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How to Make A Basemap

Knowing how to make basemaps of properties to scale quickly is a game changer as a designer. At our recent Advanced Permaculture Design course with Dan Palmer, we learned some of these great tricks we’re about to show you, plus from Tim Davies – one of the experienced students – thanks guys!

First up you need a map.  We use The List in Tasmania search for the property you want. If you’re not in Tassie, ask around and find your equivalent.  You can tell a lot from the photographs and topographical information.  EG slope, water features, vegetation, buildings, shadows etc.  The image below shows our place, with property boundaries and contours.


Once you have found your property, select the Topographic map and print it as a .pdf file.  Make sure that the orientation is best for your basemap and that the box titled “Show Graticule” is ticked.  The graticule shows the scale on the pdf.


Repeat this process for the “State Aerial” photo.

Save both of these with their names in a folder for the property.  We cant seem to export the Google maps image from The List, but you could do all this strait from Google maps or your equivalent.

We use Inkscape, a free graphic design software program which can be downloaded from here.  This program works on all computer platforms, is free and fairly easy to use.  In a couple of hours you can learn the basics to do all of the following processes.  It now takes us around 30 minutes start to finish, perhaps we can get it down to 10 minutes with more practice!

We have created a series of “basemap templates” with different paper sizes (A4, A3, A2 etc) and orientation (landscape and portrait).  You don’t necessarily need a template but we find it helps if you are doing this process repeatedly.  The image below shows the Inkscape page and in the center our template.


We have already created a number of “Layers”.  Think of a layer as a piece of tracing paper, that can be removed and edited easily.  We place each part of the design/basemap on its own layer.  This helps later to edit the plan and present all the appropriate information.  You can “lock” a layer by clicking the padlock.  You can make it visible/invisible by clicking the eye.  The layer that you are currently editing is “greyed out”.


Import the Topographic map to the correct layer.


Change the opacity to 50%.


Using the measuring device, set the measurements to “cm”.


Zoom into the picture, to where the scale is.  In our image the “graticules” represent 10m and they are on the far left of the picture.  Measure the distance between graticule 24 and 23, this comes to 2.74cm.  (sorry about the bodgy photo).


So take the known distance from the map (in this case 10m) and divide it by the measured distance in Inkscape (2.74cm).

Known distance on Image / Measured distance in program = scaling factor
eg 10m (on scale of printed map) / 2.74 (cm as measured in Inkscape)
= 3.64
x 100
= 364% Scaling factor


In this case it transformed the pdf to the scale of 1:100.

Use the “Transform” tool to scale the image “proportionally” by 364%.


Once it has been scaled, use the measuring device to make sure it is correct.  The measurement should read 10.

Does the image fit the page?  In this case the property boundary is too large for our page size at 1:100


I have two options a) change the scale or b) change the page size.

If you decide to change the scale of the drawing you adjust the size of the image again.  I use the following cheat sheet to help:

•    1:1000 to 1:500 = 200%
•    1:500 to 1:250 = 200%
•    1:250 to 1:200 = 125%
•    1:200 to 1:100 = 200%
•    1:100 to 1:50 = 200%
•    1:500: 1:1000 = 50%
•    1:250  to 1:500 = 50%
•    1:100 to 1:200 = 50%
•    1:50 to 1:100 = 50%
I am going to change the scale of the drawing to 1:200, therefore I will transform the topographic map by 50%.

ink 8

If you decide to change the paper size, the following helps (noting you will change the paper size, not the image):
Going Up – 141% per “A” paper size
Going Up 2 x paper sizes = 200%
Going Down – 71% per “A” paper size
Going Down 2 x paper sizes = 50%

As you can see below, the scaling is now correct.  The property boundaries fit within the page template.


Do the same thing for the Aerial photograph.  Make sure to go through the whole process because it may have scaled differently when it was printed as a pdf.  When it is scaled try lining up the aerial and topographic to make sure they overlap.  Its hard to see here, but our property boundaries match up in the Topographic and Aerial photo -woop, this is a milestone.  At this point i “lock” them so they don’t move.


Once you have the topographic and aerial photos matching in size and scaled to your page, start plotting on other features.  For example create a layer called boundaries and plot on the property boundaries.  Use the “Bezier drawing tool and the “edit paths” tools ” to draw.


You can adjust the type and thickness of lines.  You may need to turn layers on and off to pick up details.  Eg the arial photo is better for the house.  The topographic better for the boundaries and contours.


Do the same for other features eg water, roads, fences, vegetation, contours.


When you have drawn all this information on the page, turn off the visibility of the aerial and topographic maps – now you have a clean, scaled basemap.


Go get em tiger!

14 Responses to “How to Make A Basemap”

  1. Clemens

    Great tutorial!
    I am a beginner and was wondering if you could share the templates to use as a reference, so that I don’t miss anything.

    • Hannah Moloney

      Hi Clemens, contacts us through our website and I’ll pass you onto Anton who will know how to help. And good on you Nysha!

    • Tom Reed

      Hi Clemens,

      Did you receive a copy of the templates?
      Can you share them with me?


  2. Nysha

    4 hours later and i seem to have mastered it! thanks so much for these instructions. Worth noting that you can pick the page size by going File> Document Properties>Page Size. Didin’t quite work out how to crop pics but will keep working at it. Thanks again xx

    • Rox

      Hi Nysha,
      I use Inkscape primarily for cropping photos (it’s best feature). Add your photo… add any shape and draw it over the top of photo (use Ctrl + left Mouse click to resize elements without distortion). Make sure both photo and ‘outline’ are selected (Using Shift+left mouse click)… right mouse click… select ‘Set clip’, and you are done. Ctrl+Z to undo and go again. The internet is awash with tutorials just search ‘Inkscape clip’ or similar and you’ll find a youtube video.

  3. Bill Busse

    Thanks so much. I have always wanted to do this. We just purchased new property and I am so excited to get designing. Thanks to your post I am well on my way.

  4. Annelies

    Awesome! Thanks for this! If only rural Victoria had better free maps! Google earth is just so blurry 🙁

  5. Annette Nielsen

    Thank you! I have been looking for something like this for the design of the whole farm as well as details. It’s a really useful tool for both. 🙂

  6. Linda Wood

    Thanks to you I’ve begun the process of designing our subdivision (permaculture based of course!). However, when I opened the document to keep working on it the 2nd layer I had created was nowhere to be found. How do save the whole file?

    • Hannah Moloney

      Hi Linda
      Perhaps you didn’t save the file after the second layer was opened? That’s the only thin I can think of. FYI, once a file’s finished i “export” the file as a png file which consolidates it.


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