Professional Equipment

A professional is a skilled person who does a job well. Most professionals recognize that to complete their tasks quickly, easily, and expertly, they must have the right tools. A screwdriver or a rock can be used to pound in a nail, but they just do not function as adequately as does a hammer. Professional equipment represents a small investment when the time savings and the improved quality of the output are considered. Much of the equipment, if properly maintained, can last a lifetime.

The equipment list below represents the preferred set of equipment that a professional geographer/geoarchaeologist should have available to assist in the tasks of field mapping and cartographic compilation. Although much work is now done with computers, preliminary mapping activities may still demand putting pencil to paper and inking base maps using a basic set of field equipment and cartographic tools. A professional geographer should know what this equipment is, how to use it, and how to care for it.

clipboard carryall

While the traditional clipboard represents a solid, flat writing surface with a clamp to hold the paper in place, the recommended item is a more versatile variation. The clipboard carryall is a clipboard that contains a compartment beneath the board to contain equipment and paper. A popular version has a handle to make carrying it easier. The clipboard serves as the writing surface in the field, while the compartment conveniently stores the equipment and protects the contents from the elements such as rain, snow, and dirt. With the accumulation of additional equipment, a larger box, such as a fishing tackle box, will be desirable for storing everything, but the clipboard carryall can still be used to carry selected needed equipment.

Clipboard carryalls come in a variety of colors. Some are transparent and some are opaque. Most of the versions with a handle are made of plastic. Older and more durable models are made of metal. Some versions come with a basic function calculator.

Proper care of the carryall involves protecting the writing surface from scratches and abrasion. The lid should not be forced closed. Also, temperature extremes should be avoided, especially for the protection of the equipment contained within the compartment.

Engineer's scale

An engineer’s scale is a triangular shaped rule with six rules, 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, and 60 marks per inch. Do not confuse this with an Architect’s scale that does not subdivide the entire length of the rule in uniform increments. The engineer’s scale is used to measure and to mark lengths, but should not be used to draw lines or as a cutting edge. The marks are slightly raised on many models and will not result in a smooth, quality line, and cutting instruments can damage the detailed marks printed on the surface. An engineer’s scale is especially useful for detailed measurements and subdivision. For example, recall how the engineer’s scale was used to determine latitude and longitude to half of a second using a 7.5 minute topographic quadrangle in Map Reading.


A pair of scissors has many uses. Cutting tape and trimming paper are the most common applications. Store closed and carry with the point down.

colored pencils

Colored pencils are useful for preliminary marking and notation. They should NEVER be used on a finish product or for end product coloration.

small dry cleaning pad

Dry cleaning pads are extremely beneficial for removing debris from the surface of a hardcopy map product. The surface of the dry cleaning pad is pressed against the debris. The debris will adhere to the pad. Excess can then be brushed from the pad, and the pad can be manipulated so that the dirt on the surface gets worked to the inside.

Dry cleaning pads should be used to remove eraser debris from map surfaces. Also, they are most essential if a moist debris such as soil accidentally gets on the map. A brush would smear the debris across the map and increase the area of damage. Never brush a map product with your hand to remove debris.

Proper care of the pad involves maintaining a clear surface by manipulation. Also, it is best stored it in its box to keep the surface clean when not in use.

gum eraser

A gum eraser is a soft eraser used to remove lightly drawn pencil marks with minimal damage to the surface of the sheet.

white out pen

A white out pen is superior to a bottle with a brush for line removal, because it provides improved control over the wide strokes of a brush. Before applying point to paper, shake the pen well or a wet blotch may damage the map base. With time, the pen will dry out and clog just like the bottle will solidify.

multipurpose template such as Pickett No. 1043I or Alvin No T-41 or Berol RapiDesign Master General Purpose R-18

Templates are used for drawing shapes on a map. No map line should ever be constructed without a guide except for calligraphic lettering. A beginning equipment set should contain a multipurpose template with small squares, circles, stars, triangles, arrow heads, road sign symbols, and brackets. Many special purpose and categorical templates are available and with continued use, additional ones may be obtained.

Better quality templates contain raised relief ridges on the bottom to prevent ink from smearing beneath the template. If these are absent, a template stapler may be used to create them (Dr. Hill has one and will do it for you.), or you can make and cut masking tape “piles” to attach to the backs so as to raise the template above the work surface.

erasing shield

An erasing shield is made of light metal and resembles a template but is much thinner. This is positioned over a pencil error and used to protect the surrounding surface area of the map while erasing. It serves two purposes. One is to reduce the area of contact between the eraser and the paper, because erasing involves removing the surface particles on the paper and damages the finished surface that can cause ink to run. Secondly, the template will keep eraser residue from the map surface and reduce the amount of residue or debris that must be removed from the surface. An eraser shield should not be bent, because bends will cause them to not lay flat on the paper and raised edges may damage the eraser.

circular protractor such as C-Thru No. 255

A circular protractor is more convenient than a normal semi-circular protractor, because map measurements are often given in azimuth degrees. The form of this circular protractor provides a longer line for aligning compass coordinates.

exacto knife

An exacto knife consists of a blade and a handle to hold the blade. The blade is inserted into the handle by loosening the cowling, inserting the blade, and then tightening the cowling. Care should be taken to be sure the cowling remains tight during prolonged usage. Also, the exacto blades are EXTREMELY sharp, so use heightened care and caution when handling and using these instruments. They are best stored inside a container or with the point inserted into something to keep it from bouncing around inside the container. The plastic clipboard carryalls have small compartments near the handle that are satisfactory for reducing the hazards of carrying these knives.

Various blades are available for these knives, but the most useful is the standard angled straight edge to the point. These blades are used to cut or trim detailed surfaces, to cut straight lines with a metal straight edge, or to remove additions to the map that are adhering to the surface such as tape, stick on lettering, or glued elements.

10 inch 60 degree triangle and 45 degree triangle

Triangles serve several important functions. First, a triangle can serve as a straight edge, however, never use it with a cutting instrument such as an exacto knife. The hypotenuse is the longest edge and serves well for diagonal lines across a page. Secondly, triangles can serve as anchors for measuring devices and lettering tools such as Leroy Lettering guides and templates.

Carefully position the edges in relationship to the paper, place the guide against the edge, slide the correct letter into position, construct the letter, and slide the next letter into place. Triangles are available in many sizes. Third, triangles can be used to draw angles. The two common forms of triangles are the 45° and the 60°. These directly provide 30°, 45°, 60°, and 90° angles. In combination, these can also produce 75°, 105°, 120°, 135°, 150°, and 180° angles.

Because triangles are the tools to use as straight edges, these surfaces should be protected from abrasion and impact. A useful trick to keep ink from smearing beneath the surface of the triangle is to tape pennies to the interior of the bottom surface or to affix a “pile” of masking tape.

transparent ruler

A standard English/metric ruler may be useful for measurement. The transparency allows increased visibility of the map surface. Remember that rulers do not make good straight edges. Rulers are for measuring not drawing. Drawing is best done with templates and with triangles.

small dusting brush

A dusting brush is essential for the removal of DRY debris from the map surface and from the desktop. (If continued hand cartography is undertaken, I recommend two dusting brushes, one for the map, and one for the desktop.) Before work is begun, the desktop should be cleared of residue and debris with the brush before the map page is placed on the surface. Debris will interfere with the production of smooth lines. Secondly, when eraser debris or other DRY residues accumulate on the surface, they interfere with line quality and construction. These should be brushed from the map surface with the dusting brush. Be sure, however, that all liquids on the surface, such as ink and white out, have dried before using the brush. NEVER brush the map surface with your hand. Your hand is coated with moisture and oils that will damage the map surface.

You should never rest your hand on the map sheet. Always place a clean piece of scrap paper under the back of your palm to protect the sheet and to facilitate movement of your hand. This useful trick will save your map sheet from oil and moisture damage that will be evident not just in the appearance of the surface of the map sheet, but also in the quality of the inked lines.

Brush the dirt from the bristles with a dry solid stick such as a pencil in an area away from your worksite. Store the dusting brushes so that they will not become contaminated with dirt. They can be washed in mild soapy water, but be sure they are thoroughly dried before use.

double pointed calligraphy pen (black only)

A caligraphy pen is used to produce distinctive styled lettering and ornametation. The points are a broad flat surface. The double tip model is best, because the tip width controls the size of the letter that may be produced; two different tips allow a wider size range. These are especially convenient, because they eliminate the need and hazard of bottles of ink. Maintenance requires that caps be replaced on tips after use, and extremes of temperatures should be avoided. If the ink is not used up, in time, the tip will dry out and this disposable pen should be discarded.

eraser stick

An eraser stick is more versatile than the erasers on a pencil. Although mechanical pencils are equipped with replaceable erasers, experience usually shows that the erasers go faster than the graphite and the larger stick is more convenient. Different refills are available, however, the standard type is sufficient. An eraser stick allows greater control of the point when erasing narrow lines. A wide variety of models are available. Avoid the models that do not securely anchor the stick in the barrel. If the stick advances under the pressure of use, the map surface may be damaged severely. Price does not necessarily indicate a better design. Examine them closely to see how tightly the stick is held, and choose a model that advances only when advance is intended.

mechanical pencils, 0.7 mm and 0.5 mm, "lead" refills 0.7 mm and 0.5 mm

Mechanical pencils can be either refillable or disposable. They produce a more consistent line than the traditional wood and graphite instrument. Various diameters and hardnesses are available. The 0.7 produces a wider line than the more common 0.5 mm. Pencils are available in 0.3, 0.5, 0.7, 0.9, and 1.1 mm diameters. Hardnesses rank from P1, P2, P3 which are soft through B, 2B, and HB, F, and H, 2H, 3H, 4H, and 5H which is the hardest. The standard hardness is 2, and the common disposable pencils will be equipped with this. To produce a lighter line, a harder graphite is needed. The refillable pencils, then, provide greater choice and flexibility.

disposable technical pen set 4 or 5 sizes BLACK only

Technical pens are professional inking instruments that produce a clean, consistently sized line. Line diameters are usually described in millimeters or points. A point is 1/72 of an inch. For short term and light demand, disposable pens are superior to traditional refillable models such as the Rapidographs, because they eliminate the need to refill the chambers with India ink and the need to disassemble and clean the internal parts. Heavy duty users may prefer the economy of the reusable models.

Disposable pens require no maintenance other than securing the caps when not in use. They should be kept away from extremes of temperatures.

drawing compass

A drawing compass is used to produce circles or partial circles. Although small circle templates can be used, a drawing compass provides a wider control of diameters. The drawing compass contains a point placed at the center of the circle, a marker tip that extends away from the center point, and a central, top handle used to rotate the instrument. Professional drafting kits usually contain high quality drawing compasses and may contain a beam compass that is used to draw larger circles. The important characteristic in choosing a drawing compass is the stability of the diameter setting. The pressure needed while marking should not cause the diameter to expand. Care involves protecting the instrument from being bent, and avoiding the sharp points.

basic function calculator

A basic function calculator adds, subtracts, multiplies, divides, and may have a one number memory function. Square and square root functions are also helpful. Mapping involves a variety of mathematical calculations.


A divider is a technical instrument that resembles a drawing compass but without a marking point. The two points can be pulled a distance apart, placed at a starting point, and rotated upon the next point to measure off distances. The most useful of the functions is to divide a line by opening it until the middle measurement is determined. Be careful that the points do not become bent, and be wary of their sharpness.

masking tape or drafting tape

Tape is helpful for securing map sheets from movement during work, and for securing guides to table tops. Drafting tape is not as sticky as is masking tape and is, thus, less likely to damage the map sheet during removal. Tape ages and should never be left on the map product because it may cause discoloration and damage over a long period of time.

100 M zip disk (IBM format), 250 M is okay

250 Meg zip drives are available in the GIS laboratory. All computer work should be backed up on your personal IBM formatted disk. Either size will function in these drives. Store the disks in their box, and keep them from extremes of heat and moisture.

flexible ruler

A flexible ruler is used to draw smooth curves. They may be bent into the desired shape and have raised edges to prevent the smear of ink beneath their edges. Available in several different lengths, these are useful, but not being standard desk equipment are somewhat more expensive than more commonly used items.

French curve

A French curve is a template used to draw curved lines. They come in various shapes and sizes. They should be prepared, used, and cared for in the same manner as templates.


T-squares are available in many sizes from small to table size. They are shaped like a T with the center bar marked as a rule. They are used to position lines at right angles to the edge of a page.

Orienteering Compass

An orienteering compass is a special type of directional compass used to navigate outside. Designed to assist in compass use, they usually contain sight arrows, hand holds, and straps or ropes.


While a diversity of other professional equipment is available, this set is sufficient to teach the basic field mapping and cartographic design skills needed to ground a professional career. It is hoped that this set of equipment will serve your professional needs for many years to come.