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Extreme Cartography

World's Largest Atlas Produced with ArcGIS

photoThe world's largest atlas made its debut at an appropriate venue—the Frankfurt Book Fair, the world's largest trade fair for books, held each October in Germany. The atlas, created by Sydney, Australia, publisher Millennium House and named Earth: Platinum Edition, measures 183 by 137 centimeters (6 x 4.5 feet), weighs 120 kilograms (264 pounds), and sells for US$100,000. Only 31 copies will be produced. The atlas contains 128 pages and more than 45 images of the finest contemporary maps, as well as images of famous landscapes, and is considered an artistic showpiece: a time capsule for collectors and institutions, including museums and universities. The last time an atlas close to this size was published was in the 17th century.

With regard to the images, the quality and resolution demanded for a book of this size has resulted in Millennium House sourcing some amazing images for the book. These images are created using the Gigapan process, which stitches together many images (sometimes hundreds) to create one massive image.

A team of cartographers around the world worked together to create the book. This process took two years from data collection to final production. Demap, one of Australia's leading custom mapping service companies, spearheaded the effort. Working as the chief cartographic consultant, Damien Demaj, former director of Demap, oversaw the collection and management of the data. Demaj was able to collect source map data from 60 collaborating cartographers around the world and manage it using ArcGIS—primarily ArcMap and Maplex.

Many cartographers were found through their affiliations with local chapters of organizations such as the International Map Trade Association (IMTA) and the International Cartography Association (ICA). "Just as we go to a person who lives in a particular location for a recommendation about a great restaurant in that place," explains Demaj, "we went to the local cartographers, since they know both the physical and political data of their regions the best."

Production of the atlas started from scratch. Cartographers were given style sheets and instruction booklets for how to prepare the data. Detailed questionnaires were prepared to understand the data that was available in each area. Where possible, national mapping organizations (NMO) in each country were consulted. If an NMO did not exist, data was checked against satellite imagery. Any questions that surfaced, such as the placement of political boundaries or correct location names, were brought to the attention of the local cartographer or academic organization for an unbiased decision.

Demaj was able to bring the resultant map sheets, including line work, point data, and labels, together in a tiling process and merge them all using ArcGIS. "This was the best stable environment to use with such a massive amount of data," says Demaj.

The atlas employed ArcGIS to not only prepare the data but do the publishing as well. Maps were given only final touches in Adobe Illustrator then printed. Earth: Platinum Edition uses a variety of projections throughout to present maps that are aesthetically pleasing. Working with such large maps presented many challenges, including trying to visualize and gain a perspective on how the design, style, and layout of the maps would look through 22-inch monitors.

"In the past, the publishing and GIS worlds haven't really understood each other," explains Demaj. "I've found through this process that GIS can be used to produce beautiful cartography and an extraordinary atlas. It's as though the GIS producers are listening to publishers and we are finally meeting in the middle."

A smaller version, titled Earth Blue (610 x 469 millimeters, or 18 1/2 x 24 inches), is also available and is on display in Esri's corporate headquarters.

For more information regarding the cartography, contact Damien Demaj at For inquiries about Earth: Platinum Edition, contact Millennium at

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