Show mountains & valleys in your locator maps

A bit over a year ago, we launched locator maps – a map type you can use to show your readers where something has happened or is located.

We’re happy to tell you that today, our locator maps come with a shaded relief or “hillshade”. Which is a fancy form of saying that readers will now be able to see mountains and valleys in your locator maps. Be it the mountains in the Andes or the Alps, Mount Everest or the Grand Canyon: All terrain that goes up will now be visible as terrain that goes up.

Our shaded relief is available between zoom levels 3 and 12, and gets more detailed the more you zoom in.

The shaded relief turned on and turned off. It can add some valuable context.

And here are more happy news: Our freshly announced full-vector export for locator maps also includes the new shaded relief. You can change the colors, opacity, etc. of the hill shades after exporting the locator map as an SVG or PDF.

How can you enable the shaded relief?

You can show shaded relief on your locator map by clicking one tiny checkbox. It’s turned off by default, so don’t miss it: Create a locator map (click here or click “Create a map” on our maps page) and then enable the checkbox Mountains in step 2: Design map. And that’s it! You should now see some mountains and hills.

image of step 2 in Datawrapper locator maps

How does it work?

Our map professional Anna will write an in-depth article about how we made the shaded relief possible in our locator maps in a few days. Until then, here’s the summary: We downloaded elevation data from NASA, generated the shaded relief with some calculations, and turned it into vector data.

On each supported zoom level, we designed 6 layers of shades: 2 shades for the bright north-west side of the mountains on which the warm sun shines, and 4 shades for the dark south-east side of the mountain. If you own a custom design theme as part of a Custom or Enterprise plan, you can define your colors for the bright and dark side in your shaded relief – simply get in touch with us at [email protected] and let us know which colors you’d like.

Left: A simple Datwrapper locator map with a shaded relief. Right: The two bright shades (yellow-orange) and four dark shades (blue), emphasized. The darkest shadows represent the steepest side of the shaded part of the hill.

But why north-west and south-east, you ask? It’s not an arbitrary decision we’ve made: When the light comes from the upper left, we humans perceive mountains as mountains – and not as valleys. Don’t rotate a locator map with a shaded relief too much. It will lead to “relief inversion” and look a bit odd.

Here’s an example:

Left: The light comes from the top left. Right: The light comes from the bottom right.

With the six layers of shades we create a visual illusion of mountains and valleys. But they are not shown in 3D (as opposed to e.g. our 3D buildings). That’s why our shaded relief blends out if you tilt your map.

You will see a little warning below the Mountains checkbox that tells you when you zoomed in or titled too much to see the shaded relief. So just play around! We’re looking forward to seeing what you will create with the new maps.


Thanks to our map professional Anna Thieme for preparing the shaded relief, to our locator map specialist Hans Hack for styling it and integrating it into our locator maps, and to our backend developer Hendrik Bartusch for rendering the map tiles. We hope you like the new mountains that you can now show on your locator maps! As always, we’re eager to hear what you have to say at [email protected] . Do you have any comments, feedback, questions? Let us know!

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