ArcGIS for Desktop


Name: ArcGIS
$: Varies
Example: Roma, Forced Evictions and Segregation in Italy (featured map by Angela Chang)
Level: Intermediate to Advanced depending on project complexity
Use For: Visually representing research; Conducting geographic analysis


ArcGIS can be used to edit and analyze geographic information as well as generate a wide variety of static maps. Lincenses for ArcGIS start at $1,500. ArcGIS contains multiple applications. The main application is ArcMap which is used for mapping, editing, and analyzing 2D data. ArcGlobe and ArcScene are both part of the ArcGIS 3D Analyst extension and are used with 3D data. ArcCatalog is used primarily for data management. Using ArcGIS requires an advanced level of understanding, however there is a very comprehensive help library. The software is compatible with a variety of geographic information files.


At its most basic level geographic files can be layered on each other to produce a map. The user can choose the symbology that is used, what aspect of the feature is visualized, and whether features are labelled. The user can choose the zoom level of the map. There are various items that can be added to the map, including a scale, title, and legend. The map can be exported as a PDF, JPEG, TIFF, and more.



The user can add new features to shapefiles and geodatabases or add information to the attribute table which describes features in a file. The user can also create new files and add geographic information to them by drawing features or importing data from a GPS device. There are many ways files can be edited, including converting files to different projections and creating new files from selected information in a different file. Files that have been edited can be used to create maps using ArcGIS for Desktop or uploaded to ArcGIS Online.


ArcGIS also has a wide variety of tools that allow the user to manipulate and analyze the geographic information. Some of the tools include:

If a large amount of tools need to be used or an operation needs to be performed on a large number of files ModelBuilder or Python can be used to create a tool that will perform the necessary steps.




Name: Mapbox
$: Varies
Examples: Demand Justice Now (featured image), North Korea: Political Prison Camps, Syrian Humanitarian Funding, Registered Syrian Refugees
Level: Intermediate to Advanced
Use For: Generating basemaps; Visually representing research


Mapbox allows the user to create interactive online maps. It is free with limited map views, storage and custom styles. Subscription plans start at $5 per month and go up to $499 per month. More advanced users can build custom mobile and web applications.


The user can create customized maps using Mapbox’s online platform. Mapbox has street, terrain, and satellite basemaps that can be customized with colors and languages. The user can draw markers, lines and polygons or import a variety of files including CSV and KML. The features can be given a title and description.


Maps can be viewed on desktops and mobile devices and can be shared through links or embedded in websites. Each map has a Map ID which can be used to import the map into other platforms such as StoryMap JS. Those who are new to Mapbox can use its guides to learn how to create maps.

Mapbox Studio:

Mapbox Studio is a desktop application that allows the user to create maps. It has some preset map styles or the user can choose their own files. Mapbox recognizes shapefiles and allows multiple layers to be added to any project. Mapbox provides a guide about how to convert an ArcMap visualization into Mapbox. To change the appearance of the layers CartoCSS is used; Mapbox Studio has a guide to CartoCSS in the program under Docs. The user can adjust coloring and font, as well as make these features specific to the level of zoom.


Once the map has been adjusted to the user’s satisfaction the map can be uploaded to Mapbox online, the user can also upload styles and data. The map can be further adjusted once it is on Mapbox online. Mapbox Studio also allows the user to export an image of the map as a png or jpeg. For those who do not know CartoCSS Mapbox online is a better option than Mapbox Studio.