The ultimate guide to buying a world map

February 05, 2019 13 min read

The ultimate guide to buying a world map

There are a few different kinds of the maps ... so what one is best for you.


Cartograms as wall art?

Some of them like cartograms are designed specifically for displaying data and while they are interesting to look at and can provide a fascinating way of visualizing complex data are perhaps not something most of us want to hang on our walls!

world map cartogram used as a representation of what to look for when buying a world map

Here is a Cartogram visualizing the world's population. Perhaps not the most attractive wall art. That said, a map like this would definitely start a conversation!

Political Maps

These types of maps focus on political boundaries of countries, states, cities. They will tend to include political important landmarks such as capital cities, major airports and transport routes. While these maps may include major features in the landscape such as lakes and mountain ranges this is not their primary purpose. These types of wall maps are great if you are interested in the relationships between countries and states but they are not the best choice if you want to interested in a piece of art to hang on your wall that will spark conversation.

Political Map of the world, example of a world map used as wall art

Physical Maps and Topographic Maps

Physical maps and topographic maps focus on features in the landscape such as mountains, rivers, lakes and vegetation cover. Both physical and topographic maps show changes in elevation ( sometimes referred to as relief). Physical maps tend to highlight the change in elevation using a color scale while topographic maps display elevation as contour lines. While I am sure that there are other slight differences in the definition of these two types of maps, this will not be immediately obvious to the vast majority of observers and as such it this general description can apply to both types.

highly detailed topographic map of the world

Road Maps

You guessed road maps focus on roads. Here, more than with political, physical and topographic maps, scale plays a huge role. While there are some beautiful road maps out there, the kind of roadmaps people tend to want to hang on their walls don't tend to be on a global scale!

the world mapped using roads, an example of what to look for when purchasing a world map

As you can see a world map defined using roads is maybe not the most attractive in terms of wall art! but it is interesting. 

Thematic Maps

Thematic maps focus on one theme or topic. While that sounds a little boring there are some beautiful examples of thematic maps out there. Data represented in this can be beautiful but again perhaps not the kind of map most people want to display in their home.

Thematic map of the world show that data can be used as wall art

This is a thematic world map that shows the prisoner population rate (2012)

How big does your map need to be?

Sounds like an obvious question right, and the will be ultimately the space you have available to hang your map will limit the size. However, if you can't create more space on your wall you could always choose another scale!

The Scale of a Map = Detail

Maps are images of our world and they have a scale, that means that on a map every inch of a map represents a certain distance in the real world. Let's say you have decided on a large map 36 x 24in. If its a world map the scale might be something like 1:500000 just for the sake of argument we will say that every 1in on the map is equivalent to 500000inches

If detail is important to you then you need to realize that a world map simple won't be able to deliver the kind of detail as a regional or local map will. But that should be obvious right

Projection is important!

Up until recently, the Mercator projection has been the go-to world projection. There are probably a few different reasons for this, but one of the main reasons is for sure that the Mercator projection was used by all the major online map services. Bing Maps, OpenStreetMap, Apple Maps and of course Google Maps have given everyone in the world the impression that looks like this.


World map using the mercator map projection

However, this is not the case. The world is a globe ( sorry flat-earthers! ) and when you try to represent a globe as a flat map distortion happens.

Enter map projections

If we stick with the world map for now but know that all these principals can be applied to regional maps.

Here are two commonly used world map projections. Mercator map projection on the right and the Robinson map projection on the left.

Mercator map projection compared to the Robinson map projection

Recently Google moved away from the Mercator projection and started showing the world as a globe at the larger scales. What does this mean for you as a map buyer? well just like google lead the way with web mapping and indeed the use of the Mercator projection now they are also leading the way away from the Mercator projection. So If you buy a world map using the Mercator projection today ... you will soon be out of date!

Don't buy a map that looks like this!



If your world map makes northern Canada look like Marge Simson's head or suggests that Greenland is larger than Africa ... then you have bought the wrong world map. 

Buy a map of the world that is an actual map fo the world 

I know what you are thinking a world map is always a world map ... right?.
What if your world map does not include all the countries? if some are missing is it still a world map?

Here it's important to note that I am not talking about country boundaries that are disputed leading to a country partly or entirely disappearing. What I am talking about is the complete absence of a huge land mass like New Zealand. New Zealand is famously absent from a number of world maps. That's right a country that is 268.021 km² and with a population of 4,794 million (2017) is simply missing.

The size of New Zealand Compared to the size of the continous United States

There is even a social movement around this issue try searching for #getnzonthemap on any social network. What to learn more? maybe one of the 53000 members in this Reddit can help you out.

And don't think that you can rely on huge companies to have invested the time and resources to ensure the maps they produce are accurate. Here is a great example for IKEA.

A world map without New Zealand

Forgetting to include a country the size of New Zealand is one thing but what about the so-called world maps that fail to include an entire continent!

Some world maps don't include Antartica! the southernmost continent and the home of the geographic south pole. Antartica is some 14,000,000 square kilometers (5,400,000 square miles), and is the fifth-largest continent. Think of a landmass that is almost twice the size of Australia and you have an idea of how big Antartica is. Granted, the population of Antarctica is somewhat smaller than Australia, however, this does not excuse this enormous mistake.

My point is if you want to buy a world map ... maybe you should find a world map that actually included the whole world. While this is an argument to be made for simplifying the world I think leaving off a huge country like New Zealand is going above and beyond. But this pales in comparison to forgetting to include the continent of Antartica. Don't by one of this world maps!

The different kinds of wall maps

So let's say you have found the world map that you like. You have navigated the minefield of cartographic mistakes and managed to find a world map in just the right dimensions, one that does not use the outdated Mercator projection and one the includes all continents and major landmasses.

Well done!

Framing your world map


Framing a world map can be as simple as just buying the first frame you see that fits the dimensions of your map. Of course, there will be some style and color considerations but if your map is a smaller size then that's probably all you will have to think about.

If however, you have a larger more detailed map then you might want to continue reading.

Framing larger maps does mean that you have to be a little more careful with regards to your choice of frame. Cheaper wooden frames often have a thin veneer of covering MDF.

"Medium-density fibreboard (MDF) is an engineered wood product made by breaking down hardwood or softwood residuals into wood fibers and then gluing and pressing them together again. "

The problem is that this product is not very strong. The larger world map, the larger plane of glass or plexiglass in the frame and the more weight the frame has to support. While the effects of the extra weight might not be immediately apparent, with time your frame will start to bend and distort. This will happen at a faster pace if you hang your frame on the wall using the frame its self and not the anchor points on the frame backing. Using the frame backing will distribute the weight more evenly across the frame, but with time the frame will begin to bend and sag and you will risk your map simple falling off the wall one day. While this can occur both portrait and landscape frames, the problem is more pronounced with landscape frames. Given that most world maps are landscape it is worth considering before you invest in a frame for your new world map.


Framed map that thas been bent and distorted over time

This is a classic example. The frame in this image has deformed with time and is no longer able to provide enough pressure to hold the map flat and wrinkle-free.

I hear you, your thinking well I can just buy an aluminum frame. Problem solved!

Sorry to disappoint but you can face the same problems with aluminum frames if you hang your map but the frame. Having said that, if you use the anchor points on the frame backing then you will be less likely to face the problem of a distorted frame or broken glass on the floor directly below where you world map used to hang on the wall.

The solution is to buy a solid frame regardless of you choose wood or aluminum. If you pick up the frame and notice that there is some "give" in the frame when you hold it in the middle of the widest side ... then it is a sign that maybe you should be looking for another frame for your world map.

Another thing to consider is the frame backing. In my experience, the frame backing is one of the most crucial parts of the frame!
This is especially true for when framing larger maps. The frame backing has two important roles, firstly it provides an anchor point from which to hang your framed map on the wall. No surprises there. But what you may not have considered is that the frame backing also pushes your map flat against the glass of the frame. Without some sort of pressure from the back of the frame, your map will soon begin to fall down and wriggle inside the frame. This will lead to undesirable warping effect. This is why a professional frame maker will use a solid frame back and often glue the map to the back of the frame to ensure that your beautiful map remains "wave" free!

The relatively is that most of us won't get our wall art framed by a professional, and that's fine too. Just know that it's OK to spend a little more on a good quality frame.

One last thing about the frame backing, look for a frame that has a good mechanism for holding the frame back to the frame. Some smaller frames have bendable metal tabs that you bend out when removing the frame back. This will not last! and are not suitable for larger maps! the reason being that they break after a few bends and they cannot apply enough pressure to the frame back to hold the map flat against the glass. This will, of course, lead to the problems we have already discussed.

Buy a solid  good quality frame for you world map

Glass or Plexiglass?


It's hard, if not impossible to find a really good substitute for glass but like all things, in life, it depends on what you are looking for.
Here are a few general things that you might want to consider before buying.


Shipping glass can be expensive, glass tends to weigh more than plexiglass and is more fragile. If you are going to buy a frame with glass for your map maybe its best just to buy it locally and avoid the cost and risk of shipping.

Some glass frames have a clear and matt side. This is means you can dramatically change the overall look and feel of your wall map simply by flipping the glass over.


Plexiglass can be a really good idea if you plan to ship your frame. When buying online a lot of companies offer frames with plexiglass because they are less costly to ship due to the weight and the reduced risk of breaking compared to a frame with glass.

Over time plexiglass is likely to become cloudy when exposed to sunlight.

Plexiglass is also much more prone to be scratched compared to glass.

The is one another option for hanging our map that we have not talked about.
Hangers are becoming increasingly popular maybe be because they are ( or can be ) an affordable way of just getting your map on the wall and enjoying.

A hanger is basically two pieces of wood that clamp on to the top and bottom of your map. The pieces at the top spread the map out and provide a way of hanging your map on the wall. The bottom two pieces obviously also stop that map from rolling up but they also provide enough weight to keep the map stretched flat. Now the price of these hangers varies widely, so does the quilty. Some poster hangers use magnets some use screws to hold clamp the wood pieces to each end of your map but the end result is the same. The only thing I would say here is that if you have a large wall map, the pieces of wood also need to be large, thus the weight will increase and therefore you need to make sure the magnets are strong enough to hold the pieces of wood tightly to the map.

hangers are a great way of quickly getting your map on your wall so you can enjoy it. However ... your map will be completely unprotected!
If you have a laminated map or a canvas map this might not be a problem but for a paper map, this is a bit risky.

hangers are a cheaper option for hanging your world map but there are some risks

The important things to think about when framing your map

- Solid frame and frame backing - this will prevent you map from warping with time

- Wood frame look amazing but they can be very expensive if you want good quality - Aluminum can be a really good affordable alternative

- hanging your map using the anchor points on the frame backing is a good idea. A better idea is to hang your map by the sides of the actual frame.

- glass is better than plexiglass but this, of course, depends on whether you are shipping the frame

Options for those that just want to buy a map and put it on the wall. Here is what you need to know.


Wall Decals, they are basically just big stickers that can be stuck directly on to your wall. That sounds great, right? just buy a map in the right projection and slap it on the wall!
Well it's not always that simple. World map decals do not always come in one piece. This means you need to rotate all the countries if you what a map that accurately represents the world. Wall decals are often printed on plastic and unfortunately plastic does not allow for the same level of detail as paper. A quick google search will reveal the issues you might run into when you try to remove your wall decal from your wall.

world map wall decal

So now that you have made it this far I hope that you can spot a few mistakes here! (The continent of Antartica is missing and Greenland is the same size as Africa)

Canvas, the thing about canvases is that if they are stretched then they don't need a frame. A stretched canvas is basically just a printed canvas that has been stretched onto a wooden frame. This is great because it means that you just take your map and hang it straight on your wall. However, canvases tend to be significantly more expensive simply because the map is some much bulkier to ship. A canvas is also very much what you see is what you get it. There is very little you can do to change the appearance of a Canvas map compared to a paper map. A frame can be used to personalize the look and feel of your wall map and integrate it into your home.

A large canvas world map showing the topographic features in the landscape

The paper quality 

The paperweight is an import factor when choosing a map or indeed any type of wall art. It is not always easy to find out what kind of paper your map will be printed on nor is it immediately clear from most website images what paperweight the map is printed on.

Let's start with a brief description of what paper weight and take it from there.

Let’s take a look at the different paper weights and the typical print projects they are best suited to:

Paper weight is often associated with quality. If your map is printed on thicker, heavier paper it will feel like a high-quality product, but how do you measure paper thickness or quality?

Paper is often measured in terms of Grams per Square Metre or (gsm). The following points provide a quick overview of different of different paper weights and what they are typically used for.

80 – 120gsm is the general weight of standard office paper. This is the bare minimum for wall art! at this weight, it might be possible to see anything printed on the back of your map either in a frame. The map its self will not feel like a quality product and might not be the best choice for a gift.

130 – 170gsm is a heavier, more durable paper that is generally used for posters, and wall art. This is at the lighter end for wall art but at this weight, the paper will be heavy enough to absorb the ink and if you are going to frame the map it won't be obvious what the quality of the paper is anyway.

170 – 200gsm is the halfway point between paper and card. It is great for brochure covers and high-quality posters and double-sided leaflets. This is the sweet spot for printed wall art. It absorbs ink well and feels like a high-quality product. It is also lite enough that if the map is rolled and delivered in a tube, it won't be so stiff that rolling will result in permanent creases in your map.

200 – 250gsm is the paperweight point of a heavier card and is often used for covers. There are people out there printing wall art on this heavier paper. It will feel great when you have it in your hands but as soon as its framed you won't be able to tell the difference and how often do you handle your wall art anyway? Heavily paper is also more likely to crease during delivery.

300 – 400gsm falls into the board category and is usually a good weight for business cards.

400gsm and above is considered a thick and high-quality weight for business cards.

There is no one right answer when considering the weight of the paper your map is printed on but in general 190 gsm to 210 is a good place to be.

You should now be fully equipped with everything you need to buy a world map!