One of the primary capabilities of MapTiler Cloud is the hosting of online map documents. Some of them are prepared by MapTiler and available for everybody to use. You can also create or upload your own. In this article, we will explain the different types of documents, their use cases, formats, and how they are related.
We have some general sounding terms for the different kinds of documents you can use with MapTiler Cloud: maps, tiles, data. A simple sketch drawn on a paper napkin by hand could be a “map”, and almost anything delivered to your browser or mobile app over the Internet could be described as “data”. These do have specific definitions in the context of MapTiler Cloud, however, so let’s go over them and see what they mean exactly.
The three types of documents are distinguished primarily by the technology used to represent them and deliver them to end-users. Different types are tailored towards different use-cases and use different file formats.
The type of document you most likely want to show to your end-users is a map.
We offer several ready-made maps, which you can see on the listing page. Some of them are global and cover the whole planet, while others are local to a specific country. The easiest way to start using MapTiler Cloud maps is to pick one of them and embed it into your website or app.
Our standard maps can also be customized. This process will create a copy of the map in your account, and give you the option of changing the basic color scheme, the language used for labels, fonts, etc. This way you can easily tailor the map to match your company brand or product design.
The ultimate map tool is the editor. Starting from a copy of an existing map, or from scratch, you will have control over every aspect of the map content. To explain what the editor allows you to do, we need to look at how maps and their definitions are represented.
The map is a combination of data pulled from one or more sources, with a cartographic design applied to it. The design is separated into layers, each describing which source data will be shown and how. The whole description is known as a style. Each map has a style associated with it, and that’s what you see in the map editor. Even customized maps have an underlying style as well. Map styles can be imported from compatible tools, and exported for backup.
To display a map style, use MapLibre GL JS on the web, or MapLibre GL Native on Android or iOS. After you provide them with a map-style URL, these SDKs will selectively fetch source data as needed, combine them together into a final image, and render it on a canvas.
MapTiler Cloud also offers map rendering as a service, if you need to show maps in applications that can’t use any of the SDKs. You will use a map TileJSON URL to configure a suitable viewer instead.
The bulk of geographic information in MapTiler Cloud is stored in tilesets. These are represented as container files organized into small tiles for efficient on-demand access through our API. Just as with maps, we offer several standard tilesets for everybody to use, and you can also upload your own.
The most common container format is MBTiles, which uses a predefined web Mercator projection, compatible with Google Maps. To upload a tileset in any other map projection, use the GeoPackage format. Both of these can be produced with MapTiler Desktop. Also, keep in mind that the format of the tileset container is different from the format of individual tiles inside the container.
Most commonly, the primary map source will be a vector tileset like MapTiler Planet, which provides the base geographic information. Other vector tilesets can be used to add more information to the map, for example, our Outdoor tileset with biking and hiking tracks.
Tiles in vector tilesets are stored in the PBF (Protocol Buffers) format. They describe geometries and their attributes, which are then referenced from map styles. The set of available attributes and the meaning of their values is called a schema. See for example the schema definition for MapTiler Planet to get an idea of what it looks like.
As additional map sources, raster tilesets usually provide aerial or satellite imagery, like our Satellite. Another use-case is to provide visuals that simply can’t be described by styling vector tilesets. See for example our Hillshades tileset that adds shading to hills and mountains, to look as if the sun was shining on them.
Tiles in raster tilesets are stored in common image formats: JPEG, WebP, PNG. Because of this, they can also be displayed stand-alone, without a map. Use the tileset TileJSON URL with your viewer for this, same as with maps.
The final type of map source is the dataset. It is most useful as an easy way to add some custom geographic information to a map, for example, the locations of your stores or offices.
Like a vector tileset, a dataset is a collection of geometries and their attributes. The difference is that the dataset is not tiled and is always accessed as a single object. This makes them easy to create and edit, but it also means that they must be limited in size because each client needs to fetch the whole thing even to render just a small part of the map.
Datasets are represented as GeoJSON files with some limitations. The top-level object is always a feature collection with at most 5000 features in it, and the whole file must fit within 5 MB. When uploading to MapTiler Cloud, other formats like Shapefile or KML can be used, and the file will be converted to GeoJSON automatically.
The main document type in MapTiler Cloud is the map. Most users will pick one of the maps we have prepared and either use it directly or customize it to fit their graphic design. For more control over the map design and content, use the map editor. Add datasets or tilesets as additional data sources to enrich your map with more information.