How to create high quality orienteering base maps



Compiled by: Barry Hanlon with contributions from Ian Miller and Janet Morris. NB.:The information is correct as at February 2019. Software is upgraded often. When downloading always check that you have the latest version.

Resource Target: mapping novices.


This document is a guide and reference manual for those creating and updating orienteering maps.  Barry Hanlon has extensive (unparalleled) experience in creating new maps and is congratulated for documenting his knowledge to assist future WHO map makers.

Mapping is a pleasurable pastime and skilled mappers are in great demand.  Congratulations on getting this far and commencing your journey in mapping.

Ian Miller, WHO President

Important Information

There are a raft of terms and names that will be new to novice mappers.  Please do not be daunted by them.  You will soon sort out those that are interesting or important to you.  The rest may be important another time. 

OCAD Software and naming conventions

OCAD is a software program developed for drawing orienteering maps that has now extended into a commercially successful product used for a number of applications such as plotting council drains and power lines.  OCAD is now available as an on-line subscription application.  The on-line version of OCAD is known as “OCAD 2018”.  WHO has a team licence for OCAD 2018.  Some WHO members have older versions of OCAD ranging from OCAD 9 to OCAD 12.  OCAD 12 was the predecessor to OCAD 2018.  The older versions are mostly used for updates to existing maps and course setting. 
The OCAD program works by taking in images of the area from various sources to be used as “background maps” or directly, E.g. Shape files. To create an Orienteering map, you use OCAD to trace the features on the background map. OCAD translates them into orienteering symbols. 
The OCAD software has been the standard for the last 20 years.   Recently a free open software product has become available.  This is known as “Open Orienteering Mapper”.  At the time of writing Open Mapper is being investigated for use by WHO.   

Technology Advances

Over the last few years a number of technology advances help map makers create more accurate maps.  For example: Geo-referencing points on the map places them correctly in relation to their location on the earth’s surface.  Contour lines and rock features can now be mapped accurately.

Mapping Process

The process usually involves two main steps – the creation of a “base” map using the available spatial resources (images and vector data) for the selected area followed by field-working.  Field-working involves visiting the area and editing the features on the base map to match the real world.  New features may have been added since the spatial resources were gathered (occurs frequently on urban maps) or the features may have changed (e.g. bush fire or clearance in a bush area). 


It makes the field worker’s job a lot easier if the base map they are given to work from has been prepared with the use of all available resources. These notes are intended to help mapping novices to access and use the extensive free spatial data resources that are available to create high quality base maps.
Firstly, we need to identify the available resources, how to access and use them to download spatial data. Our focus is on mapping beginners so we will look at the freely available resources. Mention is also made of NearMap – a commercial resource that can be accessed through ONSW’s Mapping Officer.
[Anything beyond these resources is really in the professional mapper domain and can be very expensive. E.g. if no Lidar is available a commercial flight would cost several thousand dollars (the development of drones may bring these costs down in the future).]
Secondly, we look at the ways these resources can be used to create base maps in OCAD 2018 (the latest version of OCAD which has improved Lidar processing and is continually being upgraded).
Finally, we look briefly at other mapping options such as Open Orienteering Mapper (free) and alternative ways of processing the data for use in OOM.

Part 1 – Gathering the data

You may have done some field work previously and are now starting a new map. Don't be daunted by the new names and tools you will learn about below, but please keep reading to the end before you come back here to start your mapping project!

Ask questions.  The quickest way to learn is using the experience of others.

Project Folder

First create a project folder for your new map eg.: MyNewBaseMap. It is a good idea to create a set of sub-folders for the free spatial data you are going to download. A separate folder for each data source is a good idea.

Suggested sub-folders (under MyNewBaseMap):

For collecting the spatial data downloads
ELVIS (Lidar cloud .las files);
Google Earth (for exported aerial photos);
SIX (for exported aerial photos);
Clip and Ship (for the .shp files that you will download from Spatial Services);
Pullautin (for the .png simulated O maps the Karttapullautin generates from .las files);
QGIS (for exported geo-referenced aerial photos from NSW Globe);
TopoMap (for graphic files copied from the topographic map).

When you start to create the base map in OCAD you will need two more folders:
DEM (Digital Elevation Model - for the DSM, DTM DEM files that OCAD produces from the Lidar .las files and the geo-referenced graphic maps that OCAD also outputs as background maps);
Logos (for any logos that need to be placed on the finished OCAD map).

The Free Resources

  1. SIX (Spatial Information Exchange). An online mapping tool provided by NSW Spatial Services.
  2. NSW Globe. The NSW Spatial Services spatial data base. The source of the data for SIX but can be accessed by mapping software to produce high quality geo-referenced aerial photographs similar to the commercial NearMap.
  3. LPI Web Services. This is the version of NSW Globe that is used by QGIS.
  4. QGIS. German software that can link to LPI Web Services database to produce geo-referenced aerial photographs.
  5. ELVIS. Lidar cloud resource.
  6. Open Street Map.
  7. SIX e-topo. High quality pdf versions of NSW Spatial Services topographic maps.
  8. SIX Clip & Ship. Cadastral and Topographic data in vector format.
  9. NSW Bushwalking Maps.
  10. Karttapullautin. Finnish command line software used to process Lidar clouds.
  11. Near Map. Usually has more up-to-date geo-referenced aerial photos than NSW Globe. This is not a free resource but ONSW has an arrangement with the company for limited downloads. Very useful if there are recent developments in the area of interest. For more information about this resource contact the ONSW Mapping Officer (Russell Rigby):

SIX (Spatial Information Exchange)

SIX is NSW Spatial Services publicly available aerial photographs of NSW. It is not very useful for the preparation of base maps as its output is not geo-referenced (it is not possible to download aerial photos with a world file). However, it is useful at the map drawing stage to confirm/identify spatial details.

NSW Globe

NSW Globe displays New South Wales Government maps and spatial data including land parcels in Google Earth. The link is to a Spatial Services webpage that explains how to connect and use NSW Globe. This spatial data base can be viewed in Google Earth by down loading the NSW Globe KML file. When clicked on this will open NSW Globe in Google Earth.

LPI Web Services and QGIS

First step is to install the latest version of QGIS on your computer. Go to: and select the version for your computer – For Windows the version is QGIS Standalone Installer Version 3.4 (64 bit)  [32 bit if you have an older computer. There are MAC OS-X, Linux, BSD and Android versions from the same download site.]
The next step is to link QGIS to Spatial Services LPI Web Services. Go to:
and follow the instructions.
The link you will load into QGIS should look something like this: ]
QGIS will open what is really a version of NSW Globe (Spatial Services database at Bathurst) and you will be able to zoom into your area of interest. You can export a geo-referenced (with world file) aerial photo of the screen or a selected area. You can increase the resolution setting to a higher level but there is a resolution limit at which point you will get a solid green image. If this happens just save the image with a reduced resolution.


Lidar data sets of NSW can be accessed via ELVIS (Geoscience Australia - Elevation and Depth - Foundation Spatial Data).
Several datasets are available. Point Clouds are the best as they can be used to generate both DSM and DTM DEMs. The DEM datasets in ELVIS are ground level only but useful if the Lidar cloud is not available. The 5 metre data sets can be used to select surface data for selected areas and will provide reasonably good contours but nothing much else. However, they are small files compared with the full Lidar Clouds which can be as dense as 250 MB.
The Lidar Clouds cover areas 2 x 2 kms (4 km2). The two data sets covering the area where we live are: (160.2 MB) (158.1 MB)
The number in the middle identifies the south-west corner of the tile. The first 3 numbers are the Eastings and the last 4 numbers are the Northings, both in kilometres, (i.e. in the first tile above we have 314E and 6262N). The spatial grid is MGA (Map Grid of Australia) and most of the NSW East Coast is in UTM (Universal Transverse Mercator) Zone 56 – this is also the GPS referencing system.
When you have made your selection and placed your order ELVIS will email you a download link.
The downloaded tiles will be in .zip files which need to be unzipped at two levels. For each tile you will end up with a .las file (the Lidar cloud) and an .html file (technical information and instruction on how the use of the data should be acknowledged).
NB.: The free Lidar clouds obtained through ELVIS may not have enough points per square metre for the interpretation software (OCAD and Karttapullautin, OL Lase, etc., to render complex rock detail adequately. If the fine detail is required then a costly fly over may need to be considered.

Open Street Map

You can export an area in OpenStreetMap as a .osm file which is geo-referenced.
To use the .osm as a background map in OCAD 2018 create a special OCAD Topographic map file and use that as a background map in your orienteering map project.
To do this you select NEW in OCAD, then choose Topographic, city or leisure map. Then select under “Load symbol set from” OpenStreetMap 10,000.ocd. This OCAD map can be one of the background maps for your new orienteering map.
Open Street Map is of limited use but can help in identifying the location of some features that are not seen or difficult to see on aerial photos. I have found it useful for locating powerlines/poles and the locations of items such as bus stops which may have shelter structures that can be used as check-point locations, etc.

SIX e-topo

High quality pdf versions of NSW Spatial Services topographic maps can be downloaded for free from:
These are high quality .pdf files almost the same as the NSW Spatial Services printed topographical maps. Selected area can be copied and used a background maps. They are not geo-referenced but the mapping grid is on them, so that are easy to position in OCAD.

SIX Clip & Ship

This is a Spatial Services free resource for vector cadastral and topographic data:
The cadastral lot and street data is very useful. It can almost automate the drawing of streets in urban street and park maps. The topo files are useful for generating contours when good Lidar is unavailable.
The best type of downloads for importing into OCAD are the shape files (.shp). Pick the area you want by choosing the MGA option and marquee (select) the area of interest. In the options choose MGA Zone 56 and choose to have the output delivered as shape files. The rest of the data request form is self-explanatory. You will probably want to place two orders – one for the CAD file and one for the TOPO.

NSW Bushwalking Maps - Based on Spatial Services topographic maps. Of limited use.


This is Finnish command line software used to process Lidar clouds. OCAD 2018 processes Lidar very well. One of the outputs from Karttapulautin is in the form of a .png map that is a simulated orienteering map. It is a useful indication of runnability (open areas and the various shades of green in particular).
Just drag and drop your .las file onto the Karttapullautin .exe file. A command line box/window opens and Karttapullautin starts processing the Lidar. It can take some time. The output .png files are geo-referenced and can be imported directly in OCAD as background maps.
For MAC users Apple have some information about running Windows on a Mac at:
Karttapullautin is a Windows command line program. On a MAC the command line app is called Terminal, don’t use this. In Windows the equivalent of Terminal is the Command Prompt. To run it enter WindowsKey+R then type CMD and press enter. NB.: On a MAC you need to check which key is the WindowsKey equivalent.
Now that you have gathered most of the data you need, we are ready to open OCAD 2018 and start compiling our base map.

Part 2 – Creating a base map in OCAD 2018

OCAD has several tutorials on its website. Here is one you may like:

OCAD 2018 has improved Lidar processing options, so it is the software of choice for this exercise.

To demonstrate how we use OCAD to process our gathered resource data into a base map we need to select an area to map. Most of our new orienteering maps are of city streets and parks usually used for events such as the Sydney Summer Series. The demonstration area is a suburban area around Prospect Creek, centred on Tarrawarra Park. This has suburban streets, bike tracks, swamps, open and very green bush, sports fields, tennis courts, power lines, and much more.

Step 1 – Confirm the coordinates

The area we are interested in can be found on the Spatial Services “Prospect” topographic map, 9030-2N:


Zooming in we identify that the area is contained within MGA (Mapping Grid of Australia) UTM 56S coordinates 308/6250 and 320/6254.


These coordinates are selected because if Lidar is available the area of interest is covered by four tiles. The central coordinate is 310/6252.

Step 2 – Create a new OCAD Orienteering Map

The area fits neatly onto an A4 at 1:7500.

Open OCAD 2018 and create a new orienteering map using the most recent symbol set (I used the standard “ISOM 2017 10,000” symbol set). Our map is going to be geo referenced so we need to set the coordinates in OCAD.

Under the “Map” menu select “Set scale and coordinate system”. Select “Real-world coordinates” and enter the central coordinates in metres and the magnetic deviation (you can get this from the topo map) [310000 / 6252000 11.2]. Go to “Coordinate system” and click on “Choose..”. Select “UTM / WGS 84 Zone 56 South”. These are the GPS coordinates of the central part of our map. Click “OK”.

Under the “Map” menu select “Change scale”. Enter the new scale “7,500”. Deselect “Enlarge/reduce symbols”. This last bit is a matter of preference but deselecting means that the symbols will be the same dimensions as the standard regardless of the change in scale.

You now have a blank OCAD map.

The order of the actions set out in the next step is not critical.

Step 3 – Import the Clip & Ship data

Under “File” / “Import” go to your “Clip and Ship” files. Select the “Road.shp” in the set of CAD files.

The cadastral data will be imported in unsymbolised form (red colour). Select any one of the imported shapes. In the “Select” menu choose “Select objects by symbol”, “All Objects in layer”, click “OK”. In the Symbol Box select the “Paved area symbol”. Click on the “Change symbol” icon on the tool bar.

You now have a map of the local streets, but it needs a bit of work to finish it. Make certain all the streets are selected. In the “Object” menu select “Merge”.  The purpose of this is to reduce the graphic editing of the streets (every separate bit of a street will be bounded by a black line which needs to be edited out). Repeat the “Merge” a couple more times.

While all the streets are still selected, select the “Paved area boundary” symbol then click on “Fill or make border” on the tool bar.

You now have an almost automatically generated street map.

Other Clip and Ship data that could be useful can be seen in your downloads. They are processed in a similar way to streets. The topo download has contours. They can be useful but if Lidar is available OCAD will produce better ones. The hydrolines are usually inaccurate. Sometimes there will be electricity transmission lines which may give the location of towers. The cadastral “lot.shp” is also a useful file as it will contain the surveyed boundaries of parks and reserves.


If your only source of contour data is the contour shape file you process in much the same way. The following picture shows the raw unedited imports for contours, electricity power lines and hydro features.


Lot boundaries can be imported – useful at the early stages of drawing the base map, but too detailed for the final version.


Step 4 – Processing the Lidar cloud in OCAD

Draw, with any line symbol, a rectangle, aligned to the MGA grid that includes the intended boundary of the finished o-map and select it.

Open the “DEM” menu and click on “DEM import wizard”. Under “Importable files – Add”, load the four .las files (the Lidar clouds).  The selected rectangle will determine the limits of the objects created by the DEM import wizard (this reduces the size of the Lidar output). Click on “Next”.  Under “File name:” click on the button and select the “DEM” folder you created earlier. Uncheck “Create Hypsometric Map” (not useful). Check “Create Vegetation base map” (can be useful for indication of runability and vegetation density). Click on “Next”. You probably won’t want to change any of the LAS Settings (DTM stands for Digital Terrain Model = ground level. DSM stands for Digital Surface Model = the upper level of the cloud). Click on “Next”. Under “Create Contour Lines” you probably want to select “Create smoothed contours” and deselect the other option. The default contour interval is 5 metres but you can reset this if another interval is more suitable for a particular map (I used 2.5 metres for this demonstration). Choose the contour symbols (use the standard ones).

OCAD will start analysing the Lidar. Contours will be created and depressions indicated. Several background maps will be created. All this can take a few minutes, but eventually you should see something like this:


Press F10 to turn off the Lidar backgrounds. You will see the contours with depressions indicated by purple lines (I selected purple to highlight the depressions).


The above was then cropped back to the intended map area with streets, power lines, hydro features and cadastral boundaries we created from the shape files made visible:


OCAD 2018’s Lidar processing produced these background maps:

Vegetation height classification:


LAS intensity:


Hill shading:


Terrain slope gradient:


LAS classification:


Simulated orienteering base map (two shades of purple indicates two levels of difficult running due to the probability of undergrowth) :


After a little bit more work in OCAD we end up with a base map for the field worker.



This is an extra step. It is not essential but the Finnish software produces a simulated orienteering map that provides a useful check for runability. Its green shading and stripes are, in my opinion, clearer to interpret than OCAD’s output.

Pullautin process the Lidar tiles individually (there is a batch mode if you have a lot to process). The output is a montage of the four 2 km2 Lidar tiles that cover the area of interest, rendered by the Finnish software as .png files and assembled in the graphic below.

The area of interest is in the right hand centre of the picture:


To make the area of interest a bit clearer it is highlighted in the next graphic.

Pullautus area of interest

Part – 3 Alternative mapping tools

If you have access to OCAD 2018 you won’t need to read this.

Open Orienteering Mapper

A good alternative to OCAD for drawing maps. It does not have Lidar processing tools but it processes .shp files as well as OCAD. The background maps produced by Karttapullautin can also be used as background maps in OOM. There would be a learning curve for anyone switching from OCAD but it would not be very steep.

There are tutorials on YouTube:

OL Laser

Processes LIDAR .las files to create contours and cliffs. It creates slope and other images of good quality. Its images are geo-referenced and can be imported into OOM. (Not useful for OCAD as the latest version of OCAD does it better.)

Here is are links to some OL Laser notes by Greg Wilson:

Las Tools

A collection of batch-scriptable, multicore command line Lidar processing tools. The tools can classify, tile, convert, filter, raster, triangulate, contour, clip, and polygonize LiDAR data (to name just a few functions). Available as a LiDAR processing toolbox for QGIS.

Other resources

More information is available in the OCAD Wiki and the help files and websites for the other software resources. You will also find useful information on the Orienteering Australia and other web sites: [a set of notes by Greg Wilson which you may find useful]