Ordnance Survey Blog – Styling maps made easy

Styling maps made easy

By , 16, July, 2013 8:00 am

At Ordnance Survey we are committed to ensuring that our products are as easy to use as possible.

There is a growing need for our customers and partners to visually present our vector products in a suitable style, increasingly when it comes to serving mapping over the internet. For example, many companies serve Ordnance Survey maps via their Intranet service. Setting up these types of web-based services can be quite a time consuming process. Once all the geographic data has been loaded into a suitable database it can often take a while to apply the cartography – the visual portrayal of the data.

Understanding this, in December last year we released a set of Styled Layer Descriptors (SLDs) as one approach to help reduce the time and resource needed to properly apply cartographic styling. SLDs are commonly used in conjunction with a web server to style data for a web map service (WMS). Our SLDs have been developed in an open structured format and can also be converted to desktop GIS readable style sheets, enabling vector products to reflect the familiar Ordnance Survey look and feel.

Making sense of the data – styling Meridian 2 using our SLDs (raw data on the left vs. styled data on the right)

The SLDs can be downloaded free of charge under an open license which allows the modification of map features e.g. changing the colour of roads. They are available for all the products that we serve through our own WMS, OS OnDemand, including OS MasterMap Topography Layer and OS VectorMap Local.

Forth Valley GIS have recently migrated the SLDs into their own WMS. According to David Frankland, Systems Consultant, “having the SLD’s has saved approximately five days work for at least one (or two) of our developers/GIS support staff, so in terms of time and resource they have been very useful.”

Since December we have updated some of the SLDs to reflect product updates, style improvements and also in response to customer feedback. We have also been pleased to see members of the open source geospatial community sharing their own styles and experiences.

Lutra Consulting, a UK-based solution provider in the water engineering sector recently used our styles for OS Strategi to create Quantum GIS (QGIS) layer styles (.qml files) making it extremely easy for QGIS users to visualise this popular, small scale vector product.

Some customers will want to create a unique, custom style for their mapping, often to fit in with their branding. Our SLDs act as a great starting point for this and greatly reduce the amount of effort required. All the symbology is included in the SLD download pack so all a customer needs to do is tweak the colour values, feature weights and fonts in order to create a different look and feel. It is also easy to select the maps content and remove any features that are not required.


Our SLDs make it easy to create custom styles for our vector mapping products. This image shows 5 different styles applied to OS VectorMap Local

We will seek to continually improve on the cartographic styles that we offer in terms of both the visual output and usability. We also look forward to seeing more innovative uses of our data. You can see some great examples that have been developed using OS OpenData.

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