Mapping Toolbox

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Freeware or Shareware (SW) recommended but not sold here. Some of these tools are for specific technical tasks. Others are fun, showcasing good programming to explore spatial geography.

Spatial Mapping Software

3DEM USAPhotoMaps
Quantum GIS MARPLOT® (PC and Mac)
NASA World Wind Google Earth
Hypercube TGlobe Map Builder
Natural Resources Database DIVA GIS
3DField™ (SW) SurGe Mapping (SW)


TatukGIS Editor - Practical GIS Software for Resource Managers (Free Trial) TatukGIS Aerial Imagery Corrector (AIC) - Photogrammetry Tools (Free Trial)
ILOG JViews Map Viewer  

 Other Utilities

Mapping Symbol Fonts


TatukGIS Coordinate Calculator


Color Brewer

MapDraw Deed Plotter™(SW)

Database Editors

Image Capture

Check out coordinate locators and data resources in Forest Pal's Links.

Also See

TatukGIS Viewer

TatukGIS Editor


Global Mapper

3DEMproduces three dimensional terrain scenes from 2D images ...great for analyzing fire control, erosion, aesthetic management and other resource issues. The program can provide high-resolution 3D views using many elevation model sources, including new data from the Space Shuttle Radar Topography Mission. Create animated flights through virtual terrains of real places. Connect with Garmin or Magellan GPS receivers to display waypoints, routes, and tracks in 3D or generate elevation profiles of GPS tracks.

3DEM's "Save Map Image" function makes spectacular hillshade color elevation maps for use in other GIS programs.  Simply load an elevation model, adjust the elevation colors to your liking (F4), resize the overhead view (F7) and use "File/Save Map Image" to export a GeoTiff image for use in spatial mapping programs like the TatukGIS Editor or Viewer. 3DEM can also convert the UTM datum from NAD27 to NAD83 or other ellipsoids if desired.

Make 3D aerial photos, topographic maps, screen captures, scanned photos, Landsat images or other source material for 3DEM overlays. Rotate and scale terrains to fashion the view you want. 3DEM can also be used in tandem with overlays from other programs like the TatukGIS Viewer for perspective views that include images with vector layers.

3DEM is a product of Visualization Software LLC by Richard Horne. See the 3DEM Gallery for more examples. Click here or the image above to download 3DEM version 19.0.


USAPhotoMaps retrieves and  displays TerraServer aerial photos, urban photos, topographic maps, elevation data, place names, TIGER (US Census) roads, road names and USGS landmarks. It is one of the fastest tools available for navigating to any location in the United States and collecting TerraServer image tiles for base maps. Assemble images into single, georeferenced base maps that can be opened by geospatial programs or drawing programs. Use USAPhotoMaps to quickly get latitude, longitude or UTM coordinates for any position. GPS waypoints, routes and tracks can be displayed as map overlays and transferred to or from GPS units.

USAPhotoMaps is available for free download from JDMCox Software.

Forest Pal offers instructions for using USAPhotoMaps here.

Quantum GIS

Quantum GIS (QGIS) is an up and coming, open-source Geographic Information System that runs on Windows, MacOSX, Linux and other operating systems. It offers support for common vector and raster formats, including spatially enabled tables in PostgreSQL using PostGIS. Plug-ins are available to add functionality, including one to interact with GRASS (a complex and difficult GIS). QGIS is not as advanced as commercial applications like the free TatukGIS Viewer or the TatukGIS Editor, but it has a simple interface and offers an introduction to GIS techniques.

MARPLOT is designed for viewing and making maps derived from US Census TIGER® line data. Both the MARPLOT program and the TIGER basemaps are available for free download. The program and data are produced by the US Census Bureau, US Environmental Protection Agency and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The TIGER derived basemaps have predefined display properties making them easy to load and navigate. MARPLOT also features a utility to import ESRI® shapefiles in UTM, Geographic (lat/lon) and Albers projections. A layer control center allows you to determine at what scale features or their labels and symbols appear in the map. User layers can be created for new point, line and area objects. Objects' lengths and areas/perimeters are automatically saved. Typical line, polygon and text drawing tools are included, but more advanced features such as snap or COGO functions are not.

Aerial photographs and other scanned images can be used as basemaps in MARPLOT. The program offers two methods to geo-reference images. The first involves providing the latitude and longitude for two points on the image. The second allows users to dynamically drag and stretch an image until it corresponds with loaded vector data. Very nice! (Click the image on the left for a screenshot.)

You can print maps made in MARPLOT or export image or vector (enhanced metafile) files. The exported files are not, however, georeferenced for use in other GIS programs.

MARPLOT is part of a suite of programs developed by the US Census Bureau and EPA for accessing demographic data and planning environmental protection programs. If you enjoy scientific inquiry, MARPLOT and the companion programs, LandView 5 and CAMEO are definitely a class act.

Download the free MARPLOT Program (for PC or Macintosh computers) here.

Specially formatted, TIGER® Line derived US basemaps for MARPLOT are available for download here.

Ever dream of flying effortlessly around the Earth through mountain valleys and over farmlands, deserts or cities? If you are fortunate to have a robust PC (1 GHz P3 or better) with a good 3D video card and cable Internet connection, you can experience something similar. NASA's World Wind amazes not only with seamless integration of elevation data, satellite imagery and a vast collection of remote sensing data but most dramatically with its motion. Still images cannot fully convey the feeling of World Wind.

The World Wind download can be a challenge at 53 MB (don't even try if you are on dial-up). Once installed including a special Direct X Managed Code component, operation is straightforward with mouse or keyboard commands. Data is acquired on demand based on the layers you specify and cached on your PC for future use. More information and the free program are available from NASA. See the World Wind Central Wiki for current developments, plug-ins and more.

Not to be outdone, Google has its own 3D Earth viewer, Google Earth. And beautiful it is. DigitalGlobe®, other recent color imagery and even 3D buildings are combined in a fly-anywhere virtual world. You can selectively turn on infrastructure layers including roads, stores, schools, etc. Like World Wind, Google Earth will only run on relatively new PCs with good video and broadband Internet. The free version is cool (about a 10 MB download), but for $20 (annual subscription) you can get a plus upgrade that allows you to add your own data or annotations, and it offers higher image resolution. 

Also, if you haven't discovered that Google has added color 2-meter resolution color aerial imagery to its regular maps, take a look at Google Satellite Maps. US coverage is selective, but very nice if your area of interest is included.

HyperCube, freeware produced by the US Army Corps of Engineers - Topographic Engineering Center, prepares multi and hyper-spectral imagery for interpretation and classification of real world features. The small program (about 700KB download) includes a host of functions to analyze, filter, warp, mosaic, reformat, calibrate, and combine images. It comes as a single "exe" file, which does not require installation. Just unzip the file and use it. The program is available for Windows® and MacOSX®.

HyperCube works with RAW, JPEG, TIFF, TARGA, LAN, Library, Multiband, NITF, and SRF file formats. Mac users can also access PICT format images. One idiosyncrasy of the File -> Open process is that the browser shows all file types (*.*), but the user must specify the file type to open from a drop-down list.

HyperCube is a handy utility to use with the TatukGIS Free Viewer or Editor to rubber-sheet and georeference images. Its many other uses are well documented in a 163 page PDF user guide available from the Topographic Engineering Center, which also offers sample data sets.

If you'd like a virtual globe to quickly grab latitude/longitude values, try the free TGlobe Map Builder Application. TGlobe mainly produces GIS programming components, but among it's offerings is the Map Builder Application used to demonstrate the code. It loads geographic shapefiles and images and can display the data on an Earth sphere or in Cartesian and Mercator projections. You can also turn on a view that tracks day/night regions. The TGlobe download page has a few data selections for North America and Europe that are free, or you can get a world political boundary layer (shown on the left) here (5 MB Zip). Unzip the layer to the TGlobe folder and import it to view. The Map Builder is a single executable file. It does not have a formal installation routine.

Natural Resources Database (NRDB) bridges tabular statistics with spatial data (points, lines and areas) to create thematic maps. As an example, the NRDB tutorial illustration to the left shows the annual rainfall of municipalities in a province as different colors. Use NRDB to:

  • Design and store databases for either spatial or non-spatial information

  • Import records from Excel, Access and other ODBC compliant formats and associate them with spatial data

  • Utilize map objects made with other mapping and GIS programs, downloaded from the Internet, or created with an included digitizing utility (which geo-references scanned or downloaded maps and aerial photos that you can trace over to make shapefiles)

  • Produce reports and graphs from database queries or generate thematic maps from records linked to spatial data

Richard D. Alexander, of the U.K., originally produced NRDB for the Philippine Province of Bohol and now offers the free program to encourage sustainable management of resources around the world. His vision for NRDB, FAQs and other useful information are available at the NRDB User Group.


The free DIVA-GIS software is designed to plot point data and perform statistical analysis of spatial data distributions. The program converts tabular data into point shapefiles and plots them with other GIS layers. ESRI® shapefile, grid, TIFF, JPEG and Lizardtech® MrSID file types are supported.

Additional features offered by DIVA-GIS include:

  • Grid manipulation (calculator, aggregate, neighborhoods)

  • Conversion of lat/lon data to other projections

  • Export/import of grid and shapefile data

  • Statistical analysis tools such as histograms and scattergrams to highlight data correlation

  • Multiple regression with grids

  • Display of satellite images or digital orthophotos as basemaps

  • Geo-positioning of unreferenced basemap images

  • GPS data import (as points, lines, or polygons)

  • Climate envelope modeling

  • Prediction of crop adaptation (Ecocrop)

  • ...and more

To download the program, data and tutorials, visit the DIVA-GIS web page.

Note to Birders: DIVA-GIS could be easily adapted to mapping bird observation lists. If you are interested in a mapping program dedicated to birding observations, also check out Map List by Flying Emu Software. The free demo of Map List is useful, displaying bird distribution and abundance information on either North America or World maps.

3DField is a contouring, surface plotting and 3D data program. All facets of 2D or 3D maps can be customized to produce stunning depictions of  your data. Click the image on the left, showing a 3D distribution of family-owned woodlands in Wisconsin, for a full-screen example.

The developer provides a free, fully-functional demo that is limited to 50 data points (enough to help you experiment and appreciate the power of the program). 3DField provides eleven 2D and 3D map templates that can be precisely tailored, scaled and rotated for incredible views. Click here for step-by-step procedures used in the project on the left, made with the free trial.

3DField is the product of 15 years of refinement by Vladimir Galouchko, the Russian developer. See the 3DField web site for complete details.

SurGe grids and maps data, calculates volumetric surfaces and completes other sophisticated data analysis. The developer, Miroslav Dressler, is a hydrologic engineer in the Czech Republic. The software is fully functional at no cost, with an invitation to register for a small fee. Download the program for free.

Surge produces three basic types of maps: color contours (left), isolines, and 3D maps. Click the image on the left for additional examples. The program offers numerous data interpolation and smoothing routines and includes detailed documentation that explains the mathematical principles involved.

Data is input with simple ASCII text files that define the x-y position of each point, z (the data value) and a label field. Used in tandem with other free software (such as fGIS), one can easily generate text files for the creation of boundaries (like the outline of Wisconsin) or the position of data points. For a tutorial, click here.

QuikGrid can read in scattered data points (x, y, z text) representing a surface, 1-degree USGS DEMs*, and ER Mapper raster files. The program will generate a grid from data and display the surface as a contour map, or as a 3d representation. The grid may be displayed as a wire frame or as a hidden surface grid, optionally with colours. The grid and contour lines may be output as a DXF file. The generated grid may be output to a file as a series of XYZ triplets, in the DXF 3DFACE format or as an ER Mapper Raster Dataset.

QuikGrid is documented through its help facility. The left mouse button may be used to zoom in and pan about the display. The right mouse button may be used to display information about the generated grid coordinates and data points. The Shift and Ctrl keys used with the arrow keypad will spin or reorient the view.

In addition to being incredibly fast, QuikGrid is easy to use. It will run on modest hardware platforms. The free software is available from Perspective Edge.

*USGS 1-degree DEMs (also known as 1:250K DEMs) are available by US state here.

Other Utilities

GIS and illustration programs can take advantage of mapping symbol fonts (like those above) that are freely available on the Internet. One of the advantages of trying free viewers from professional GIS companies (like ESRI, ERDAS, MapInfo, MapTech, etc.) is that they install many of their symbol fonts into your Windows font folder, giving you the opportunity to explore them.

Numberpile is an example of a free font that is useful for labeling features on maps.


AutoREALM is a map illustration program. It does not use real world coordinates and cannot measure areas. AutoRealm can load raster images (like aerial photos from TerraServer, USGS topo maps or screen captures from Global Mapper) as backgrounds over which you can trace features, add symbols or write text.

AutoRealm can create maps for role-playing games and so has some unusual symbol libraries. You can make maps that appear to come straight from Tolkien's Hobbit or more formal, technical map drawings. The choice is yours. Depending on the purpose, stylized maps can be informative and interesting.

TatukGIS® offers a free Datums & Projections Coordinate Calculator™. It converts geographic coordinates of a point from one system to another, supporting 24 of the most common projections and 225 datums. See Joe and Jack's for instructions.

Reprojecting entire files of vector or image data is most easily accomplished with commercial tools like Global Mapper or the coming version of the TatukGIS Editor. Advanced users who are comfortable with command line instructions could check out Shapetrans for converting shapefiles or FWTools for converting imagery between coordinate systems. A batch file procedure developed for reprojecting raster images with GDALWARP is available, too.

Need help selecting a color scheme for a map? Try the on-line Color Brewer from Penn State's Geography Professor Cynthia Brewer. The application explains the merits of sequential, diverging and qualitative legend types. You can select from a variety pre-formulated color schemes and then see them applied on a sample map. You can then save the color values for use in mapping or illustration programs.

MapDraw (376 KB) plots property boundaries from metes and bounds descriptions found in deeds. It's a lot easier than pulling out a protractor, ruler and calculator to draw out a tract. The program handles curves, automatic closures, acreage and perimeter calculations, print scaling, multiple lots, imperial or metric measurements, etc. MapDraw 2.7 is shareware providing both azimuth (360°) and bearing versions. The program will save a BMP image of the plot, but it is not geo-referenced. (See a simple geo-referencing technique here.)

Informatik, Inc. also offers a newer time-limited trial, now called Mapdraw Deed Plotter 6.2 (2.3MB).


Freeware database editors are available to create or edit GIS data or to simply view data in a shapefile DBF.

DBF Explorer is a tiny, barebones DBF III editor. It allows basic viewing of DBF files, and the ability to add, delete and edit records, identify field types  (shown on left), plus the ability to add attributes.  MyDBF3 is a small database program that can handle DBase IV files. FEATURES: Form designer, HTML template based reports, integral syntax highlighted HTML editor, zoomable print preview, integral HTML 3.2 viewer, table designer, smart filter, mail merge. Jans Freeware, which offers MyDBF3, also has other useful programs including CommaWorks (a program for manipulating csv data files), SoftPlanner (a project manager) and many graphics tools. is a complete office suite with word processor, spreadsheet, database, presentation, and drawing components, mostly compatible with the Microsoft equivalents like Word®, Excel®, Access® and PowerPoint®. OpenOffice is able to read DBF files into a spreadsheet format, and then write them back as DBF, allowing you to make edits that are more difficult to accomplish in some database programs.


A good screen capture program to save either an window, object or freehand area can be handy for many applications, including making maps. A couple freeware favorites include the FastStone Image Capture and Gadwin PrintScreen. In regard to commercial screen capture programs, SnagIt is certainly one of the best. If you are looking for a free image editor, check the listing at SnapFiles.

ILOG JViews Map Viewer is a FREE viewer for ESRI shape files, TIGER/Line 2004 data, MapInfo Mif/Mid, VMAP data sets, GTOPO30-DEM, DTED, GeoTIFF, ASRP, URSP, CADRG, and georeferencing of files such as JPG, GIF, TIF and PNG.

ILOG JViews Map Viewer is a pure-Java demo application that runs on any platform that supports Java: Windows, Linux, Mac, UNIX – you name it. Its functionality includes thematic map creation and openGL-accelerated 3D terrain visualization.

ILOG JViews Map Viewer: Your easy FREE way to quickly evaluate ILOG JViews Maps’ component libraries. Download it at

ILOG is a new addition to the site (Feb 1, 2007) No review or product testing done by ForestPal at this time. If you have a review please email it to


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