Modifications of Tanaka's illuminated contour method

P. Kenelly, A. Jon Kimerling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Visualization of topography can be greatly facilitated by the illuminated contour method. This method, popularized in a hand-drafted map by Tanaka, uses a gray background with black and white contours. A direction of illumination is assumed, and white contours represent illuminated topography, while black contours represent non-illuminated or shaded areas. Additionally, thickness of contours varies with the cosine of the angle between the azimuth of maximum slope (i.e., aspect) and the azimuth of illumination. We modified Tanaka's method by basing thickness of contour lines on twice the cosine of the angle between the surface normal and the illumination vector. The cosine of this angle is most commonly used in analytical hill shading. In addition, we present maps with changes in other visual variables and offer our evaluations. Lines with gray tones instead of black and white lines do not improve the illumination effect. We believe variations in the colors of contours and background with elevation can visually enforce information regarding topography. Our use of colors for aspect and variations in the width of contours for slope adds information to the map but does not assist with visualization of topography.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)111-123
Number of pages13
JournalCartography and Geographic Information Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2001

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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