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Making a custom map legend – In Powerpoint?!

The end process of the making of a map or infographic, or really any kind of graphic that consists of multiple elements, usually takes place in some kind of graphics suite.

Adobe products, whether it be Photoshop or Illustrator are still regarded as go-to products. Rightfully so, because they are unsurpassed in functionality. However for most people they present a huge investment. Obviously the buying price is quite steep, and also if you are not a Photoshop wizard, you might have a hard time accomplishing what you want to do.

An alternative might be an open source software package. Inkscape is a nice Illustrator alternative, and GIMP is a great photoshop alternative. But even though there is no buy in price, the relatively steep learning curve might put some people off.

So today I propose a lesser known approach to image rendering in general and map legends in particular:

MS Powerpoint

For maps that don’t require a lot of custom work I love using Powerpoint. There are several reasons for this:

  1. Easily accessible, most workplaces use MS office, and licenses are not that expensive. Most people will already have it!
  2.  New versions support nice guidelines and grids which help with placing graphics at equal distance from each other. This is definitely useful in map legends.
  3. Easy insertion of other office elements, like charts from Excel
  4. The functionality of outputting in different formats (see below)

Since a couple of versions ago (I believe we are at Office 2013 now) Powerpoint has had a ‘Save As’ option. Along with all the regular options like save as .pdf, .ppt and .pptx there are also options to save as .jpeg or .png. This is where it gets interesting.


Example of  the guidelines in Powerpoint, in this case the symbol aligns with the other rectangular symbols to the left and right


Powerpoint VS other editing software

It is obvious that Photoshop and GIMP have much more functionality than Powerpoint has in the graphics design department. However for several simple tasks Powerpoint is a capable alternative. If you have several different graphic components coming together Powerpoint is quite good at combining them.

Imagine if you have a map created in your GIS suite of choice, several graphs from Excel, and you would like a custom legend. Powerpoint will let you scale, rotate, recolor and crop them all. A big bonus is that most people are already comfortable in Office applications so the learning curve is quite small.

Output quality

The default output quality for an image file from Powerpoint is 150 dpi (dots per inch). This can be ramped up to 300 dpi. This link will show you how.

300 dpi is good enough for web quality, however for print you might want an even higher resolution. This can be accomplished by manually making the slide size bigger. Effectively you are then exporting a bigger image, which can then later be printed on a smaller piece of paper.

Powerpoint exports high resolutions, however if your input files are low resolution, this will still result in grainy graphics!

Some examples…

For the sake of the length of this article I am assuming that you are familiar with MS Office, in this case PowerPoint. The biggest plus of PowerPoint over built in map exporter in QGIS and ArcGIS is that you can manipulate all the elements and there are a great deal of built in symbols and patterns to choose from. Below are some examples from my own work.

The added value of making a legend in a separate program from your GIS suite is that you are able to compress or extend your legend to however you see fit. Think you can explain your map better with words? Use words! Think you need a bunch of symbols you can do that as well, it’s up to you.



Example of a legend using both text and symbols.


Especially with graduated circles or transparency in your map you will need to have some extra control over your legends. Working with PowerPoint or GIMP also gives you more control over map inserts that you make and gives you the opportunity to add sources and credits more fluently. The legend below is part of this infographic: OR Groningen . It might not look like much by itself but with the title and several statistics scattered throughout the graphic it makes it clear what it is all about.



Example of a part of a legend that uses a gradient in its symbols


An extra option is to just leave out a legend and add some extra data and charts. Everything apart from the maps was made in Powerpoint in this infographic:


Motorcycles in Hollandpogign2

An infographic that was made using just Powerpoint for formatting and exporting


Thanks for reading this! I hope you’re able to apply some of this in your own work, leave any comments below :-).



This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. niewiem schreef:

    nice post. One questions. If i export a shapefile with point symbolgy from QGIS, how do i make shapes and colors in powerpoint same as in QGIS exported images? Did i miss something ?

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