Cartographers study, design, produce and distribute digital and conventional maps, charts, spreadsheets and diagrams, draw up and revise maps of the earth's surface, and make this information available to the user in a format that is easy to use.

Cartographers work closely with surveyors and geologists and make use of a number of sources for their work including aerial photographs, field reports, historical manuscripts and other charts and statistical reports. They produce charts using photolithography, drawing and etching techniques.

Information technology plays an important role within the profession, and has dramatically changed the nature of the work. Traditional scribing, tracing and lettering map-making processes have been replaced with remote sensing, computerised mapping and Geographical Information Systems (GIS) packages. Data is collected, stored and transferred electronically, and computers are used to design, create and produce maps.  Cartographers also work with photogrammetry, the science of accurately plotting maps and plans from photographs taken with calibrated cameras, usually from the air, but occasionally also from ground stations), which give a three-dimensional perspective of the landscape.

They are responsible for researching, collecting, storing, retrieving, evaluating and manipulating data, checking the accuracy of maps, liaising with information providers, clients and external contacts and accessing and using aerial photographs and satellite images.

Cartography is concerned with four different map processes:

  • linework: sketching lines and engraving
  • colour separation: the preparation of different masks for each separate colour for multi-colour maps)
  • positioning of letters and symbols
  • reproduction of maps
The types of maps produced depend on the purpose for which the maps are required. These may include:
  • topographical maps
  • maritime charts
  • cadastral maps that show farm boundaries
  • climatic maps indicating variance in climatic parameters
  • road maps, street plans and tourist maps
  • geographical and geological maps
  • town and regional structure plans.
  • aeronautical charts and maps, which indicate routes and provide navigational information
Cartographers should be able to demonstrate a genuine interest in the work, and have meticulous attention to detail and good IT and design skills.  They usually work in well-equipped offices. The sophistication and standard of the equipment depend on the financial resources of the employer.

Personal Requirements

  • not necessarily artistic, but at least able to put ideas on paper
  • precise and neat
  • able to work patiently and accurately
  • manual dexterity and good eye-hand coordination
  • good colour discrimination
  • flair for figures
  • interest in Geography

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

National Senior Certificate (matric), or equivalent with a Bachelor's Degree pass
Compulsory Subjects: Mathematics and Physical Sciences
Recommended subjects: Geography

Check that you meet the admission requirements (APS) set by the university.


What to Study

Aspirant cartographers apply for posts as learner drawers with potential employers. If accepted, they undergo theoretical training at a university of technology and practical training with the employer concerned, under the supervision of an experienced cartographer.

Diploma: National Diploma: Cartography is a 3-year course offered at the CPUT and
TUT. Students receive 2 years’ theoretical training at the university of technology and 1 year’s practical training with their employer.


  • various government departments
  • large municipalities
  • private concerns
  • mining companies
  • photogrammetric enterprises
  • universities and universities of technology
  • research institutions

Further Information

Chief Directorate: Surveys and Land Information
van der Sterr Building
Rhodes Avenue,
Western Cape7705
Tel: (021) 658-4300

Getting Started

  • speak to a cartographer and ask permission to observe him/her at work
  • obtain holiday work as a draughtsman at a cartographic concern
  • work with maps and charts in your spare time

Programmes by Study Institutions

Related Occupations

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