Mapping Toolbox - Utilities and Viewers

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Map Viewers

TatukGIS Viewer is a free, powerful utility for quickly browsing catalogs of GIS data and setting up customized views. It is one of few viewers that can directly open US Census TIGER line data without conversion to another format first. 

The TatukGIS Viewer functionality includes:

  • Opens many common spatial image formats (TIFF/GeoTIFF, ECW, MrSID, SPOT, JPEG, PNG, BMP, TatukGIS PixelStore, Grid, SDTS DEM)
  • Support for a wide range of vector types (SHP, E00, TAB, MID/MIF, DXF, DGN, TIGER,GML, GDF, DLG, SDTS, Geomedia®, CADRG, ASCII GRID, FLOAT GRID, BT, DTED, ADF)
  • Reading DXF format styles (colors, line types, fills, etc.)
  • Opening of ArcView®, MapInfo® and TatuKGIS® projects
  • Fast R-tree indexing (enabling easy manipulation of very large data layers)
  • Distance, area, and perimeter measurement tools
  • Presentation of vector attribute information in table form
  • Enhanced Help menu with tutorials
  • Provides a print preview and prints with any Windows printer

For a complete list of features, visit TatukGIS

One of the unique wizards offered by the Viewer includes the ability to generate thematic maps based on values in GIS data attribute tables. The example on the left (click for a larger view) is a thematic map of managed forest land in Wisconsin. The display colors are based on categories of public and private ownership. (The thematic wizard is also useful for shading SDTS Digital Elevation Model data.) The Viewer can generate pie and bar chart map symbols (as shown below) from attribute data.

If you are a resource manager or educator, the TatukGIS Viewer could help you make the most of map data by sharing it with clients, students or others.

The Viewer includes a Wizard that automatically generates the map display code used by the TatukGIS Internet Map Server. The TatukGIS website includes examples showing how a cartographer can design lucid interactive maps to serve over the Internet to non-technical users. Click the following image to see:

A free trial version of TatukGIS IS Lite map server is available for web developers.

Complete GIS applications (like fGIS) that expand upon the Viewer can be built royalty-free with the exceptional DK (Developer Kernel) available from TatukGIS.

Download the free TatukGIS Viewer here:

dlgv32 Pro, distributed by the USGS, is a limited-feature version of  Global Mapper. The viewer opens most image and vector map files. It seamlessly integrates data layers even if projections or scales vary. Open your first layer in the desired projection, and additional layers from other projections will be converted to align with the first "on the fly". Users can select display, turn 3D hill shading on or off, modify the color scheme, adjust line width and color, etc. Global Mapper can measure areas and distances, and it generates a constant readout of the latitude/longitude coordinates of the cursor.


Natural Resources Database (NRDB) bridges tabular statistics with spatial data (points, lines and areas) to create thematic maps. NRDB and NRDB Pro are database products which take time and experience to set-up.  Their strength is in the fact that once a database has been developed it can be redistributed with the software and it is relatively easy for end users to output information from the database in the form of maps, graphs and reports. 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.

Although NRDB can draw map geometry through its digitizing utility "Image to Shapefile", NRDB's primary strength is thematic mapping utilizing existing spatial data. Mr. Alexander recently launched NRDB View, an open source shapefile viewer and editor that will provide additional map drawing capabilities as it evolves. If you are a programmer, you might consider helping with the NRDB View project.


Utilities for Image and Vector Data

Image Registration

FWTools - Advanced, open source image processing and geo-referencing tools. Digital Grove offers a tutorial for using GDALWARP, an image reprojection utility included in FWTools. The tutorial includes DGWarp, a zip file that has GDALWARP and a number of example batch files that explain how to use it. FWTools, GDAL and OpenEV are a few of the professional level tools available at:

A relatively simple method to geo-reference a scanned image is available with freeware fGIS and HyperCube.

If you don't want to spend time figuring out free tools to georeference or reproject data, consider the registered version of Global Mapper (possibly the best all-round GIS toolkit available) or Tatuk's Aerial Imagery Corrector, which are relatively easy to use.

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 fGIS 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.


ER Mapper ECW utilities - There are four recommended ECW programs to download: the ER Viewer, ECW Compressor, ECW Header Editor and the ECW plug-in for ERDAS ViewFinder, all available for free from the ER Mapper Internet site.

ECW stands for "Enhanced Compressed Wavelet". It's a popular file compression format used for GIS imagery. (MrSID from Lizardtech is another.) ECW can reduce the size of a file twenty or more times without perceptible loss in image quality.

GeoTiff Examiner is a handy utility that can embed the contents of a geo-referenced image's "world coordinate file" into the header of a TIFF image file.

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.

Tatuk's Aerial Imagery Corrector®, which features geo-referencing and removal of distortion from aerial photographs, is available as a free 30-day trial. The program's help file is an excellent tutorial on photo rectification.



DXF2XYZ from Guthrie CAD/GIS of Australia extracts the xyz coordinates from DXF files (a CAD vector format), handy for building data tables for surface plotting programs like SurGe. See the SurGe tutorial for an example.

In conjunction with DXF2XYZ, the Massachusetts DXF Author lets you create a DXF file from shapefiles. That means you can use a program like fGIS to place place your data points as shapefiles, which can be converted to DXF, which in turn can be converted to XYZ text files for data girding programs.

Image Analyzer from MeeSoft of Denmark is not a typical photo program. It offers unique "deconvolution" filters that correct blurred images (see aerial example below). In addition to traditional picture enhancement tools, Image Analyzer features advanced operations for examining and adjusting imagery.

MeeSoft also produces a simple "Diagram Designer" that easily annotates maps and photos. Both programs are distributed free.


Xatellite from Shale Software in the Netherlands displays shapefiles on a 3D globe. The shapefiles must be in the Geographic lat/lon coordinate system, easy to find through a Google search.

TGlobe offers a freeware Map Builder Application that displays geographic vector data and spatial imagery on a rotating globe.

You might also want to see the Motherplanet Earth Explorer, a rotating 3D Earth educational tool based on 1 km resolution satellite imagery and digital elevation models. It's a commercial application made with TGlobe.

Non-Spatial Map Drawing Software

Drawing programs can take advantage of mapping symbol fonts (like those to the left) 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.

AutoREALM is a free GNU, open source mapping program. It's a vector drawing program designed specifically for making maps. Most operations like selecting line types and mapping symbols or drawing areas are uncomplicated. 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 works well for making stand-alone resource management maps that are not part of a geospatial framework. Since the program is also used to create maps for role-playing games, it has some unusual symbol libraries specific for gaming. You can make maps that might 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.

The program can export image and vector files for use in other programs. Although images in AutoRealm are not geo-referenced, complementary mapping programs like Map Maker Gratis, 3DEM or OziExplorer can register the images if you know the latitude/longitude of a couple points on the map.

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 170 MB for the main program and another 6.4 MB for the newest version update, expect a slow retrieval from overtaxed servers (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. The large installation file includes NASA's Blue Marble Earth imagery. Additional 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.


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.

Miscellaneous Utilities

Sun Clock is an excellent world time clock from the developer of Map Maker.

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).

A good screen capture program is often valuable in mapping projects. Gadwin Print Screen™ works well, with a simple interface and small memory usage.

Virtual Printer

Virtual Printer works like any printer under MS Windows® - but without wasting paper. Using Virtual Printer, you'll get your map printouts as a collection of Enhanced Metafiles that you can view, store, modify, and print with other applications. Install it like a common Windows Printer using the Printer Wizard, print like on a common printer. There are printer drivers for all major Windows versions.

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