Template Design 101: Making Map Templates

Sample Map TemplateIn the audio book version of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (which comes across as an interesting lecture, by the way, and is not simply an uninspired reading of the book), Stephen R. Covey gives the humourous example of a boss conducting a meeting who sends a visitor a map that (due to a error) has the wrong city. The visitor is hopelessly confused, running lost down all the streets, expending all his energy to find his way. He calls up the boss, who demands, "Try harder!"

Aside from being an interesting allusion for the need to have a clear and correct plan in place, it's also an indication of the importance of maps. Now, I can't produce maps for every place, for every situation, that you might find yourself in. But what I can do is offer you an easy way to create a D*I*Y Planner style set of map templates of your very own.


  • OpenOffice.org 1.1.5 for Windows, Linux or Solaris, or NeoOffice/J 1.1 for Mac OS X, the free office suites

  • Blue Highway fonts, standard for all D*I*Y Planner templates (make sure that they are installed and working properly before beginning)

  • One or more high-resolution maps (see below)

  • The example template: map_na_tx.sxd (see the PDF version)

  • Optional: the D*I*Y Planner Widget Kit, if you wish to add more elements (like checkboxes or subheaders)

Note that this is not a tutorial on using OpenOffice.org Draw, but if you follow along the instructions very carefully, you should have no problems to creating some attractive and functional map pages.

Finding a Map to Use

First of all, you're going to have to find a map. There are plenty out there. The only problem is finding the right one, in the right format. If it's a world map or a continent you're after, you're in luck. The CIA World Factbook has a number of excellent up-to-date maps in both PDF and JPG format. While my sample file contains high-resolution graphics of topographical North America and world time zones, I've also taken the liberty of converting maps for the United States and Topographical Europe (click on these to view and save to your hard drive).

If you're looking for a particular country, state, province, region or city, you can start your search at the University of Texas Map Library, which has a rather extensive selection to choose from, as well as plenty of good links. You can also get creative and use Google Maps or MapQuest to find suitable maps for driving instructions, or you can locate or scan in subway maps, or perhaps even produce a map of your campus to find your way to all of the classes and buildings.

In any case, you should choose a bitmap map if possible: you'll recognise them because of the JPG, GIF, TIF(F) or PNG formats. The only problem here is that the file must be large enough to be legible. If the placenames and lines look clunky or difficult to make out, it probably won't look very nice when printed. I'd advise at least 800 pixels wide, but sometimes you can get away with less. (In your browser, right click on the image and look for Properties to see the size.)

If you can only find a PDF, EPS or AI file, all is not lost. Many professional-grade applications, such as Photoshop, can import the file and turn it into a raster graphic for you. (Note: OOo can import EPS and WMF files --and these will usually be of excellent quality-- but you might find that OOo will slow down to a crawl at times unless you have a very powerful system. If you prefer this, forge ahead with your EPS or WMF of choice.)

The Sample Template

Open the sample OOo Draw file. (You can also preview the PDF file, if you don't yet have OpenOffice.org or NeoOffice/J.) The first thing you should see is a Time Zone page, set with a title, a black header strip, a time zone map, some guide lines, and margins. The title is in Blue Highway 24, and the black strip is aligned for an odd (as opposed to even) page, with 1/2" on the left for punching holes, and 1/4" on the right.

Look down at the bottom of your screen, and you'll see three tabs. One is already selected --Time Zones-- since that's where we are. You'll also see North America and Widgets. Select each one in turn to view it, and then come back to Time Zones.

First of all, I want you to turn all the snap options on, so things snap into place more easily. Under View in the menu, you'll see three options under Snap Lines. Make sure each one has a tick by choosing it.

Switching the Maps

What you are going to do now is get rid of the maps you don't want, and insert your own. If your map is very high or long, you'll want to put it on the first page. If it's more square-ish (like the map of North America), you'll want to put it on the second. Go to the relevant page and delete the map that's there, and anything below it.

Now to insert your own map graphic. In the menu, choose Insert -> Graphics... and find the map you want to use. It should now appear on the page. If you need to rotate it, right-click on the image and choose Position and Size. When the dialog box comes up, go to the Rotation tab. Under angle, choose 90% or 270% (depending on how far you want to rotate it clockwise). Choose OK. If you've rotated it wrong, select Edit -> Undo and try again.

Sizing the Maps

Now, the map is probably too big or too small for the margins. Remember that we have to fit the image within the margins of the page. Note the lines coming down straight from the sides of the black strip at top. Those are your left and right margins for this page. The dotted line is a guideline for the hole-punching side, while the solid line is the regular page margin. Select your image, hold down the shift key, and drag each of the corners until the sides of the image are flush against the margins (like the North America map), or the image can't get any taller without going up past the header or down past the bottom margin (like the Time Zones map). Why shift? Well, that constrains the proportions. If you didn't do that, it would stretch and look strange. This may take a little trial and error. Be patient. When you finally have it fitting the margins, click the image and either move it using the mouse, or tap the arrow keys, to edge it into the right position on the page. I like a little bit of space beneath the header strip, but do whatever you think looks best.

Changing the Text

Whew. Almost finished. Next, you're going to want to put proper attribution on the map, to say where you got it. Jump to the Widgets page, select the "This map is in the public domain..." text, copy it, and paste it back into the page with your map. Double-click on the text, and you should be able to edit it to indicate your source.

Now, double-click on the big title above (where it says "Reference Maps") and change the title to something suitable for your page, like "New York Subway Map", "McGill Campus Map", "Map of Europe", or somesuch.

Making Note Space

Now, if your graphic is almost as wide (or wider) than it is tall, you're probably left with some space on bottom. What to do, what to do...? Well, you can't go wrong with a bit of note space, can you?

Here's a simple recipe for create note lines in OOo Draw. Click on the third slide, called "Widgets." You'll notice a thin horizontal dashed line. What you need to do is duplicate this a number of times so that you have a ruled note-taking area. Select the line and the word Notes. Copy them (Edit -> Copy). Now, click on the slide with your empty space. Paste your line and Notes title there and move them just beneath the map. Line them up with the margins so that they are in alignment with the black header strip up above.

Click outside on the empty space to de-select. Then select just the line. Choose Edit -> Duplicate... from the top menu. A box will pop up. The number of copies should be enough to fill out the rest of your page. Let's try 10 for now (we can delete excess later). The X axis is how far each duplicate should move to the right. Our duplicates should be going straight down, so set this to 0. Our Y axis is how far down each one should appear. Aha! now we're getting somewhere. Standard ruled paper is about 0.25". If you like a little less space, try 0.20". You shouldn't need to touch anything else. Click OK. Presto, ten ruled lines should appear. Now, you don't want any appearing beneath your 0.25" margin, so select and delete those with the delete or backspace key.

So how to you get that nice grey shaded box behind the lines? Well, that's simple, too. Choose the rectangle shape in the side menu. Create a rectangle that starts at the top left of the lines, and covers all of them to the bottom right. Eek. Probably an ugly blue, right? Look up above. See the "Blue 7" up there? We want another colour. Click on the colour's pull-down and scroll up and down the list to find Gray 10%. Select that. The box should now change to grey. The only problem is, it's covering the lines, isn't it? Not a problem. Right-click on the rectangle, choose Arrange -> Send to Back. Now we have a nice little grey box with lines. If your box is a little off the lines, click on the green handles and move the edges of the box accordingly.

Saving and Exporting

Well, that almost wraps it up. Choose File -> Save As... from the menu, and give your file a new name. But hey, you do want to share this file, don't you? But, dagnabbit, not everybody is using OOo (all the more the pity). Not a problem. Choose File -> Export as PDF. In the first dialog, specify the new name. In the second, specify the range of pages you want to export. For example, you may only want to create a PDF of the first two pages, so you can just write "1-2". Select "Print Optimized" and hit Export. You're done, and you have a beautiful map template to share with the world.

One last little tip. Some people like to print certain pages as even pages, while others might want odd pages. If you want to cater to these fine folks, insert a new slide before or after the existing one and copy and paste all the contents of your completed page to the new one. With everything selected, move it all over to the margin edge on the other side of the page. Now, when you export these two pages, one will be fit for printing on odd pages, and the other for even pages. Problem solved.

Be sure you trouble-shoot your templates by printing them a few times, and look out for those issues that might give some people problems or heartache.

Help and Feedback

Any questions or feedback should be directed to the Forum > Template Designs & Requests > Template Design 101: Making Map Templates. I'd love to know if you found this little tutorial helpful, and if you'd like to see more.

Don't forget to share your PDF creations in the Template Directory, as someone else out there would probably find them useful.

map_na_tz-2.pdf577.64 KB
map_na_tz.sxd1.86 MB
europe.jpg482.58 KB
united_states.png178.02 KB
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