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Information about finding and describing maps including map scale, place names and digital data.

What does the map scale mean?

Maps are available in different scales. The scale on a map is the relationship between the distance on the map and the distance on the ground. This relationship is usually expressed as a fraction e.g. 1/10 000 or a ratio e.g.1:10 000. This fraction or ratio indicates 1 unit on the map represents 10 000 of the same unit on the ground.

The unit of measurement may be centimetres or inches. The first number in the scale is always 1, but the second number is different for each scale.

Some of the commonly used scales are:

  • 1:63 360 - which is 1 inch to 1 mile
  • 1:250 000 - which is 1 centimetre to 2.5 kilometre
  • 1:10 000 - which is 1 centimetre to 1 kilometre

Which scale is best?

When deciding on which scale is best for your needs, remember, “bigger is smaller.” The bigger the second number the smaller the scale of the map. More ground is represented on the map, and therefore there is less detail on the map. Conversely, the smaller the second number, the bigger the scale, and more detail can be included on the map. 

Many areas have been mapped at different scales so you can select the map scale most appropriate to your needs.