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In cartography, tools have changed fundamentally since 1845. The techniques and production processes used to produce the National Maps have undergone enormous changes from copperplate engraving to layer engraving to today's GIS cartography.

Copperplate printing, 1845 to 1949

Cartographer engraving on copper plate
Copperplate engraving

The method involved engraving the map as a reversed image on copper plates with the aid of special tools. The prepared plates were then used for copperplate printing. This method was applied for the Dufour, and later the Siegfried, map, and to some extent for the Swiss national map too.

Lithography, 1870 to 1949

Cartographer working on a lithography stone

Lithography was one of the most widely used methods of producing maps in the 19th century. The sheets for the mountain regions on the 1:50,000 Siegfried map were prepared on lithography stones in the form of reverse images. One of the main challenges here was the weight of the stones.

Negative scribing, 1952 to 1999

Cartographer using a special tool for glass engraving
Glass engraving

In 1952, negative scribing replaced copper engraving as the method for producing originals. This method was regarded as state-of-the-art and was developed internally by the Federal Office of Topography. A scribe sheet with a thickness of three-thousandths of a millimetre was placed over a glass plate. Cartographers then engraved the map image in negative form but non-reversed, with the aid of special tools.

CAD technology, 1999 to 2013

Cartographer working on a PC
CAD workdesk

From 1999, the original glass plates for the national maps were scanned in and subsequently fully processed by cartographers using computer-aided design (CAD) software. Any modifications were incorporated into the existing raster data and formed the basis for the printed map and pixel version.

GIS cartography, 2012 to the present

Cartographer working on a PC
GIS workdesk

With the introduction of GIS (Geographic Information System) for mapping, the digital data moves into focus. The map production is thus partly automated. The basis of nowadays national maps is a vast cartographic database, from which the different digital and printed products are derived from. These vector data sets enable a flexible use and a variable representation as well as associations with data held by third parties.

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


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