How to create round maps in Print Composer

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably seen previews of my experiments with round maps. These experiments were motivated by a recent question on GIS.stackexchange whether this type of map can be created in QGIS and while it’s not very convenient right now, it is definitely possible:

http://www.quantarctica.org

All maps in this post are created using data from the Quantarctica project.

I’ve been planing to try the Quantarctica datasets for a long time and this use case is just perfect. When you download and open their project, you’ll see that they have already clipped all datasets to a circle around Antarctica:

Quantarctica project with some custom styling

Quantarctica project with some custom styling

Since the map of the full extent of the dataset is already clipped to a circle, the overview map is easy to deal with. The detail map on the other hand is rectangular by default:

circle_maps_start

Since we cannot change the shape of the map item, we have to use a mask instead. To create a circular mask, we can add an ellipse shape:

circle_maps_addellipse

The main challenge when creating the mask is that there is no inverted polygon renderer for shapes in print composer. I’ve evaluated to workarounds: First, I created a style with a wide white outline that would cover all map parts outside the circle shape. But this solution slowed the print composer down a lot. An alternative, which doesn’t suffer from this slowdown is using draw effects:

circle_maps_mask_style

In particular, I created a big outer glow effect:

circle_maps_mask_style_effect

Note that the effect only works if the symbol itself is not transparent. That’s why I set the symbol fill to black and used the Lighten blending mode:

circle_maps_mask

Voilà! Both maps appear are nicely circular.

It is worth noting though that this workaround has a downside: it is not possible to create automatic grids/graticules for these maps. The graticule in the overview map only works because it is a layer in the main project that was already clipped to the circular shape.

Finally, you can add more depth to your map by adding shadows. To create the shadow effect, I added additional ellipse items which are styled with a drop shadow draw effect. If you only enable the drop shadow effect, you will notice that the shadow is cut off at the ellipse bounding box. To avoid this undesired effect, you can add a transform effect, which reduces the size of the drawn shape and it’s shadow so that the shadow fits into the bounding box:

circle_maps_mask_shadow_effect

It requires some manual adjustments to place the shadow at the optimal location on top of the mask:

circle_maps_mask_shadow

Add another ellipse to create the shadow for the overview map.

For more cartography tips and tricks check my new book QGIS Map Design or join my QGIS training courses.

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