Creating a Vintage Bathymetric Map with QGIS

Creator: Jenny Mason, Ryerson University Graduate Spatial Analysis Student, for Geovis course project, SA8905 (Dr. Rinner)

My geovisualization, in a sense, goes back in time. Despite many data and geo-visualizations recently showing how technology has changed the way we view spatial data, I wanted to create a geovisualization that tried to replicate the roots of mapping technology. I chose to create a vintage bathymetric survey map using QGIS.

Based on the numbers of tutorials and blog posts available online, replicating the characteristics and design of a vintage map using modern GIS mapping technology is popular for GIS enthusiasts. Using a combination of these geographer’s ideas, as well as my own, I chose to replicate the timeless style of these maps.

The final map product: 

Vintage Bathymetric Map Using QGIS

Technology: QGIS offers rendering options that blend your layers (map data, elements, text and desired stain/finish) in the Print Composer. For this look, the multiply function was used.

Data source: The Great Lakes bathymetry contours data were provided by Esri Canada for educational purposes only. They come in Shapefile format and it looks as if they were vectorized from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) bathymetry grid, which is available at

Approach: To achieve a vintage map look, open a new print composer in QGIS and import a photo along with your map layers. For my design, I used bathymetric data to replicate a historic hydrographic map/survey using the contours of Lake Superior.

Anita Graser’s Blog Post on  Vintage Map Design Using QGIS suggests using Lost and Taken’s Gallery to find aged paper designs at high resolutions. The options for paper on this site are perfect for recreating a vintage style map.

Once your map and image of desired paper/texture are added as layers in your print composer, go to the rendering options for the map in the panel on the right of your screen. Change the option to multiply. You will now see in the window that the map elements have been blended with the paper texture.

With this function, the creator is able to recreate a vintage map of any desired spatial data.

The appropriate choice of text, labels, and other map elements are essential to replicate a vintage map. I found it helpful to reference existing historic maps online and try to replicate their design within QGIS. I imported a North Arrow, but all other elements are available in QGIS.