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  • Colorbrewer - Online application for generating map colors, optimized for distinguishing color categories, and finding colors which are color blind friendly (8% of men / 0.4% of women) and print and photocopy friendly.
  • Open Office Calc - Calc can be used to edit the DBF (database) files associated with shapefile maps. It can be useful for example to remove unused columns and significantly reduce the size of the DBF for web publishing. Calc is part of the free Open Office suite.
  • Shape Viewer - A simple but useful free application for quickly opening and browsing shapefile maps.
  • StatPlanet - Web and desktop based software for creating interactive maps, using embedded maps or external shapefiles. See also the demo.
  • StatPlanet Cloud - A mobile-compatible version of StatPlanet with dashboard capabilities, and support for GeoJSON maps.
  • Quantum GIS - An open source Geographic Information System for editing, merging and simplifying shapefile maps. See also: creating maps with multiple layers using Quantum GIS.

Simplify and reduce the size of your maps

The following tools can significantly reduce the size of your maps. Please note that significantly simplifying maps your maps can lead to blocky or jagged map borders, as well as cause map areas smaller than the 'tolerance area' to simply disappear. Therefore please use this with caution and verify that all map areas are still present following simplification. MapShaper is the recommended tool for this, as it has options on startup to prevent map areas from disappearing following simplification.

  • MapShaper is a free web-based utility for simplifying a map and significantly reducing the size. Maps of over 50 mb can sometimes be reduced to less than 1 mb. It is therefore very useful for creating lighter weight maps suitable for online publishing (for example, for web-based interactive maps). MapShaper also has options for repairing intersections and preventing shape removal. The steps to simplify your map are as follows:
    1. Make sure to select 'repair intersections' and 'prevent shape removal' to avoid small map regions from disappearing and map area boundaries from intersecting themselves.
    2. Click on 'select' to upload the shapefile (e.g. map.shp).
    3. Once the map is loaded, drag the slider (in the top of the screen) to determine a suitable level of simplification. 
    4. If there are any line intersections, click on 'Repair' in the top-right corner of the screen.
    5. Click on ‘shapefile' in the export menu, in the top-right corner of the screen. Within a few moments, the new map will be downloaded.
    6. To update a map in StatPlanet, replace the file 'map.shp' in the map folder with the new .shp file just downloaded. The map.dbf file does not need to be modified.
  • Quantum GIS can also be used to simplify shapefiles. First import your shapefile map via the menu, 'Layer' -> 'Add Vector Layer'. Once it is imported, go to 'Vector' -> 'Geometry Tools' -> 'Simplify geometries'. Use the default 'Simplify tolerance' value or insert your own (increase the value to increase simplification). To save the result, check 'Save to new file', and browse to a location for the new map file. For more details, see also the following tutorial.