ArcGIS StoryMaps

To 3D or not to 3D?

It has never been easier to create amazing 2D and 3D maps. Mapping technology has come so far in the last 15 years that things that seemed like science fiction, or required a million dollars of hardware and thousands of hours of labor, can now be produced on your laptop in minutes. As a storyteller, it’s fun to take advantage of that power to engage and impress your audience. But when should you use 2D maps versus 3D maps, and how do you get the most out of each? An even better question to ask is, For a given dataset or communication task, how do we know when to use which? Let’s explore these questions.

This story map is not a step-by-step tutorial on how to make these maps. Rather, I want share some of the editorial thought processes that we use on the StoryMaps team, and how we work through pros and cons of 2D and 3D maps. Spoiler alert: This isn’t a simple black-and-white checklist or yes/no decision tree with a clear winner. Rather, cartographic decisions like this inevitably involve a series of trade-offs.

global airline routes
Ever wonder why your transatlantic fight goes so far north? On this 3D interactive globe the answer is obvious; it's actually the shortest path and a straight shot across the pond.
3D map of light pollution
A recent winner from the prestigious Information is Beautiful Awards shows light pollution as a series of mountains. Author: Jacob Wasilkowski

Read the full story and learn 8 important questions we ask on the Story Maps team here at Esri in deciding how to best use 2D or 3D maps and how they’ll impact our readers.

About the author

Map nerd. Passionate about great design, teaching, and doing cool things with data.

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