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Visual variables are graphical characteristics that cartographers use to create map symbols. Geographic information scientists often use maps to communicate the results of their analysis. A wise choice of visual variables can mean the difference between an easily readable and a difficult-to-read map. This entry describes some of the factors that are important to think about when creating map symbols from visual variables.

The basic set of visual variables includes shape, arrangement (the spatial organization of symbol parts), orientation (the angle at which the symbol or symbolpart is displayed), color hue (“named” colors, such as blue, red, yellow, etc.), size, color lightness (how light or dark a particular color hue is), color brightness (the range of a color's intensity, for example, from grayblue [less bright] to ...

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