Printing That Tricky Texas Map

The prairie sky – is wide and high

Deep in the heart of Texas.

Hurricane Harvey has forced all Americans to recommit their love for Texas. I’ve spent work time in Houston in the past. In fact, I had to evacuate one August day, and it was an ordeal. I can’t imagine the nightmare confronting our Texan brothers and sisters as they confront the aftermath of hurricane Harvey and related floods.

Our hearts and prayers go out to Texas.  Harvey Donation Information.

On occasion, a Map Business Online business mapping user desires a focused state map with county names displayed. For most states, that job is a walk in the park. But for Texas, printing that big state can be tricky; because after all, in Texas the prairie sky is wide and high. The only state more difficult is California, because they’re high. Wicked high. Well, wicked vertical anyway.

So, in this example we’re going to generate a plotter printable PDF file of Texas with county labels displayed, and the counties color coded by population.

My first move is to filter for the State of Texas only.  In Manage Map & Data I click the Filter by State button on the right end of the Map & Data tool bar. Inside that dialog I click Clear all. Then scroll down to Texas and select it. Click filter and you’re all about Texas.

Next, I turn on my County Layer in Manage Map & Data. The counties for Texas should now display.  There are two operations I want to conduct on that county layer.  First, under the General Tab (along the right side you’ll see tabs) I click Color Code Map Layer.

Color Code Map Layer

This color code function lets the Map Business Online user color code those counties by demographic data or data that you may have imported or created or imported. In this case we’re using population data. Demographic options appear immediately. If instead, I wanted to color code based on my own imported data I’d use the drop down to find that data.

The user can scroll through all the demographic options listed. There are many.  I went with 2017 US population projections. I chose 5 range colors and I sorted my population ranges to my liking. I like applying different colors to show county changes by demographics. Lots of people use color gradations. It’s up to you. Click Done to process the color shading scheme.

Sizing and Fitting Labels

The second operation I want to apply to my county layer is label adjustments. The real challenge when creating a large PDF for Texas is county labels. If you can live without a few counties here and there, well than you’re all set. But if you want every county label displayed, we’ve got some work to do.

You might ask why all the fuss? Mapping applications are truly wonderful examples of advanced technology. Think of online mapping tools as a big database array containing hundreds of visual layers – sometimes more. Those layers must be controlled or your map becomes difficult for your viewers to comprehend, which defeats your map purpose.

Imagine you were viewing a map of the entire contiguous USA with every ZIP code and Census Tract (including labels) turned on. What you would see is junk. A big pile of lines and letters, undecipherable to the viewer. Your map would be a cluttered mess.

To avoid map clutter, mapping applications are designed to control what layers are turned on at specific zoom levels. In Map Business Online we’ve allowed users to override those controls to some extent. For instance, if you import 10,000 records spread across the USA we will let you turn on all the labels. But we advise against it. Try it and see.

A cluttered map example.

Controlling Your County Labels

In Manage Map & Data, hover over the County Layer and click the Edit Gear. This time, choose the Label Tab.  All map layers are edited the same way in Map Business Online.  We refer to our standard county, ZIP code and state labels as Auto Labels. So, in the County Layer label editing, look to the bottom where the Check Box is selected next to “Auto-labels.”

To enable all of my county labels on my Texas map I’m going to do two things:

  1. In the Auto Label Drop Down that says Normal – for font size – change it to small.
  2. In the Drop Down called “Start labeling from” – change it to World. This means your counties will appear when you’re at a worldwide zoom level. The application won’t necessarily show all of them, but they will start to appear at the worldwide zoom level

You can try other adjustments. Experimentation is always encouraged. But I don’t think there are alternatives that solve this Texas problem any more effectively.

Saving Your Texas Map

I’ve tried printing the Texas map image on standard desktop printer pages – 8 x 11.5 and Ledger, etc. That desktop print is just not going to fit all those county labels. To get all those county labels on one printed map we’re going to have to set up a large format PDF file.

Now, I know from experience that to get the output image I want, I need to Zoom in to the map a bit. So, centering my map view around Texas I zoom in my map using the scrollbar Zoom (upper right) to the level labeled Multi County 50%.

Then I click the Print button and choose the lower option: Save Map as PDF… And I choose the first PDF option – Print map that will center on current map view… click Next.

Here’s where serious experimentation comes into play.  I created multiple PDF files to get this right. But as I saved new PDF versions, I made sure to name them all “Texas.PDF” in the same file folder, overwriting the previous file every time. This avoided creating a pile of large images of Texas in my Picture Folder.

Here are some of the print settings I arrived at:

  • For custom paper size: 24″ x 24″. Texas is relatively square in terms of paper shape
  • For margins: I set the top and bottom margins to .001 to squeeze in every inch of Texas
  • For multiple pages: I left that at 1 x 1 because I was printing to one large page. You can play with this to print this on your desktop printer across multiple paper sheets

Click next to save the file as a PDF, which takes a few minutes.  View the file, see if it works for your audience. If you need to adjust, go back and try again and save the file under the exact same name in the exact same location to overwrite the file.

PDF files in Map Business automatically move the map legend to the lower left corner. So don’t waste time trying to edit the legend or its placement.

In many ways map making is all about decision-making. Map creators have always needed to decide what layers to include and what to leave off. Those decisions had significant impact on where the great explorers traveled, how battles were fought, and perhaps today helping to decide which counties in Texas get the new Starbucks.

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