Job Description and Salary Range of a Cartographer

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Job Description and Salary Range of a Cartographer

A cartographer is one who collects information for maps of all kinds. The CareerStint article below will enlighten you regarding the job description and salary range of a cartographer.

“By bringing research on visual perception to bear on design, cartographers can make maps that are more effective and more intuitive to understand.”

― Cynthia A. Brewer , Head of Geography department, Pennsylvania State University

A cartographer, as defined, is someone who researches on different subjects, collects geographic and topographic information, and produces maps and related diagrams. Cartography is a unique and fascinating field to work in, especially if you have an interest in subjects, like geography, geology, archeology, etc. You will need to pay close attention to detail, since the information you will depict in a visual format will be viewed as a reference. In the following paragraphs, you will find a detailed description of the duties of a cartographer as well as his salary.

Job Profile

What does a cartographer do, exactly? The job description includes more than just collecting geographic data, because he is responsible for a number of duties, listed below:

  • To capture, collect, and maintain geographical data.
  • To work with GIS (Geographical Information Systems) in order to analyze landscapes.
  • To design maps, layouts, and make other graphical illustrations for publishing books and journals.
  • To use different tools and software for designing styles and formats.
  • To communicate data through shapes and symbols.
  • To use Computer Aided Design (CAD) software to produce graphs and charts.
  • To research and evaluate authentic data for maps.
  • To analyze every kind of information, and discuss with the survey team regarding the same.
  • To understand and analyze data obtained by means of remote sensing, from satellite sensors, for predicting about the environment of the earth.
  • To discuss and decide map scaling.
  • To work on 3D photographs, obtained by means of digital photogrammetric workstations or related plotting instruments.
  • To design related databases.
  • To verify accuracy of digital data.
  • To keep abreast of newer techniques.
  • To identify complex problems and relay reliable information.
  • To brainstorm solutions to have an effective design structure.
  • To use mathematics and logic to find out alternative solutions.
  • To understand scientific rules, interpret related data, and monitor performance.
  • To build 3D models using light detection and ranging technology (LIDAR).
  • To appraise and collate technological and topographical content.
  • To collaborate with external sources on how to use, access, and verify aerial and satellite images.


  • Keen attention to detail
  • Accuracy and Precision
  • Determination
  • Hard work
  • Patience
  • Innovative
  • Highly creative
  • Meticulous design skills


  • You will require a bachelor’s degree program in any of the following disciplines: mathematics, geography, geology, cartography, geomatics, civil engineering, design, etc.
  • You can also try for subjects like earth sciences, survey studies, structural engineering, marine sciences, oceanography, geophysics, geochemistry, remote sensing, photogrammetry, etc.
  • Cartographers may start off with some other designation, before eventually working on their forte.
  • You must have sufficient computer knowledge, in fact, a degree in software engineering will help too, i.e., you will start with the related work from your field that helps cartography, and eventually move beyond the technical aspects to what the actual job is.
  • Diplomas or courses in design will help too, because you will be dealing with figures and symbols.
  • The scope of the field is very high, you can start off with alternatives, like a seismologist, geomatics/hydrographic surveyor, geophysicist, oceanographer, photogrammetrist, archaeologist, graphic designer, software engineer, construction engineer, etc., before you reach out to extensive mapping projects, working on political, marine, and tourist maps and more, plotting geographical features, road and structure construction, etc.
  • Remember that some states require cartographers to be licensed.


  • The starting salary could be lesser, anywhere between USD 15,000 to USD 25,000.
  • Salaries rise with seniority, however, you could be paid depending on the state, the need, and the agency.
  • According to the BLS, the average salary of a cartographer is more than USD 56,000, annually.
  • With experience, the figure could increase up to USD 90,000.
  • If you are working on an hourly basis, your fee varies, you can earn approximately between USD 20 and USD 45 per hour.
  • As a freelancer, you can charge your fee based on your services.
  • Your designation matters in consideration with your salary, as well as your work place.
  • For instance, if you work with an independent navigation consulting firm, you can earn more than USD 50,000, annually.
  • In contrast, if you are working with the federal government, you can earn up to USD 80,000.
  • The same concept works with hourly wages; an independent mapping service or architectural firm may offer you around USD 25 per hour, while the federal government will offer around USD 40.

Job Outlook and Prospects

  • Cartographers have a variety of job roles at work, as mentioned above.
  • As they rise up the ranks, they have to manage multiple projects, assign responsibility, manage staff, etc.
  • They need to have a lot of technical expertise, since they deal with complicated equipment and software every day, not to mention the never-ending analysis of topographical, aerial, and hydrographical data to design maps, update charts, perform calculations, etc., using electronic transfer, remote sensing, and computerized mapping.
  • According to the BLS, the growth in this field is believed to rise by 20% by 2022.
  • It has great job prospects, with the number of vacancies on a steady rise every year.
  • You work environment will mostly be a regular job if you are working on computerized software and digital data.
  • However, you could be subject to extensive traveling if you are researching and collecting data.
  • You can find work in mapping agencies, government organizations, independent consultancies, the armed forces, architectural and engineering firms, etc.

By the looks of it, the field of cartography seems to be a fascinating mixture of the scientific as well as the analytical subjects. You need to comply with the work conditions and demands, of course, like every other field. But if you have a deep interest and passion, nothing will stop you from reaching the top. All the best.

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