The Wild and Wonderful World of maps.stamen

3-D Map of Paris Tornado History Rentals in British Columbia
Boston Street Improvements Chicago Gun Sales SF Street Histories
Southern Segregation Live Weather Radar London Land Allotment
Los Angeles Metro Data World Map Quilt Submit Your Story
Surnames in Britain Iowa Flood Systems Paris Surveillance
The Battle of Fredericksburg Tweets of NYC Anti-social Behavior in London

Winding Up…

Well, we’ve sent in our Citytracking grant report to the Knight News Challenge team. I’m still working on a write-up of the last few months of Citytracking activity (since my last update post), and we’re planning to publish the actual grant report for other people to read on the blog. But! While you wait patiently, here’s a nice photo of a giant map out in the world.

The photo was sent to us by Martin von Wyss, in Victoria, Australia. We were proud to display a large (upside down) watercolor map of London in the map gallery at GeoNext, the conference in Australia for location-based technology & business:

State of the cartography

Once maps were special. They were collected, copied, encrypted, used to plan wars and proved wisdom and influence. The map was the muse for artists like Johannes Vermeer and Jasper Johns who made them the focus of paintings.

Now maps are commonplace and banal. As publishers fade away, map shops close and road atlases are replaced by GPS directions, do maps continue to fascinate artists?

A new exhibit of recent works puts the art back into cartography and coincides with the second GeoNext conference. Maps of big data, novel interpretations, emotions and ideas remind us that it isn’t the process or media that matter when a big, stationery, canvas is required.

A Couple More Months of

Following up on our April post, here’s another round-up of Watercolor, Toner and Terrain out there on teh internets.

Maps on Things

Today we launched Watercolor New York, the first print in a series of watercolor cities on Jen Bekman’s 20×200 site. We’ll be releasing more cities over the coming months, so keep an eye out. It’s a thrill for Stamen to be amongst the many artists already represented on 20×200, and lovely to see the watercolors in 30×40 inches of high resolution glory!

Along this theme, an enterprising chap named Sergey has taken the time to assemble map tiles into 3 posters of New York, London and Amsterdam, and popped them up as PNGs, PDFs or to buy as a print on a service called Red Bubble. Here’s to your first million, Sergey!

Ian Johnson painted some white Vans sneakers with Toner cities significant to him. (When can I get a pair, Ian?)


Riding on the Satellite Eyes wave of attention, maps popped up around the place on people’s desktops, and in the news…

Satellite Eyes is brilliant.
Photo by moleitau, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Information about Cities

Love this tweet from @spilliams:

“”well, somebody press the Easy button and let’s ship it! made with @LeafletJS and @stamen in 5 minutes.”

While it’s not exactly clear from his picture what he’s shipping—I suspect something beer-related—it’s fantastic to hear how easy it is to get up and running with our maps. There are more and more projects that are using CityTracking to share information.

Danny & Tom from Leeds Art Map have used Toner on their map of art and cultural happenings in Leeds. There’s an interesting echo with CityTracking in their project’s aims: “The project draws inspiration from Jacques Rancière’s notion of equality of intelligence. Rancière rejects the conventional relationship between master and student, specifically how this manifests as an ‘active teacher – passive receiver’ dynamic. This relationship, according to Rancière, encourages a superiority of those in the know over those who are not and need emancipating, thus perpetuating inequality. Instead, ordinary people should always have an assumption of intelligence, therefore fostering a relationship between bodies that initiates from a point of equality.”

Jack Reed has built a site that displays any and all health inspections for Atlanta restaurants on a Toner map. The service connects directly into the Georgia Department of Public Health, so viewers can see inspections for restaurants in their area. A simple map interface makes the GDPH information more available than it was before.

Newly crowned Poster Child for the entire CityTracking initiative, Marcus Wohlsen, a journalist at Wired Business, has started teaching himself web development to help him tell stories.

“I read a quote now lost in the mists of Twitter that not knowing how to program in the 21st century is like living in the Middle Ages and not knowing how to swing a sword. I think that analogy goes extra for journalists.”

We were chuffed at his lovely “tribute to Stamen’s amazing watercolor map tiles and great open-source tools such as Polymaps that make creating custom interactive maps a pleasure,” Ansel Adams in L.A...

And, in addition to writing up his process for creating the project, Marcus also created a template for other people to use. Just fantastic! Thank you, Marcus!

There are also individuals within big organizations and government beginning to use the maps, which is super exciting. Last week, Code for America announced a new initiative called 311 Labs, a platform to experiment with 311 data and communicate with each other about their work. One of the showcase projects, The Daily Brief, displays 311 tickets on Toner…

Amongst its myriad mandates, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) also registers antenna structures across the USA. You can see the location of the antennas being registered on either Toner, Terrain, or a couple of other maps styles not in CityTracking, called Nightvision and Light.

The studio was thrilled when we found out that venerable Sanborn mapping company, founded in 1866, had chosen the Terrain tileset on a recent project (even though the project was in response to a sad event). Sanborn’s local Denver community was devastated by the recent Waldo Canyon Fire, and Sanborn employees responded by creating a stunning map of aerial photography of the fire damage, and a Colorado-wide map of the state’s susceptibility to wildfires.

All in all, an amazing couple of months for CityTracking! Do let us know if you have other examples out there…

Detailed Toner v2 (2012) change notes

Eric gave a general overview of the changes we rolled out for Toner v2 in this post and this post. I’ll be digging into the technical details. But first, pictures!

Visual changelog for Toner 2012:

Toner v2 (2012 and 2011) uses High Road for more sophisticated roads and tucks San Francisco’s punky park mohawk under the water:

Toner changes thru time

There is a new “lite” version with toned-down contrast, better for printing out analog style or overlaying polygons client-side:

Toner changes thru time

We added reservoirs!

Toner changes thru time

And better about showing walking and biking paths through meadows and woods:

Toner changes thru time

Back in the urban grid, we’ve added subways and building footprints:

Toner changes thru time

Speaking of buildings, big ones get added as you zoom in, until you get to the most detailed zooms, where all buildings are drawn:

Toner changes thru time

We cleaned up labels so they don’t overlap as much:

Toner changes thru time

And added city labels worldwide:

Toner changes thru time

And now draw 漢字 and other non-Latin scripts correctly:

Toner changes thru time

General notes

  • Easy-to-use tiles: Stamen now hosts easy to embed Toner tiles with CC-BY-3.0 license from, thanks to the Knight Foundation and our grant! No server hardware or software setup needed, just start using the tiles in your favorite web mapping API client side. You can still roll your own tiles using the data and setup readme’s in the Github repo. Read more »

  • More international: Plays better outside of the United States! Now displays local names in non-Latin writing scripts (like Japanese and Arabic) and better accent marks in Europe. We optimized the road symbology to more places world wide. Issue 30

  • More Toner flavors: Introduces specific flavors of Toner optimized for map sandwiches, easy to integrate with for your custom map stories: toner-standard (toner), toner-hybrid-with-labels (toner-hybrid), toner-hybrid-only-lines (toner-lines), toner-hybrid-only-labels (toner-labels), toner-no-labels (toner-background). Issue 10.

  • Easy to read stylesheets: General stylesheet cleanup, consolidation. Restructured all the OSM roads using High Roads. Now uses Postgres views by zoom level, making it much easier to design what big, medium, and small roads should look like consistently between layers while abstracting the data part. Similar approach is taken for water bodies using Imposm tables. Issue 9

  • More content: Added reservoirs, state boundaries, and more. Map now zooms to 19+, important when you’re inventory mapping stories at the city block level where locations along a street or buildings/venues are helpful. Before, Toner stopped at zoom 18, but often when you’re looking at street-level incidents (as in, you need more detail Issue 18. Along with that, the transition between bold black roads and cased white roads now starts at zoom 18 and carries thru to zoom 19+ (Issue 17). This preserves the strong contrast of Toner, but also allows better use as a background map visually at these zooms so your story points stays in focus (and consumes much less ink if you print the maps using a service like Stamen’s Field Papers.

  • Urban wayfinding: At these most detailed zooms building footprints help us orient to the built landscape so we start adding those progressively in starting around zoom 14 (big airport terminals and convention center sized buildings) but most noticeably at zoom 16+. We also show metro (subway) stations now, helping navigate by landmarks in big cities like New York, London, and Tokyo. Issue 16, Issue 48, Issue 40.


  • Improved graphic styling of country boundary lines at zooms 8 and 9. Issue 27

  • Added state boundary lines at the city and regional zooms. Important for places like Washington DC where a metropolitan area sprawls across multiple admin-1 jurisdictions. Made sure they stack above the water and made upstream changes in OSM master data to allow for boundaries in the water that aren’t indicator level to be not shown in Toner when using newest OSM Issue 11, Issue 24, Issue 7, Issue 6, and Issue 50.

Map labels

  • Added support for international Unicode (UTF-8) labels from OSM by re-authoring fonts. Primarily seen in street labels and park names. Issue 30

  • Removed map label overlap by manually adjusting the Dymo output around other map features like bodies of waters, country labels, and state labels. Issue 34, Issue 35. Version 3 will address remaining occasional placement funk and overlap of marine labels.

  • Added in more city labels in zooms 9, 10, and 11 from Dymo Issue 15, Issue 1, Issue 51, Issue 29, Issue 27

  • Added new park labels progressively per the zoom. Issue 13, Issue 42.

  • Easier to read street labels at zooms 17+. Issue 25


  • Parks are now tucked under the water in the street-level maps. This is a OSM pecularity where some parks are mapped to the shoreline and others extend out into the water. As these are black-and-white maps, we take a shortcut by making a transparent pattern with the black stipples. When it’s over the water, the black park is still drawn, but the water is also black so win-win. Issue 12

  • Added reservoirs to the “inland water” aka “lakes” symbolization. Removed smaller lakes at zooms 8 to 12. Since the water is solid black, these tiny lakes attracted undue attention. Instead, they are now progressively added on each zoom in. This reduces visual noise in the map. Issue 23, Issue 45, Issue 39

  • For lake labels, similar progressive approach but with a slight zoom delay. Issue 44

  • Similar approach to adding parks progressively. Added full set of “green areas” in OSM, this captures cemeteries such as Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC. Issue 42, Issue 43, Issue 45


  • Now uses High Roads for all OSM roads in the mid- and street-level zooms. Issue 9, Issue 35

  • Now uses new Natural Earth 1.5 global roads in the world zooms. Issue 2, Issue 3 Issue 5, and Issue 6, Issue 52 Caveat, these are an early beta release from NE now.

  • Tunnel street labels are now grey to match their grey linework. Issue 22

  • Where tunnels pass under land, not just water, we introduce an additional grey outline as visual trim. Issue 21, Issue 49

  • Added airports! Symbolized and labeled using combination of Mile High Club and OSM. Issue 41

  • Added subway icons at zooms 18 and 19, helpful for city wayfinding. Issue 26


  • Added data import scripts to PostGIS, still rough.

  • Include explicate MML and MSS for the project, including label shapefiles, so it’s immediately deployable Issue 38, Issue 37

  • Updated the Issue 36


A beta version of Toner v2 was released in late 2011. The final v2 release mostly focuses on airport icons and making map labels more legibile (less overlap).

Just the streets, ma’am.

[By Eric Rodenbeck, cross-posted on the Stamen blog.]

The first thing I thought after we hung a copy of London’s Kerning, a printed map showing only the street names in London, in the studio, was: I want one of those for the rest of the world. “How hard can it be to just (people here love that) show the streets?”

As part of the CityTracking project, we’ve released six new map flavors that get pretty close: Terrain and Toner both now include layers with streets only, labels only, and background only.

C’est voila:

Toner: just streets

Toner: lite

Those finding Toner a little too, well, stark for their purposes (it can be a bit heavy on the printer cartridges, we’ve heard) will hopefully find Toner Lite a bit easier to work with.

Terrain: just streets

Terrain: just labels

Terrain: just background

We’ll follow up with some more detail about how to incorporate these into existing projects soon—many of the styles have transparent backgrounds, for example, so they can be used as layers on other maps—but for now: enjoy!

Toner V2 is live, and there are historical versions

[By Eric Rodenbeck, cross-posted on the Stamen blog.]

We’ve got some new additions to Toner, the black and white style that Geraldine started and that Nathaniel and Mike have been gradually improving this year. There are some fairly significant changes to the cartography stack all the way through, which you can read about in detail at the project’s visual changelog on GitHub. And of course everything’s open source and available for download as per the terms of the Citytracking grant.

We promised to do this work in public, so here goes. One significant thing we’ve decided to do is to keep older versions of the project around, so that we (and, hopefully, you) can compare the different versions of the maps. So when Nathaniel talks in his post about “shaving San Francisco’s Mohawk” from how it looked in 2010:

to how it looks in 2012, with a better coastline:

you can see it in situ. It’s pretty simple to change the urls:




The changes can be fairly visually dramatic, as in the addition of non-Roman scripts to places like Tokyo:

The thing about designing maps is that you’re never designing just one view. For one thing, it’s important to account for all the different zoom levels: it’s about showing more as you zoom in, but it’s also about showing different things at different scales. Choices need to be made at every level about the thicknesses of streets, which buildings to show, which city name to show, and so forth. Different places have different characteristics spatially; some are more dense than others, and you have to keep the whole system in mind. These two versions of the zoom into DC, from different years, gives a sense of the range of choices involved:



I’m not aware of any other mapping projects that let you look back in time as a design evolves this way.

Hello World!

Welcome to the CityTracking blog, from Stamen Design. There’s so much going on under the CityTracking banner we thought it was worth creating a new blog to keep track of it all.

Stay tuned for blog posts about new initiatives, examples of fabulous reuse of our CC-licensed map tiles, presentations & articles by Stamen staff about the project, and innovative related projects.

One other main feature of this website will be the development of a curated collection of tools for developers to use to construct various map-related features elsewhere on the web. We plan to build a “workshop” to visit to learn which components and tools are available to help you create mappish things. For example, you should be able to teach yourself how to print a wall-sized map, or how to create a map from a CSV file that contains a bunch of geo-coordinates.

We’ve also done a ton of work on CityTracking since we were awarded the Knight News Challenge, so we’ll be collecting all those bits and pieces, like Eric’s post about the project that he wrote for PBS back in November, 2010, to form something of an archive.

More soon!