How to Make a Choropleth Map: 5-Step Guide for Beginners

How to Make a Choropleth Map: 5-Step Guide for Beginners
Masooma Memon

Written by:
Masooma Memon

May 26, 2021

Thinking about creating a choropleth map?

You’re in the right place as we’ll look at how to build a choropleth map in five easy steps. We’ll also share Visme templates for choropleth maps and best practices for creating these maps.

On your end, you just need to have your data file for the map ready.

Visme will take care of the rest by giving you predesigned world, country and regional maps, ready-to-use templates to design a choropleth map and the ability to import geospatial data.

Want to start designing already? Here’s your step-by-step guide.


5-Step Process for Building a Choropleth Map

What is a Choropleth Map?

Step #1: Choose a Map Template

Step #2: Customize the Map Region

Step #3: Edit Your Map

Step #4: Customize Your Map Title and Caption

Step #5: Download Your Map

What is a Choropleth Map?

A choropleth map is a thematic map that represents statistical data using symbols or shading — technically, the color mapping symbology technique.

These maps are made on set geographic areas, for instance, a country’s map, the world map and so on. Since the map sketches data for set value on another dataset, a choropleth map brings two datasets together.

The numeric values in the dataset that you want to represent on a choropleth map are assigned a color. The correspecting map areas are then color-coded to match the value.

Essentially, a choropleth map is a handy data visualization tool for answering data-based questions like how percentages or rates compare by geographic regions.

For example, how does the population data for continents compare. Or, how do election results for each US county compare.

Here are more choropleth map use cases:

  • Income per capita
  • Climate change by states or country names
  • Country- or region-wise life expectancy
  • Population density for countries or regions
  • Unemployment rates by US states, regions or countries

For a practical example, here’s a choropleth map showing the world’s most arable areas:

Customize this template and make it your own!Edit and Download

Basically, the simplicity of a choropleth map makes it easy to make and understand.

From a map maker’s lens, this means you only have to pull out a premade map of a geographical area and add colors based on the data to it.

Okay, well, that’s oversimplifying things.

But as we dive into how to make a choropleth map below, you’ll see that making it is easy. It also doesn’t take much time.

From a viewer’s perspective, the color variants make it easy to understand the data at a glance. Not to mention, your audience doesn’t have to be skilled at map reading to read the data shared in this type of map.

However, this upside of a choropleth map contributes to its limitation too. Why? Because the resulting map gives a false impression of the abrupt change in data at the boundaries.

Hence, if you’re trying to deliver a presentation of accurate data, a choropleth map won’t cut it. Instead, you’ll need to settle on another data visualization type depending on your needs.

With that, let’s give you the step-by-step breakdown of how to make choropleth maps with Visme.

In case you prefer to watch, here’s a video tutorial to walk you through the process.


Step #1: Choose a Map Template

You can always start off with a blank canvas. A map template, however, speeds things up.

Taking the fastest route to designing a choropleth map, open a new project in Visme from the left side of your dashboard. From there, choose your map template.

If you don’t see the option right away, click on More to view the sea of template options at your disposal.

In the search bar, write "choropleth maps" and you’ll get relevant templates.

Find the perfect template for your next choropleth map!Browse Now

When you pick a template, you’ll get the option to choose your map’s size: square and wide. Pick what you need and get to work.


Step #2: Customize the Map Region

Chances are the region you want to create a choropleth map on doesn’t have its own template. Or, the template you've selected might have some of the regions you aim to cover but not all.

Either way, Visme has custom maps stored under the Data tab on the left side of your dashboard.

Create your own choropleth map today!Try It For Free

If you’re looking to create a country-based choropleth map, select Countries from the tray that slides out and choose the country you want to feature.

Create your own choropleth map today!Try It For Free

If you want to feature a specific continent or region instead of a country, pick from the other available options.

It’s also here that you can alter your map’s color scheme — an option that’s available both under Map Data and Map Settings that show when you’ve selected a map.

Create your own choropleth map today!Try It For Free

You can also explore more color palettes here or select the palette that you’ve already created.

Keep in mind that choosing the right color ramp takes some thought. To begin with, you have three options at your disposal:

  • Sequential: Changing color gradient. For example, from light green to dark dark.
  • Diverging: Gradual change of colors. For example, from blue to white to red.
  • Categorical or qualitative: Color combinations. For example, one red and one blue color.

So when should you choose one color scheme over another?

Use the sequential styling if you plan to get attention on high values, such as in a choropleth map on unemployment rates or showing viral cases in US states as this template does:

Customize this template and make it your own!Edit and Download

Be careful when choosing color contrasts though. You don’t want the contrasts to be so minimal that the bare human eye can’t catch the difference in shades.

Use a diverging color palette to drive attention to extreme ends of a scale.

Let’s say a map showing differences of population between two states or lung cancer cases by state data as in this template:

Customize this template and make it your own!Edit and Download

As for qualitative color schemes, use fewer than three colors. Why? Because map readers can easily commit to recalling what each of the three colors stand for and won’t need to revisit the legend often. Put simply, few color combinations make it easy to read the map.

Also, make sure colors in the qualitative scheme are different from each other and don’t leave any diverging or sequential color effects.

Pro tip: If you don’t have a brand color ramp or gradient for your choropleth and want to leave a specific impression on your audience, dig into color psychology before settling on a color scale for your map.

Moving on, it's time to work out the map details under Map Settings.

Below are three options you can play with.


1. Choose if you want to display regional boundaries in the map.

In several instances, these make it easy to differentiate between boundaries, particularly, if the areas or regions are small.


2. Decide if you want captions to show on hover.

You can also decide to make your captions — also called tooltips — light or dark. Tooltips are a valuable addition to your choropleth map as they add to its functionality.

How? By communicating the name of each region/area and any extra information that you want to share with readers.


3. Decide where you want to display the legend.

Once you turn on the Show Legend option, use the drop down menu to select the legend’s position. Remember to position the map’s legend in a breathable area so reading it is easy. If you’ve used any symbols or shapes on the map, explain them in the key.

Look at this choropleth map template to see how well the map key is arranged. There’s also a reference section to share the data source with the audience.

Customize this template and make it your own!Edit and Download

If you’ve used any short forms such as state abbreviation, add them in the legend too.


Step #3: Edit Your Map

In this step, you’ll focus on editing the details inside the map including adding your data.

When designing a choropleth map, a good rule of thumb is to use the smallest unit for the data. This means giving preference to units such as counties instead of states, or countries instead of continents. This helps give your reader a refined image of the data.

To choose a type of map, such as a country or region, double-click on your map and select Change Map.

Create your own choropleth map today!Try It For Free

Once you've decided on the type of map you want to use, click on Edit This Map.

Here, you’ll see that each region or country’s area is shown by default. You can either display this column or get rid of it completely by right-clicking over the cells in the column and using the Remove This Column option.

Create your own choropleth map today!Try It For Free

To add your own data range, click on the Add More Data bar at the right side of your Map Data screen.

Create your own choropleth map today!Try It For Free

Now, paste the numeric data from Google Sheets or Excel into the new data column.

Don’t forget to ensure the data table in your CSV file is in the same order as the countries or states in Visme’s Map Data spreadsheet.

Note that you can add as many columns as you like for featuring additional information.

With each column you create though, remember to name it with a relevant title. For this, tap on the tiny pen symbol on each column’s right and type in the name.

Now, click on Insert Map to add the map to your canvas or template.

Create interactive maps easily with Visme!

  • Choose from fully customizable map templates
  • Customize map settings and colors to match your brand
  • Make your map color-coded, interactive or animated

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Step #4: Customize Your Map Title and Caption

You’re almost done creating your map.

All that’s left now is a bit of map personalization so that it aligns with your brand.

Since you’ve already tweaked the color palette, consider half the job done. The rest boils down to changing the fonts in your title and caption.

Simply click on the caption in the template and head over to the fonts menu. Click on the drop down menu to view a variety of font options.

Create your own choropleth map today!Try It For Free

If you’ve already set up your brand kit or have created a couple of designs in Visme using specific brand fonts, you’ll get the option to pick from My Brand Fonts.

Pro tip: Design for accessibility. Make sure the colors and fonts you use are easy to understand. To this end, ensure the changes in your color gradient are easily recognizable for someone who is color blind. For fonts, ensure you’re using a clear font like Roberto with a minimum 5 points size.

Don’t like the background image in the template you’re using? Change it!

Here’s how: click on the background image and a header will show up. You now have the option to remove the background altogether, change it or flip it.

Create your own choropleth map today!Try It For Free

If you plan on adding a new background, click on background and you’ll get a drop down menu with the following options:

  • Photos
  • Patterns
  • Gradients
  • Animated

Clicking each will give you options to pick from.

For an interactive experience, select an animated background. If you plan on downloading and printing the choropleth map though, consider using an image, gradient or pattern for a background.

That said, you can also upload your own background image.

See that the background header also gives you the option to change your canvas size. If you didn’t select the size at the start when you were picking a template, you can do so now.

Want to make a full-blown interactive map? Great. There’s lots that you can do with Visme.

For example, click on the caption area and:

  • Pick the Actions option to add links to your website.
  • Make a region or the caption slide into place or pop up either on clicking it or when you hover over it. You can achieve this in the Actions section.
Create your own choropleth map today!Try It For Free
  • Animate a design element or title using the Animate option. Find tons of options such as fly from top, zoom spin, fly from left among others.
  • Add Effects. You can change the opacity and shadows of your map from here.

Before you move on to the next step, know that you can duplicate the map you’ve created or make another map too.

In the header that shows when you click anywhere on your canvas or template, you’ll see a double page icon near the trash bin sign for delete. That’s where you can duplicate your design.

As for adding another page to your canvas, click on + New Page from the right side of your dashboard.


Step # 5: Download Your Map

Your choropleth map is now ready. Whoop whoop!

At this point, you have the options to download the map as a high-resolution image — PNG or JPG — or PDF.

Create your own choropleth map today!Try It For Free

You can download the design directly to your desktop. Or, assign a destination in Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive or HubSpot and Visme will save your design there.


Create Your Own Choropleth Map

And, that’s all folks.

To refresh, a choropleth map is a thematic map that’s based on two datasets — showing different data with the help of a color scheme.

Such a map is helpful for comparing data such as population, income, climate and more over a predetermined geographic area (hint: a regional or continental map.)

To start creating a choropleth map today, prep your data source and sign up for a free Visme account to get to work right away.

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    About the Author

    Masooma Memon is a pizza-loving freelance writer by day and a novel nerd by night. She crafts research-backed, actionable blog posts for SaaS and marketing brands who aim to employ quality content to educate and engage with their audience.

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