Typographic map posters

by Andy Woodruff on September 30, 2010

Today we’re pleased to show off a pet project that’s been occupying us off and on for nearly two years. After some emotional separation issues, we are declaring finished a few typographic map posters—one of Boston, and color and black and white flavors of Chicago. Everything in these maps is made of type.

Chicago typographic map

Chicago typographic map

Boston typographic map

These look good hanging on a wall, so of course prints are available. Check out the page we’ve set up with some more detailed images and links to get copies for yourself.

I began this project with the Boston map, thinking it would be fun to expand the style of my small party announcement map to a full city. The idea caught on here at Axis Maps and soon Mark and Ben had parallel effort underway for a map of Chicago, a city to which several Axis Mappers have some affinity. Ben took the lead on that map, and some twenty months later we both added our respective finishing touches and reluctantly let go.

There was nothing automated about making these maps, unless you count copying and pasting. Everything was laid out manually, from tracing streets over an OpenStreetMap image, to nudging curved water text, to selectively erasing text to create a woven street pattern. The Boston and Chicago maps differ in style, but the end result is similar: from a distance it can appear as an accurate reference map, and as you get closer you notice the thousands of words it comprises.

This has been a fun, if long, process, and we hope other people can enjoy these maps as much as we have. There are only two cities for now, but look for more in the future! Our list right now is San Francisco, New York (Manhattan), and Washington, D.C.

There are 99 comments in this article:

  1. September 30, 2010Peter says:

    These look fantastic. Great work!

  2. September 30, 2010Tom bridge says:

    I looooove the concept. Can’t wait to see DC!! I would by a huge one for my office!

  3. October 1, 2010tanya buckingham says:


  4. October 1, 2010dvs says:

    Looks like ORK finally has some competition for cool maps! Seattle next, please!

  5. October 2, 2010Carfree Chicago says:

    These are incredible and I love the concept and execution, but I couldn’t help notice that for Chicago the freeways had prominent treatment but the train lines were left off altogether. I’m curious, was that a conscious decision? The L heavily shapes my experience of the city, so a map without it just doesn’t feel like Chicago to me.

  6. October 2, 2010Joel says:

    Fantastic! Who would not want one of these?!

  7. October 2, 2010ben says:

    Hi Carfree Chicago, thanks for your comments!

    Yes, in fact, we had an early version of the Chicago map with the train lines on it. In that map, the word “CTA” was repeated along each line and color-coded to match the Chicago Transit Authority’s color scheme. Where multiple lines ran in parallel, we used a single line with words of alternating color to save on space. Unfortunately, despite our space-saving efforts, we ran into trouble in places where both train lines and streets fully coincided. This was especially problematic in the Loop where the ‘L’ runs directly above the streets. One or the other feature had to go in order to keep the map legible. We were sad to say goodbye to the train lines, but in the end we just couldn’t squeeze them in. Perhaps one day we’ll make a larger scale version of the Chicago map that focuses on a smaller part of the city (The Loop to the lakefront?). This could give us the space we need for train lines and a bunch of other neat features as well (building footprints, Millennium Park attractions, etc).

  8. October 2, 2010Carfree Chicago says:

    Ben — Thanks for the reply. I can see how that would be a challenge. A figure ground map in this style of a neighborhood or the Loop including the train would be very cool indeed.

  9. October 3, 2010Andy Woodruff says:

    Ben, “early versions” were so long ago for these maps that I can’t remember that one with the L on it. Now I’m gonna make you dig it up from the archives!

    The T (how nice that both these cities use single-letter nicknames for their transit systems) was never put to paper on the Boston map, but I’d considered trying it and was scared away by the same problem of lines coinciding with streets—at a smaller scale than the Chicago map.

    Large scale maps and creative solutions to the space constraints would both be interesting challenges.

  10. October 4, 2010ben says:

    Hey Andy – So, I dug around in the archives and found an old version of the map with the train lines. As you can see, things were looking not so good in the loop where there’s a lot of street/train overlap. However, things were not so bad in other parts of the city.

    Besides going with a larger scale map, the two solutions that initially came to mind when thinking about the conflict between streets and train lines were 1) displacing street and/or train routes off of their true locations to make room for both, or 2) somehow integrating the “CTA” text into the lines of repeating street names. I felt uneasy about the former and to be honest never gave the latter a whole lot of thought. But maybe something like this would be worth considering in a future version.

  11. October 6, 2010Lauren says:

    I LOVE these maps. They are amazing. I would love one of NYC or Brooklyn. I hope they are in the works.

  12. October 7, 2010Kristie says:

    AMAZING. I shared this with ALL of the Art Institute. Hope you do Seattle soon!

  13. October 7, 2010Michael says:

    Beautiful! Please think about Milan and Rome, Italy!

  14. October 7, 2010Caleb says:

    Beautiful. I am not sure weather to file my new subscription to this blog as art or cartography!

  15. October 7, 2010Mungewell says:

    Very interesting and beautiful maps, although “nothing automated about making these maps” sounds like an awful lot of work….

    Regarding the CTA routes ‘colliding’ with street names; Did you consider putting the CTA in reverse (coloured background with white letters)?

    That way where there was a collision the street name could take preference (in normal colour/black with appropriate background colour), but still hint that there was a train route following the same path.

    Anyhow, very impressive.

  16. October 7, 2010MK says:

    Lovely! A map of either (or both!) Minneapolis and St. Paul would be wonderful (still waiting on the ORK folks for that one…).

  17. October 8, 2010ben says:

    Mungewell, thanks for the suggestion! I’m not sure if this is exactly what you’re talking about (?), but I experimented with the idea on a very small portion of the green and orange lines. These lines coincide with Holden Ct. north of Roosevelt Rd (but don’t collide with a street south of that intersection). It probably could use some tweaking here and there, but shows promise, I think.

  18. October 9, 2010Carfree Chicago says:

    Or for the CTA lines, what if the lines were just delineated with a different font color slicing through all the words?

    Or maybe a separate map altogether of neighborhoods, train lines and stations and only major arterial streets?

    Of course, you’re the ones putting all the time into it, so feel free to ignore me!

  19. October 10, 2010laFrancese says:

    sono bellissime, complimenti! ^_^

  20. October 10, 2010Sarah says:

    I LOVE these! I would definitely buy a Washington, D.C. and a Detroit :)

  21. October 11, 2010Spencer says:

    I’d buy a Detroit for my office and for home.

    I know a store here that would stock these for you too.

  22. October 11, 2010Russell says:

    I will buy a San Francisco copy the day they come out. Is there an ETA?

  23. October 11, 2010Joshua Taylor says:

    I think this is just plain fantastic. And of course I’d love to buy one – especially if letterpressed. The care and detail is just plain awesome. I’d be interested to see if this style of map would actually help people find their destination any easier. Have you done any research on that front?

  24. October 11, 2010Sue says:

    One word: WOW.

  25. October 11, 2010firefrorefiddle says:

    An extraordinary achievement! Such a labor of love. I’m ordering right now … and I have to agree with Joshua Taylor — these are already fantastic, but would be TO DIE FOR if letterpressed! (I’m a Boston to SF transplant and now can’t WAIT for you to tackle the City by the Bay!!)

  26. October 11, 2010Carl says:

    Please, please, please do one of these for Philadelphia. I have a serious soft spot for both cartography and typography, so this is like aesthetics heaven here!

  27. October 11, 2010Andy Woodruff says:

    Wow, we are blown away by all the love for these maps. Thank you all for your kind words and support! How wonderful to see that other people enjoy maps as much as we do.

    @Russell – We hesitate to broadcast any ETA, but suffice it to say we’re aiming for the next maps to be done much more quickly than the 20 months it took for the first couple.

    @all the city requests (here and on Twitter) – Too soon for any promises of course, but hopefully we will get to them all sooner or later!

  28. October 11, 2010Justin says:

    Is there a Seattle map planned, by chance? I would buy one of those in a heartbeat!

  29. October 11, 2010Jay says:

    These are so great. Very well put together!

  30. October 11, 2010pearldoc says:

    Please,please,please, consider doing Seattle. Planning on buying two Chicago’s but would love to see Seattle as well. Thank you

  31. October 12, 2010Liz says:

    These are amazing!! I would love an LA/OC map!

  32. October 12, 2010Jay says:

    Unbelievable. One for San Diego would be great!

  33. October 12, 2010Adam says:

    Let me know when you’re doing London, UK or Toronto, ON !!!

  34. October 12, 2010Jessica says:

    Philly! Downtown grid map would rule!!

  35. October 12, 2010susan says:

    These are beautiful! Please add SF and Oakland too!

  36. October 12, 2010Becky says:

    Beautiful, beautiful work! I am adding my votes for Seattle and London, and purchasing the Boston one! Nicely done!

  37. October 12, 2010Paul says:

    Gorgeous! Eager to see Seattle and Paris …

  38. October 12, 2010Jackie says:

    I can’t wait to see San Francisco!

  39. October 12, 2010Slim Paley says:

    I would love to buy a map, a vowel, and most of all, your PATIENCE!!

  40. October 13, 2010Sol says:

    What a great piece of work!

  41. October 13, 2010Peter says:

    Just spectacular work! That said, I think that alternative printing methods would make for even better posters. I’m thinking (as were Joshua Taylor and firefrorefiddle) in particular about LETTERPRESS! How perfectly elemental would that be?!? Certainly would be more expensive, but maybe you could do a limited edition, signed and numbered letterpress run of each map for those willing to part with the extra cash?

    p.s. Really excited to see NYC.

  42. October 13, 2010Jed says:

    +1 for San Diego. If you do one, I’ll invite you over for dinner and take you to the beach.

  43. October 13, 2010Suzanne Long says:

    Echoing Adam above, please let me know when you do Toronto, Canada or London, UK.

  44. October 13, 2010Chason says:


  45. October 13, 2010Derek says:

    These are amazing! I know you have a bunch of requests already, but I would definitely buy an Atlanta map, having lived there for most of my life. It would be challenging for your people though given the roads..

  46. October 13, 2010Justin Campbell says:


  47. October 13, 2010Steve Benfield says:

    This is excellent. As a lover of cartography and a collector of antique maps, your project really got me jazzed up — just when I think that the paper map can’t get better, you guys innovated something quite useful and aesthetically pleasing. EXCELLENT WORK!

  48. October 14, 2010Valerie says:

    These are so stunning. Please do Houston! Come on guys, you are in Texas! :-)

  49. October 14, 2010Wakeskater says:

    When you make one of Atlanta I will buy them up like crazy!

  50. October 14, 2010Craig says:

    I second Philadelphia as a future project. The work is truly an awesome use of typography.

  51. October 14, 2010Adrienne says:

    I second the Houston request. I’ve been looking for an antique map, but this is really more my style.

  52. October 14, 2010Josh says:

    Very well done but they are soo similar to Paula Scher’s maps. http://mayastendhalgallery.com/paulaScherArt_00.html

  53. October 14, 2010Michael says:

    These are fantastic, especially for a typography geek! I’ll second the Seattle request!!

  54. October 15, 2010Figatellix says:

    +1 for San Diego too !

    I’m looking forward to see you new maps. Great job. Good luck !

  55. October 15, 2010christian says:

    Please consider starting individual projects for different cities on websites like http://www.kickstarter.com/ so that people can vote with money their city!

  56. October 15, 2010Caroline says:

    Great work!
    Can’t wait to see how it looks like with London! I’ll buy one for all my friends on the very day you launch the London version!
    Is there a way to stay in touch and be updated about your coming creations?
    cheers, Caroline

  57. October 15, 2010Amy says:

    These are amazing. Are you working on other cities? if so which ones? can you please do Philadelphia.

  58. October 16, 2010Mark says:

    Fantastic concept, 1 vote from me for Sydney (the one Down Under, not the one in Canada) if you are looking for other cities to tackle.

  59. October 16, 2010kate says:


  60. October 17, 2010Chris says:

    Wow…please do Toronto next!

  61. October 18, 2010Carl says:

    One more vote for San Francisco AND New York! Can’t wait to have both!

  62. October 19, 2010Emily says:

    Please do San Francisco next! The bay and bridge would look awesome!

  63. October 20, 2010eva says:

    Fantastic!! I love typography and this is new way to use it. Lovely concept.

  64. October 20, 2010Rachel says:

    These are gorgeous!!! Would you ever consider doing single color prints like the B&W in different colors? Like the various colors of the ORK maps? I love the simplicity of the B&W but it would be nice to see it a little more lively with other single colors. Amazing work!

  65. October 20, 2010Andy Woodruff says:

    Sorry to slack on answering any of the questions asked in comments here; we continue to be a bit overwhelmed by all the positive response!

    When we’re not busy with our usual custom interactive map work (i.e. during those dark cartography nights), we’ve got our hands full with the next set of cities (San Francisco, Manhattan, Washington DC), but all the requests are duly noted for the future, of course. It’s great to see everybody’s enthusiasm for their hometown.

    As for the few other more print-related questions, we’ve just stepped into this so it may be some time before we venture into fancier varieties and such, but we’re definitely considering the various possibilities.

    Thanks again everyone!

  66. October 21, 2010flex says:

    I vote for both San Francisco and New York.
    As a French reader, I would love to see such a map for Paris.

  67. October 21, 2010mike says:

    You guys need to keep it real and do a map for Madison!

  68. October 23, 2010Holly says:

    I LOVE the Chicago map! Wow…really impressive, and thanks for the labor of love :)

    Agreed–the CTA lines are trickier to do, but I liked the example here of colored backgrounds for where the streets and the L overlap.

  69. October 24, 2010Dan B says:

    Love these maps. Any chance of a Philadelphia one in the near future?

  70. October 27, 2010Ben says:

    Throw another vote on for an L.A. map. These are great!

  71. November 3, 2010Jordan says:

    Love these. Would buy a London (UK) one at the drop of a hat.

  72. November 4, 2010Rhys Ulerich says:

    Austin please! I’d love to buy one.

  73. November 6, 2010Tom Buckley says:

    Ditto Josh’s comment. It might make sense to, at least, link to Paula Scher’s work.

  74. November 7, 2010csaba says:

    it ts original!
    Can we have same parts of it for wallpaper?

  75. November 11, 2010Scott says:

    These maps are amazing and I would buy one of my home city (Indianapolis) in an instant if it were available.

    However, it seems like these maps are very labor intensive and mostly manual. Seems like the time it would take to put one together from scratch, could be more effectively used creating a program that would do a large majority of the heavy lifting. Obviously you’d still have to go back and make tweaks and small adjustments that a program couldn’t figure out, but then you’d be using your valuable time making higher level adjustments which would ultimately increase the number of maps you could get done in a given period of time. (There are a lot of smart programmers out there, that would love to be a part of something as cool as this. You just gotta find them.)

    Either way, great job!

  76. November 11, 2010Megan Taylor says:

    These would be even better if they were printed with a letterpress and the type was set by hand.

  77. November 16, 2010SQ says:

    These are gorgeous! Can’t wait to see the DC one.

  78. November 19, 2010David says:

    Would love to see a London or Copenhagen one

  79. November 22, 2010Howard says:

    Is there some way to get an e-mail alert when the new ones are finished? I’m interested in San Francisco!

  80. November 29, 2010talvin says:

    Would love to order for SF or NYC :)

  81. December 7, 2010Eddy B says:

    Just bought a Boston one—23″x 34″—truly an amazing piece of work. Currently living in D.C. and would love to know when that one is coming out—I got some great ideas on spreading the word about these maps; email me sometime.

    They should be in every home!

  82. January 7, 2011carolyn says:


  83. January 19, 2011Vgriff says:

    Another vote for Seattle! These are so beautiful, I must own one and buy several for gifts.

  84. January 21, 2011Doug says:

    Please, please, please do London!

  85. January 21, 2011naoya1972 says:

    Nice poster!! I will buy

  86. February 3, 2011Harold says:

    +5 San Diego

    I’ve already spoken to several people and they are in for a San Diego poster as well……

  87. February 4, 2011Amber says:

    Any chance a Canadian city (VANCOUVER) could be put on the consideration list? These are absolutely beautiful!

  88. February 8, 2011Aly says:

    Any ETA for Washington, DC? Just want to know how often to check back :-)

  89. February 8, 2011Andy Woodruff says:

    Aly – We always hesitate to give an ETA, but we’re getting closer and closer on the Washington map. We’re probably counting in weeks at this point. Perhaps we’ll post some teaser images soon.

  90. February 16, 2011spark of sanity says:

    I have to say Toronto would love to see the same treatment. Definitely awesome!

  91. February 16, 2011ofheartandcity says:

    I just want to add my two cents about Toronto! I know at least four or five others who would snatch up the Toronto poster in a heartbeat.

  92. February 27, 2011Celeste says:

    I would totally buy a Toronto one for my office too! Wow, these are terrific, well done guys!

  93. March 1, 2011Purdman2000 says:

    No way….I used to live with this guy in Grad School!!!

  94. March 2, 2011Bucky Badger says:

    I have been looking at all the requests for maps of various cities and feel a little like a “me too” with my request; however, I think that my request will strike a note with a group of people who all spent some time (based upon your work and your bios) in the city of Madison, WI. With the isthmus and the capital square, I think that Madison would make a great typographic map. Very creative intersection of cartography and typology!

  95. March 25, 2011elliott says:

    Detroit please!

  96. April 29, 2011Amy says:

    So what city is next…philly?

  97. May 3, 2011Derek says:

    I’m getting an error when I click on http://typographic.axismaps.com/. I absolute love the maps!

  98. July 17, 2011Annan says:

    These maps are fantastic. I am going to order a Chicago one right now!

    As for the CTA issue, when the train line merges with the actual street, what if instead of writing “CTA CTA…” you just change the street name to the cta colors? That way, there will no longer be a space issue and one would know that the cta continues in that direction? Just a suggestion!

    Anyway these maps rock. good job.

  99. May 9, 2013MJ says:

    We just the SF map in the mail and it is just lovely. It is a a graduation gift for our daughter that is graduating from college with her GIS. Nice quality paper and colors. It looks fantastic in the black frame I got for it. She is going to love it. Thanks for all your hard work.