Best Software to Plot Cave Maps

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Best Software to Plot Cave Maps

Postby jeffharris58 » Jan 15, 2019 5:00 pm

I know I am going to get deluged with different answers, but I am a old surveyor who only drew cave maps by hand and I am looking for the best software to take coordinates and plot line plots and then be able to draw walls and details and have output in vector graphics. Oh, I guess I should state that I am not very computer literate. I have coordinates calculated in an Excel spreadsheet.
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Re: Best Software to Plot Cave Maps

Postby batboy » Jan 27, 2019 4:00 pm

No deluge of responses. More like a drought.

I too was an old school surveyor that hand inked maps. Nowadays, I use "Compass" to enter the survey data and to provide a line plot. You can also turn on the walls feature if you want. It'll take some getting used to at first, but it's a free download and about the only cave mapping program still supported. "Walls" was another one a lot of people use, but it's no longer updated. There are others, but those are the two that are used the most, I think.

Then, what most cartographers do is import the plot from Compass into a drawing program like Adobe Illustrator (version CS2 is available for free). LibreOffice (open source and free to download) is another software program that is often used.

I reread your post and you mentioned coordinates twice. I'm not following. Do you have X, Y coordinates and what to use that instead of entering in the normal survey data? If so, then I'm barking up the wrong tree.
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Re: Best Software to Plot Cave Maps

Postby KsCaver22 » Jan 29, 2019 3:46 pm

All right - I will add a bit to the draught. Maybe we can make this a semi-arid desert!

There are several major systems of software that are used to create cave maps on a computer. Batboy mentioned parts of one of those systems. Here is how I see them:

1) Compass, Walls, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Acrobat.
2) Compass, Walls, Xara, GhostScript and related tools. Does not produce vector outputs.
3) Compass, Walls, InkScape
4) Therion

All of these are currently supported except Walls. Therion is the only one that runs on all three of Linux, MacOS and Windows. The Adobe products are not free for current versions, though as Batboy points out you can get an old version of Creative Suite for free. Xara is also not free, though the price is nowhere near as high as the Adobe products.

Which one is best??? Easy! The best one is the one you know how to use!

I, too, am confused by the mention of coordinates. Can you explain in a bit more detail what you are talking about?

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Re: Best Software to Plot Cave Maps

Postby GroundquestMSA » Jan 29, 2019 8:44 pm

I still do mine by hand. Why do you need to switch?
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Re: Best Software to Plot Cave Maps

Postby batboy » Jan 30, 2019 11:03 am

KsCaver22 wrote:Compass, Walls, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Acrobat.


Are you saying to use both Compass and Walls? Correct me if I'm wrong, but they are both cave plotting programs, right? I thought they did the same thing? I tried Walls, but was more comfortable with using Compass. I do use SVG Exporter to convert the Compass cave plot output file into the correct format for Adobe Illustrator (which is a drawing program). I put the cave plot in one layer, the survey sketch in another layer and "ink" in the cave walls using anpther layer. I like using different layers for ceiling features, floor features, cross sections, text and lapels, etc.

If you are drafting in small to moderate length caves, sure doing it by hand is probably fine. Making maps on the computer has advantagess when working with larger systems and/or complex caves. Computer drafting is better for me since my hands are not as steady as they used to be. It's easy to hit the "undo" button in Illustrator (control Z). My survey team and landowners like that I can make a draft map after each survey trip to view. A lot of people use color nowadays (easy to do on the computer).
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Re: Best Software to Plot Cave Maps

Postby GroundquestMSA » Jan 30, 2019 3:28 pm

batboy wrote:
KsCaver22 wrote:Compass, Walls, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Acrobat.


If you are drafting in small to moderate length caves, sure doing it by hand is probably fine. Making maps on the computer has advantagess when working with larger systems and/or complex caves. Computer drafting is better for me since my hands are not as steady as they used to be. It's easy to hit the "undo" button in Illustrator (control Z). My survey team and landowners like that I can make a draft map after each survey trip to view. A lot of people use color nowadays (easy to do on the computer).


Yes there are real advantages to computer cartography. Since most cave maps serve very little to no practical purpose, I prefer to make them in a way that is enjoyable to me. The map is a personal creative work and the physical, tactile process is one that I don't want to give up. My point is that while computers are much more convenient in ways and produce more modern-looking results, no one should feel compelled to give up paper and ink just to "keep up with the times". Cave mapping has always been tied to art and ego, it has no broad importance, so do it however you like.

Compass and Illustrator seem to be the easiest combination for computer-ignorant minds (speaking from experience), but something new might have been developed by now.
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Re: Best Software to Plot Cave Maps

Postby KsCaver22 » Jan 31, 2019 7:23 am

In answer to Batboy's question - I am a Linux and Therion user, so Compass and Walls are not something I need. Several people I know who do cave maps use both, along with Xara. They say there is some overlap between Compass and Walls, but they find uses for both. They did not go into details about what functions are better in one or the other.
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