Cartography or mapmaking (in Greek chartis - map and graphein - write) is the study and practice of making maps or globes. The making and study of maps in all their aspects, cartography consists of a group of techniques fundamentally concerned with reducing the spatial characteristics of a large area--a portion or all of the earth, or another celestial body--and putting it in map form to make it observable. Maps have traditionally been made using pen and paper, but the advent and spread of computers has revolutionized cartography. Most commercial quality Cartography maps are now made with map making cartography software that falls into one of three main types; CAD, GIS, and specialized map illustration cartography software. Cartography software is the most popular ways to make maps.
Maps function as visualization tools for spatial data. Spatial data is acquired from measurement and can be stored in a database, from which it can be extracted for a variety of purposes. Current trends in this field are moving away from analog methods of mapmaking and toward the creation of increasingly dynamic, interactive maps that can be manipulated digitally. The cartographic process rests on the premise that there is an objective reality and that we can make reliable representations of that reality by adding levels of abstraction.
In cartography, technology has continually changed in order to meet the demands of new generations of mapmakers and map users. The first maps were manually constructed with brushes and parchment and therefore varied in quality and were limited in distribution. The advent of magnetic devices, such as the compass and much later magnetic storage devices, allowed for the creation of far more accurate maps and the ability to store and manipulate them digitally.
Advances in mechanical devices such as the printing press, quadrant and vernier allowed for the mass production of maps and the ability to make accurate reproductions from more accurate data. Optical technology, such as the telescope, sextant and other devices that use telescopes, allowed for accurate surveying of land and the ability of mapmakers and navigators to find their latitude by measuring angles to the North Star at night or the sun at noon.
Advances in photochemical technology, such as the lithographic and photochemical processes, have allowed for the creation of maps that have fine details, do not distort in shape and resist moisture and wear. This also eliminated the need for engraving which further shortened the time it takes to make and reproduce maps.
In the mid to late 20th century advances in electronic technology have led to a new revolution in cartography. Specifically computer hardware devices such as computer screens, plotters, printers, scanners (remote and document) and analytic stereo plotters along with visualization, image processing, spatial analysis and database cartography software, have democratized and greatly expanded the making of maps.