Print Quality of Topographic Maps – Reviews

This page gives my reviews of several types of topo maps, based on the print quality. It doesn’t address other reasons that you might prefer one map over another, such as coverage area or paper types.

What you see below are scans of each map displayed at 1-to-1, i.e., one scanned pixel corresponds to one screen pixel. The 150-dpi samples roughly approximate what the map looks like to the naked eye at perusal distance, say 20-25 cm or so, while the 300- and 600-dpi samples are what you’d see if you looked closer or through a magnifying glass or loupe. If you want to really see the gory details, download the 1200-dpi large sample (but beware, they’re big).

The grades are somewhat subjective and based on my impression of the maps on paper in addition to the images shown here.

Copyright info: these image samples are excerpts for reviewing purposes, so as far as I know they are not protected by copyright. Use them for any purpose you wish. (Note that I am not a lawyer.)

Comments and suggestions welcome: please e-mail me at In particular, if you have a topographic map not here, I’d love to include it.

150 dpi (5.4 cm square) 300 dpi (2.7 cm square) 600 dpi (1.4 cm square)
USGS 7.5 minute quad
“Deer Point”, UT. Large sample (8.5 cm): 600 dpi (6.3 M), 1200 dpi (18 M).
Grade: A. Still the gold standard. (Plain paper.)
Trails Illustrated
#207, “Grand Canyon National Park”, AZ. Large sample (8.5 cm): 600 dpi (8.0 M), 1200 dpi (24 M).
Grade: B+. Good maps. Nice companions to the USGS quads (the scale is too small to stand alone, but they show some things the USGS quads don’t). Paper shows some yellowing with age, visible in the 150-dpi sample as a vertical streak on the right side. (Plasticized paper.)
#8, “Knife, Kekekabic Lake”, MN, 2006 ed. Large sample (8.5 cm): 600 dpi (11 M), 1200 dpi (34 M).
Grade: B-. Good maps. Alignment of color plates is sometimes a problem. (Plasticized paper.) 1:24 k custom quad
Grand Canyon area, AZ. Large sample (8.5 cm): 600 dpi (6.4 M), 1200 dpi (20 M).
Grade: C-. Marginally acceptable. Recommend only if edge interactions or paper of USGS quads are unworkable. Note that on paper the area shown has somewhat more contrast than you see here. (Plasticized paper.) 1:24 k custom quad
Grand Canyon area, AZ). Large sample (8.5 cm): 600 dpi (8.8 M), 1200 dpi (28 M).
Grade: C-. Marginally acceptable. The resolution is the same as the map, but the printing technique is different. While there aren’t any funky color effects in the type, the overall impression is somewhat less crisp. You can see the individual pixels even at perusal distance, which isn’t evident from the 150-dpi sample here. Personal preference may lead you to one or the other, but I think the print quality is overall very similar. Special thanks to Bob Holland, who loaned me this map across the country to review. (Plain paper.)
DeLorme Topo USA 6.0 1:25 k custom map
Targhee National Forest, ID. Large sample (8.5 cm): 600 dpi (6.4 M), 1200 dpi (21 M).
Grade: D. Not acceptable. Printing is very crisp, but there are several significant flaws. Most importantly, the minor topo lines are illegible. (Oddly, in the scan they are not visible over white, and faint but visible over green, while on paper the situation is reversed.) Text is styled and laid out awkwardly. Weights of different elements are poorly balanced (e.g., the blue UTM grid is visually overwhelming). Special thanks to Ray Fink, who mailed me this map to review. (Plain paper, home-printed on inkjet.)