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January 23, 2023

The people have spoken! OnDemand Topo maps and topoBuilder were so popular that we're ending the pilot phase of the project and making topoBuilder a permanent offering of the National Map.

A Proud Tradition of Mapping the Nation 

In 1879, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) was entrusted with the responsibility of serving as the primary domestic mapping agency of the United States. Since then, the USGS has produced countless maps for the public, including topographic maps. Topographic maps are an essential tool for viewing America’s vast landscape.  

“A Government cannot do any scientific work of more value to the people at large than by causing the construction of proper topographic maps of the country,” said John Wesley Powell, the second Director of the USGS, in an 1884 statement to Congress. 

From 1947 to 1992, more than 55,000 7.5-minute maps were made to cover the 48 contiguous states. When this series was declared complete in 1992, it was the only uniform map series that covered the U.S. in considerable detail.  

The 7.5-minute series, as well as many other USGS topographic maps, are available as digital georeferenced products in the Historical Topographic Map Collection

US Topo, the current generation of USGS topographic maps, combines the familiar look and feel of legacy USGS topographic maps with technological advances of the 21st century. These maps, produced by the National Geospatial Program,(NGP) offer consistent and complete coverage of the U.S., including Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Alaska (completed 2021). Approximately one-third (15,000-18,000) of US Topos are updated annually using GIS data from The National Map and published as free geospatial PDF documents.   

Adding to this legacy and thanks to a highly successful pilot project, OnDemand Topo maps are now a permanent National Map offering. topoBuilder enables everyone to build free, custom, OnDemand topographic maps using reliable and authoritative National Map data. Starting January 23, 2023, topoBuilder and OnDemand topo maps will cease their pilot project phase and join US Topo as a standard offering from the NGP.  

Image shows four topographic maps in a 2x2 grid with a square placed in the middle of the grid. To the right of the grid is the map created by the square on top of the 4 topo maps.
Reston, Virginia 4 US Topo Quadrangles (left) compared to 1 custom centered OnDemand Topo (right).

Custom Topographic Maps on Demand 

In February 2022, the National Geospatial Program launched topoBuilder, a customer driven, on-demand, topographic mapping capability. topoBuilder enables everyone, regardless of their level of map or data expertise, to build customized topographic maps, known as OnDemand Topos. With topoBuilder, users can center maps wherever they choose within the U.S. and territories. OnDemand Topo map extents do not need to align with the traditional grids used by other USGS topographic maps, so one map can cover an area that would previously require up to four maps. 

Users can then choose their preferred file format (georeferenced PDF or TIFF) as well as the level of contour detail to best suit their needs. OnDemand Topo contours are generated on the fly from the latest USGS elevation data, acquired through the 3D Elevation Program.  

The Edit Layers functionality allows users to select which data themes they would like included in their maps for their unique purposes. 

Once the customizations have been set, users can enter a valid email address and a direct link to download their unique map product will be emailed within five days, free of charge.  

Image shows an infographic with the major pieces of information about topoBuilder
topoBuilder custom topographic maps on demand

The Future of U.S. Geological Survey Topographic Mapping 

In the time since topoBuilder’s initial release, almost 190,000 OnDemand Topos have been delivered to more than 50,000 customers across every state and territory in the U.S. Feedback on topoBuilder and OnDemand Topos has been overwhelmingly positive. Users have described the application and maps as “outstanding” and “easy to use”.  

More than 70% of all maps have been delivered within 24 hours, with a peak of nearly 2,800 maps delivered in a single day. The first few weeks after launch saw an extraordinary level of interest in topoBuilder and enthusiasm continues with approximately 5,000 unique users served each month and over 550 map requests received each day. 

Image shows a map of the United States, including Alaska, Hawaii and the island territories. Locations where OnDemand Topos were requested are marked with red dots.
Map view of topoBuilder requests (in red) from February 2022 through December 2022 covering most of the coterminous United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and the Mariana Islands.

topoBuilder remains in active development as enhancements to the OnDemand Topo map product and the application are in the works. Efforts to deliver maps faster to users are in progress, and maps of other types and scales are planned for future releases. Coming in 2023, a 1:100,000-scale map product will expand the use of OnDemand Topos to many additional use cases. This is an exciting and unprecedented undertaking by the NGP. 

Whether historic, current, or the next generation, the topographic map remains an indispensable tool for everyday use in government, science, industry, land management planning, recreation, and many more applications. Be a part of the future of the USGS topographic mapping and visit topoBuilder.NationalMap.gov today to build your customized OnDemand Topo! 

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