An Evaluation of Desktop Relief Shading Software

Dan Van Dorn
Map Link
30 S. La Patera Ln., Unit 5
Santa Barbara, CA 93117
phone: 805-692-6777 x172
fax: 805-692-6788


Shaded relief depiction on 2D maps is increasing thanks in large part to the proliferation of freeware, shareware, and inexpensive relief-shading applications. The aesthetic quality of shaded relief generated from these applications, which are generally easy-to-use, compares favorably with relief generated from high-end cartographic and GIS applications—and can be produced in a fraction of the time. This trend may mirror the Darwinian desktop software industry as a whole, whereby low-end applications gradually gain the functionality of expensive professional applications, and, sometimes, replace them. But, for now, are there disadvantages or tradeoffs to using “budget” relief shading applications? My presentation will attempt to answer this by reviewing representative applications in this class, including: 1) MacDEM; 2) Adobe Photoshop; 3) Natural Scene Designer; 4) MicroDEM; and, 5) MapRender 3D.

The features to be reviewed are cost, data import and export formats, shaded relief export formats, file size restrictions, hypsometric tinting, contouring, illumination and shading controls, graphical special effects, georeferencing and projection transformations, ease-of use, and bugs/limitations. A handout will summarize and contrast the features found in each application. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, shaded relief rendering quality will be compared between applications (a test DEM will be rendered using identical illumination and vertical scaling settings) and shown to the audience for evaluation and comment. To set the high-end benchmark, shaded relief rendered from ArcGIS, MapInfo, World Construction Set, and Bryce will also be shown.