12 julio, 2024

Cartographic signs: what they are, elements and examples

What are cartographic signs?

The cartographic signs They are symbols and characters that illustrate objects of reality in the field of a map. These signs have some of their own attributes, such as their meaning and location, and other attributes inherited from the map, such as scale or projection, among others.

These signs that are indicated on the map are, in turn, graphic symbols that represent an object of reality and that on many occasions are internationally agreed upon as conventions to facilitate their understanding.

Thus, cartographic signs can help to find from a place to eat, to a road.

Elements of the cartographic signs

Cartographic signs merge in the field of a map at least three important elements:

The inscription, that is, a signifier or a physical mark.
The referent, that is, the object or concept signified.
The location, or coordinates on an XY plane.

Objects or concepts commonly represented by cartographic signs

There are many, perhaps infinite, elements that can be represented in cartographic signs. It is common for these to allow the user to find the location of a fuel service station, a hospital or a camping area on a road.

Cartographic signs can also provide information to the user about the characteristics of a road, the presence of railway crossings or even the existence of rivers or other sources of water near said road.

Support elements in cartographic signs

The cartographic signs fail to give a complete explanation by themselves of what they want to represent. It is necessary to resort to support elements that allow the user to understand how the cartographic sign field is used.

An example of this type of elements are the legends. The legends provide the explanation of the different symbols, shapes and colors that appear on the map.

Among the most common support elements are:

Directional indicators.
Metadata projections.

Any other text or production that expands or clarifies the cartographic signs can also be part of these elements.

Aspects for the construction of cartographic signs

Cartographic signs can display various types of information about maps and their qualities. However, for this information to be transmitted correctly, several aspects must be taken into account during its construction.

By their nature, maps are concepts and by themselves do not represent anything. This implies that the cartographic signs must facilitate the user’s thinking, communication and decision-making based on biological, cultural and psychological factors.

Without taking these factors into account, the communicative purpose of cartographic signs cannot be achieved.

Another aspect that must be considered is that for the construction of the maps of the cartographic signs a process is carried out where certain objects or ideas are privileged over others.

These concepts are subsequently transformed into simple two-dimensional entities and statements are made that allow their understanding through classifications, symbolizations, and locations.

Examples of cartographic signs

Gas station or service station symbol. School symbol. From hotel. Of bridge. From church. From airports. From restaurant. Bar. Of museums. From train station. Shopping. Of places. Of parks. Of sports stadiums. From subway station. Of monuments. Of capitals. Of cycle paths. Of lakes. Of rivers.

Themes of interest

What are the Elements of a Map?


Harley, J. (1989). Deconstructing the map. Cartographica: the international journal for geographic information and visualization.
Henderson, G., Waterstone, M. (2009). Routledge. Geographic Thought: A Praxis Perspective.

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