ArcGIS Blog


By Charlie Frye, Esri Chief Cartographer

At the Esri User Conference this year we showed, in our technical session on lessons learned in cartographic data modeling, a tool we’ve been using for a few years now.  It’s called ScaleMaster, and we initially developed it to examine the idea that different kinds of geographic data (roads, lakes, rivers, contour lines, etc.) have differing levels of sensitivity to map scale change.  The “we”, in this case, was a collaboration between Dr. Cindy Brewer of The Pennsylvania State University, Dr. Barbara “babs” Buttenfield of the University of Colorado at Boulder, and ESRI.  ScaleMaster worked well to confirm our suspicions, and we also saw some additional utility in expanding ScaleMaster a bit.

The current ScaleMaster tool can also be used to document how your organization uses its data, how data work in your current maps, and as the basis for making decisions to help you or your organization leverage investments in geographic data as efficiently as possible.

But, rather than having me rehash how ScaleMaster works, I will instead refer you to the paper we just gave at the International Cartographic Conference in Moscow, Russia last week.  Also, to make our own work a bit more efficient, we created a blank scale master template in Microsoft Excel; additional worksheets are included with some examples to help you see how you may use the template,.  The idea is that you change the background color of the cells in the spreadsheet to indicate the state of your data’s use for a particular range of map scales.  Download the paper, presentation, and template [4.1 Mb].

What we’re sharing today is not automated, though we feel we can work from the concepts in ScaleMaster to build some tools to automate the evaluation of data. The goal would be to determine databases’ fitness for use over a range of scales and map purposes.  We also think we can create a tool that could evaluate your map and either describe inconsistent use of data relative to map scale and purpose, or provide a set of characteristics for data that you need to complete your map (helping you to narrow your search for that data).  That said, please let us know what you think of ScaleMaster, how you used or adapted it, or what was missing.


I am Chief Cartographer at Esri, and manage the Cartographic Projects Group on the Content Team. I started at Esri in the Software Products in 1994. I am currently the author of Esri's Ecological Land Unit services, global ecological content, and the World Population Estimate Services. Contact me at with questions or feedback.


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