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CASANOVA Department Of Maps

YOUR GUIDE To Modern Maps & Navigation



Map Scale

Made Easy By Gene Casanova

A black and white section of a topographic map at 1:24,000-scale showing a section of Mt. 
Rainier area. A black and white section of a topographic map at 1:100,000-scale showing a section of Mt. 
Rainier area. A black and white section of a topographic map at 1:250,000-scale showing a section of Mt. 
Rainier area.

1:24,000-scale map

1:100,000-scale map

1:250,000-scale map

View Land Detail Large Area Overview Region Overview
Topo Map Sample Image
1) Map Scale

The scale of a map is the relation (ratio) between the horizontal distance between two points measured on the ground, and the same two points represented on a map.   This relationship is constant, in 360-dgrees of measure; as viewed on the map and ground.

2) Methods of Expressing Scale

There are two methods of expressing the scale of a map.

  1. Representation Fraction (RF) (Example: Scale 1:24,000)

    The Representation Fraction method, expresses distance on a map as a fraction of the corresponding distance on the ground.  If the map's scale is 1:100 000 (read 1 to one hundred thousand), every distance on the map is 1/100 000th of the distance on the ground.

    Example: On a map with a map scale of 1:100 000, 1 centimeter on the map represents 100 000 centimeters, or 1 kilometer, on the ground.


    1) The First Number Is Always 1. This is called the numerator.

    2) The larger the second number, the smaller the map scale and less defined is the map detail.

  2. Linear Scale.

    A linear scale is drawn on the map to assist in the measurement of distance on the map.

    Note: The the zero point of the scale is located in from the left end of the scale.  With standard government topographical maps, the scale will be in meters.  To the right of zero, the scale is graduated in primary divisions of 2000 meters, or two kilometers.  To the left of zero, the scale is graduated in secondary divisions of 100 meters.

3) Effects Of Scale
A black and white section of a topographic map at 1:24,000-scale showing a section of Mt. 
Rainier area. A black and white section of a topographic map at 1:100,000-scale showing a section of Mt. 
Rainier area. A black and white section of a topographic map at 1:250,000-scale showing a section of Mt. 
Rainier area.

1:24,000 Scale

1:100,000 Scale

1:250,000 Sale

View Land Detail Area Overview Region Overview

The larger a map's scale, the more detail can be included, and the less area can be covered within the size of the map.  When selecting a map scale, the two main considerations are the amount of detail required, and the size of area covered.

The Average Person And Maps

Map scales are usually confusing to the average person. It is difficult to relate the distance on a map to the real world when you only occasionally use a map; for instant, occasional adventurers, tourists.

The ratio between a unit of measure on a map to some number of the same units of measure on the earth's surface is called the map's scale.  For instance, a U.S.G.S. topographical map with a map-scale of 1:25,000, indicates 1-unit of measure on the map, represents 25,000 of the same units of measure on the earth's surface.  This means, 1-inch on the map represents 25,000 inches on the earth's surface.  Same is true with larger units of measure, such as a meter, yard or kilometer.  If the map was large enough to place a meter stick on it, then one meter would represent 25,000 meters on the earth's surface. Simple.

Tip: Start Thinking in meters. Meters are based on the 10 decimal system, which makes working with measurements much easier.  The Universal International Standard, And Most Commonly Used Map-Scale Of Official Government Maps, Metric.

United States Commonly Used Map Scales

The USGS produced topographical maps in several different scales: 1:24,000, 1:63,360, 1:100,000, and 1:250,000.  The table below is intended to show the relationship between a distance of one centimeter on a map to actual meters on the earth's surface.   The relationship between one inch on a map and the feet or miles that 1 inch represents on the earth's surface is also included.  Please note the entire earth has been using the modern metric system for a long time.  It is much easier to understand and provides a quicker method of measure than the outdated imperial system.  We highly recommend people in the United States to start using metric scales... it makes life so much easier.

Canada Map Scales

Topographic maps produced by 'National Resources Canada' conform to the National Topographic System (NTS) of Canada.  They are made in two standard scales: 1/50 000 and 1/250 000.

Casanova's Quick Cross Reference

Map Scale 1 Cm On Map = 1 km On Earth = On Map 1 Inch On Map = 1 Mile On Earth = On Map
1:2,000 20 m (meter/metre) 50 cm (centimeter) 166.67 feet 31.68" (inches)
1:5,000 50 m 20 cm 416.67 feet 12.67"
1:6,000 60 m 16.66 cm 500 ' 10.56"
1:9,000 90 m 11.11 cm 750 ' 7.04"
1:9,600 90 m 10.42 cm 0.15151515151515152 mile 6.6"
1:10,000 100 m 10 cm 833.33' 6.34"
1:12,000 120 m 8.33 cm 1,000' 5.28"
1:20,000 200 m 5cm 1,666.67' 3.17"
1:24,000 (7.5 Minute TOPO) 240 m 4.17 cm 2,000' 2.64"
1:25,000 250 m 4 cm 2,083.33' 2.53"
1:31,680 317 m 3.16 cm 0.5 mile 2"
1:50,000 500 m 2 cm 0.789 mile 1.27"
1:62,500 625 m 1.60 cm 0.986 1.014"
1:63,360 634 m 1.58 cm 1 mile 1"
1:80,000 800 m 1.25 cm 1.26 miles 0.792"
1:100,000 1,000 m 1 cm 1.58 miles 0.634"
1:125,000 1,250 m 0.80 cm 1.97 miles 0.507"
1:126,720 1,267 m 0.79 cm 2 miles 0.5"
1:250,000 1,250 m 0.40 cm 3.95 miles 0.253"
1:500,000 1,500 m 0.20 cm 7.89 miles 0.127"
1:1,000,000 10,000 m 0.10 cm 15.78 miles 0.063"
1:5,000,000 15,000 m 0.02 cm 78.91 miles 0.013"
1:10,000,000 100,000 m 0.01 cm 157.82 miles 0.006"

Ref. http://id.water.usgs.gov/reference/map_scales.html |

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