Open print view

Map production

Map production calls for a large number of individual steps. Numerous specialists are involved in the process, which ranges from surveying and the input of landscape objects based on aerial images into enormous databases, through to cartographic processing and the subsequent publication of the map on screen or on paper.

Aircraft, survey in the field, map extract

The production of a map requires a large number of often complex steps. First of all it is necessary to determine where on the earth’s surface the various landscape objects are located. This step is carried out by swisstopo surveyors. Based on the findings of the survey, specialists from the aerial photo service then systematically depict the landscape from the air. The information contained in the aerial images forms the basis for topographers at swisstopo to develop a digital model of the landscape with all the relevant details.

The next step concerns the generation of a map based on the topographic landscape model. Here, various objects such as buildings and roads have to be graphically simplified so that they are clearly identifiable. This procedure is referred to as “generalisation”. There are clearly defined rules for the depiction of each type of object. Depending on the scale, a village, for example, is depicted as a circle or a cluster of squares that represent each individual building. Today, this task is primarily accomplished using special software, and it is only minor adjustments to detail that are carried out by cartographers.

As in the past, the readability of a map – whether on the screen of a mobile phone or on paper – directly depends on its cartographic design. Switzerland’s national maps have always been world famous for their method of depicting the terrain,  and this combination of relief shading and depiction of rock and boulder formations and glaciers continues to characterise the appearance of the maps in the digital age. 

But the lettering used on maps is also an important factor: place names not only have to be clearly legible, they also have to be spelt correctly, and as a rule this is the responsibility of the cantons.

The sheet maps at different scales form the official set of national maps, which is also used as the basis for numerous other maps and applications. The best known of these are the hiking and ski-touring maps and the aeronautical and geological maps. However, there are also many other products that use the set of national maps – fully, or to an ever increasing extent, partially – as their basis.

To ensure that swisstopo is able to provide the most up-to-date data possible, it has to constantly update its datasets. At present, the set of national maps is being updated with the new series of maps. Thanks to new technologies it will be possible to update the sheets more frequently in the future.

But the demand for maps is by no means limited to the latest versions. Historical maps document the evolution of the landscape and are therefore still of great value to a wide range of users today. 

Video on the creation of the new national map

A glimpse of the latest technology for processing and storing topographical data and its use in today’s digital world:


  • Good maps for better decisions
    Cartographic contents in digital applications have become indispensable companions in many situations, both professionally and privately, and affect our decisions (information brochure).
    PDF, 16 page(s), 3 MB, English

Federal Office of Topography swisstopo Seftigenstrasse 264
P.O. Box
3084 Wabern
+41 58 469 01 11


Relevant authority


Federal Office of Topography swisstopo

Seftigenstrasse 264
P.O. Box
3084 Wabern

Show map