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Welcome to the MapMaker

Launch Guide

Choosing a Basemap

MapMaker offers several options for the map you use as the base. Select Map Settings in the layer panel to see the basemap choices. The choice depends largely on the purpose of your map.

Note: Only one basemap can be used at time. You can change the basemap, even after you have added map layers.

map featuring the world ocean basemap

World Oceans*  

Suited toward topics such as ocean depths, sea life populations, ocean plastic pollution, and ocean currents.

Vibrant basemap


Best for a stand-alone basemap featuring the data in the map as the centerpiece. It’s hard to see layers clearly on top of this base because it’s so colorful.

Terrain basemap


Without labels, this layer shows mountains, rivers, and lakes; the colors show natural environments such as forests, deserts, snow, and also developed areas.

Esri's National Geographic basemap

National Geographic*  

A colorful base that includes topographic features and detailed labels.

Light Gray basemap

Light Gray*  

Ideal for adding multiple layers. The plain background helps layers stand out.

Imagery basemap


Satellite view showing real-world features.

Black line basemap

Black Line*  

Simplified map for printing and coloring or adding labels such as state names.

*Basemaps may not reflect National Geographic’s current map policy.


A Note About Map Projections

There is no perfect way to turn a round planet into a flat, rectangular map. Something will always be distorted. Professional map makers, called cartographers, use different methods for projecting maps, depending on the map’s purpose. MapMaker features Web Mercator, largely because of software requirements. These resources help explain map projections.

The Cartographer's Dilemma

The Cartographer's Dilemma  

This video compares the challenges of map projection to peeling and flattening the skin of an orange.

Investigating Map Projections

Investigating Map Projections  

This classroom activity featuring the video provides additional instructional guidance.

Selecting a Map Projection

Selecting a Map Projection  

This video explains how National Geographic cartographers selected an appropriate map projection for the magazine’s September 2021 issue.