How to make a map with CartoDB

World Map Parchment by Guy Sie

World Map Parchment by Guy Sie, Flickr Creative Commons

I must admit that I quite enjoyed the various tutorials on how to make maps. Learning to use different software for tabulating and geo-coding data had its moments, but ultimately it allowed me to develop some basic skills that I’ve applied in other parts of the course.

I found CartoDB was the easiest mapping software to use, and I’ve used it a couple of times for MA assignments. Although probably not as versatile as using Google pivot tables, it is a simple and user-friendly tool. Useful for someone like me.

So here is a stepwise guide to making a map. As always, the first step is sourcing a reliable set of data. From there it’s as easy as…

  1. Collate the data in a Microsoft Excel file
  1. Login to CartoDB. All that is needed is a valid email address, and once registered, there is the option for five free data tables (up to 50 megabytes).
  1. Click on ‘tables created’, then ‘add new table’: this allows direct import of data from a URL, Googledrive or Dropbox. Or you can simply upload your own file from a laptop.

Please NOTE: ensure your Excel file contains fully cleaned data – removing empty cells, deleting unwanted columns etc.

It also helps to have city geocodes in place, ideally in column next to the city. These can be found at

Alternatively, Google finds geocodes automatically through its mapping function, linked to pivot tables.

  1. Go to the dashboard, which shows how many and the names of existing data files. Upload your data file.
  • Believe it or not, you’re almost done. Once all the data is uploaded, there should be a complete table with same layout as the Excel document. The first column is automatically given a cartodb ID number. Again, please note that it is important to have the data in its finalised form before importing from Excel. It is difficult to edit data on CartoDB.

eg CDB chicago parking pay boxes by Steven Vance

Example of CartoDB table – Chicago parking pay boxes by Steven Vance, Flickr Creative Commons 

5. Once you have your complete table uploaded, go through the columns and under the heading choose whether the data is a string, date or number. You can generally ignore the Boolean option.

6. Go to map view – on the right hand side there is a task bar, where you can select wizards to present or highlight the data in different ways.

  • There are a number of different icons.
  • The info-window icon (“bubble”) allows you to choose what information appears in the window when you click on the map location.
  • I particularly liked the cluster wizard (paintbrush icon), which proportions the size of the bubble according to a particular data column. Please see my next post for an example of this.

7. Finally, click on ‘visualise’, give your map / URL a name and publish.

There you have it. Less than 10 steps to make a map. Simply click on the location, to access the relevant data.

If you have problems, the user support is fairly prompt. I tried to geocode regions of the UK once but failed.

Nick Jaremek from CartoDB Support initially thought the geocoding option might not be working because the codes did not have the right format. He later stated, “UK regions are something too specific to be geocoded right now.”

It does have its weaknesses, but for straightforward location mapping with attached numerical data, I found CartoDB to be a valuable and extremely easy open-source mapping tool.


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