Tutorial: Making Maps for Print Using QGIS

Tutorial has moved to http://www.qgistutorials.com/en/docs/making_a_map.html

Often one needs to create a map that can be printed or published. QGIS has a powerful tool called Print Composer that allows you to take your GIS layers and package them to create maps. Print Composer is quite feature rich, but can be un-intuitive at times. In this tutorial, we will go over various options within Print Composers that allow you to create informative maps with elements like north arrow, scale bar, legend and labels.
In this tutorial, we will use the Natural Earth dataset - specifically the Natural Earth Quick Start Kit that comes with beautifully styled global layers that can be loaded directly to QGIS.

  • Download and extract the Natural Earth Quick Start Kit data. Open QGIS. Click on File → Open Project.
  • Browse to the directory when you had extracted the natural earth data. You should see a file named Natural_Earth_quick_start_for_QGIS.qgs . This is the project file that contains styled layers in QGIS Document format. Click Open.
  • You would see a lot of layers in the table of content and a styled world map in the QGIS canvas.
  • In this tutorial, we will make a map of Japan. Click the Zoom In button and zoom to the area around Japan. Once you are centered around the area of interest, click on the ‘New Print Composer’ button. It is also accessible by File → New Print Composer.
  • A new Print Composer window will open. The Print Composer tool contains three main parts. A menu and toolbar on top which gives you access to various map elements and controls. The main area has a blank canvas where you would be composing the map. On the right side, there is a panel with two tabs: Composition and Item Properties.
  • In the Composition tab on the right-hand panel, you will see the Paper and Snapping options. Leave those to default for now. Click on the ‘Add new map’ button.
  • Hold the left mouse button and drag a rectangle where you want to insert the map.
  • You will see that the rectangle window will be rendered with the map from the main QGIS canvas. Since we want our map to be covering the full extent of the paper, drag the corners of the rectangle to the edges of the paper.
  • Now let’s adjust the zoom level and center the map. Click on Layout → Move Content. Click inside the box and drag the map till it is centered.
  • To zoom in, you can use the mouse scroll-wheel. If you do not have a mouse or want more control, click on the Item Properties tab and adjust the Scale value.
  • Now we will add a North Arrow to the map. Print Composer comes with a nice collection of map-related images - including many types of North Arrows. Click Layout → Add Image.
  • Holding your left mouse button, draw a rectangle on the top-right corner of the map canvas. Click on the Item Properties tab and select the North Arrow image of your liking. Next, click on the ‘General Options’ tab at the bottom.
  • The ‘General Options’ tab has options for controlling the color, size etc. Move the Opacity slider all the way to the left to make our image transparent. Also uncheck the ‘Show frame’ label to remove the border.
  • Now we will add a scale bar. Click on Layout → Add Scalebar.
  • From the Item Properties tab, choose the Style that fit your requirement. You should also set the transparency via General Options like in the previous step.
  • Now we will add a legend to the map. Click on Layout → Add Legend.
  • Since our layer list is huge, you will see a big box with all the layers appear.
  • Click on the Item Properties tab and select the layers which we do not want in the legend. Click the ‘-’ button to remove it from the legend.
  • For the purpose of this map, we will keep legend information only for the five layers as seen below. Also adjust the transparency and font options from the General Options tab like before.
  • Now time to label our map. Click on Layout → Add Label.
  • Click on the map and draw a box where the label should be. In the Item Properties tab, enter the text. Click on the Font button to make the size larger.
  • Once you are satisfied with the map, you can export it as Image, PDF or SVG. For this tutorial, let’s export it as a PNG image.
  • Below is the exported PNG image.

Hope this tutorial helps you create beautiful and interesting maps in QGIS. If you have tips or suggestion that will help other users use this tool better, please leave a comment and share it.