, such as job description, job duties, salary expectations, a list of possible employers and much more!



Education Needed to Become a Cartographer

Although educational requirements vary by employer, you typically need at least a technical diploma in one of these areas:


• Geography

• Geology

• Geographic Information Systems

• Geomatics

• Geological Engineering


In addition to the above programs, aspiring cartographers may choose to pursue additional coursework in surveying and graphic design, as skills in these areas are relevant for this profession. 





General Job Description

A cartographer is involved with the scientific, technological and artistic aspects of developing maps, diagrams, charts and spreadsheets. To develop maps, they must compile, structure and present complex geographical information and data in the appropriate format.


Their work involves combining creativity with technical aptitude to produce maps for a variety of purposes, ranging from everyday use by individuals to large-scale industrial development. These maps may include topological maps, aeronautical charts, natural resource maps, or nautical charts and other hydrographic maps.


Cartographers may also work on demographic maps such as population characteristics, economic maps such as land use, or social maps such as crime rates. 



Typical Job Duties

• Design maps, as well as geographic illustrations, layouts and graphics

• Communicate information by using colour, texture, symbols, style and other means

• Select and evaluate map source data for use in the preparation or revision of maps and charts to various scales

• Capture and output digital geographic data

• Design and maintain geographical information databases

• Work with geographical information systems (GIS) to analyze and model landscape features

• Operate photogrammetric instruments, which views photographs in 3D or stereoscopic formats

• Use specialized computer software to compile and produce graphs for general or specialized use



Who Employs Cartographers?

Cartographers are employed on a part-time, full-time or contractual basis by a variety of small, medium and large employers, including:


• Colleges and universities

• Commercial map publishers and GIS/geomatics firms

• Computer software companies

• Engineering and architectural consulting companies

• Environmental consulting companies

• Federal, provincial/state and municipal governments

• Forestry consulting firms

• Hydrographic companies

• Marketing, statistical, and census firms

• Natural resource companies

• Oil, gas and mining companies

• Planning and economic development agencies

• Service firms to oil, gas and mining companies

• Surveying companies





Skills and Traits Needed to Be Successful

To be effective as a cartographer, you need to posses a certain set of skills and personality traits. These attributes will help you perform you job duties with competence, and as a result, they are in high demand with employers in the field.


• A keen interest in geography and mapping

• May require advanced skills in AutoCAD Map

• Excellent computer and mathematical skills

• A high level of accuracy and attention to detail when working

• A natural eye for layout and design, good spatial awareness and colour vision

• A systematic approach to work, and attention to set procedures

• The ability to interpret data, graphical representations and symbols

• The ability to work independently

• Strong project management and organizational skills

• Enjoy performing tasks that require precision



Career Advancement Possibilities

There are generally many opportunities for cartographers to progress in their careers, wither with their current employers or with an external employer. These opportunities are largely available to those who are motivated and display initiative and competence in their job duties.


Cartographers that are in the early stages of their career may begin with little responsibility, and as they gain more experience, they typically progress to work on projects of greater responsibility. This can often lead to supervisory or management positions. 


If employed with a larger organization, such as the federal government, cartographers may also leverage their experience and dedication into a position of greater responsibility with a different department.


Cartographers may also choose to move into closely related areas such as photogrammetry, remote sensing, geographical information systems (GIS) and some aspects of IT-related consultancy. 



Average Salary Level

The salary level of cartographers can vary based on their professional qualifications, the size and type of their employer, the specific responsibilities of their job, and many other factors.


Cartographer Salary Canada: According to the 2016 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans working in the Mapping and Related Technologists and Technicians occupational group earn an average salary of $74,501 per year. Unfortunately, no similar statistics were available from reliable sources for other Canadian provinces or territories at the time of writing (June 30, 2019).


Cartographer Salary United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary level of American workers in the Cartographers and Photogrammetrists occupational group is $57,440 per year.



Current Cartographer Job Postings

Our job board below has 'cartographer' postings in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia (when available):




Similar Occupations in Our Database

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to 'cartographer', as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.


Census Geographer

Geomatics Plan Technician

Land Surveyor

Map Editor

Urban Planner




Please consult the references below to find more information on the various aspects of this profession.



Wages & Salaries in Alberta:Mapping Technologist.” (March 16, 2016). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved November 1, 2019.

Architecture and Engineering:Cartographers and Photogrammetrists.” (September 4, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook - United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved November 1, 2019.

Explore Careers:Cartographer.” (September 4, 2019). National Careers Service website. Retrieved November 1, 2019.



Scholarships for Becoming a Cartographer

Scholarships listed for majors that apply to becoming a cartographer can be found on our All Scholarships by Major page.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Relevant Fields of Post-Secondary Study in Our Database

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point to for this profession. 


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