Last Updated August 1 2019
There is a wide-variety of custom map makers for Google Maps. Some are sophisticated but hard to use. Some are easy to use but hard to customize. Others are designed for very specific use cases.
Over the last few weeks I've done a deep dive on the most popular map makers to understand their strengths and weaknesses— what I discovered is that there is no best map maker, instead the best map maker is one that suits your needs.
Simple but basic way to build custom maps.Atlist Maps
Very powerful— but a steep learning curve.Mapbox Studio
Good style customization. Tricky data entry.SnazzyMaps.com
Free. Few styling options though.Google My Maps
Wordpress plugin for creating maps.WP Google Maps
Good for displaying data in territories.Mapline
Interface can be confusing.Scribble Maps
Can import data from Google Spreadsheets.ZeeMaps
Basic tool. Requires an API key.Maps Generator
The rest of this article will examine each map maker in detail. I'll take a look at ease of use, paid vs free, features and more. That way you can choose the map maker that works for you.
A simple but basic way to create custom Google Maps with multiple markers.
If you want something simple and easy to use, Atlist is a good app to try. It's not overloaded with unnecssary features— it's simple and straightforward. It's useful as a way to quickly search for and add markers. It has no theme options at this point— so this it's simple but basic!
Powerful, but has a steep learning curve. It's like Photoshop, but for creating maps.
Learning Mapbox Studio is roughly equivalent to learning Adobe Photoshop or Premiere— you should expect that it will take some time. The big upside is that you’ll have access to some of the most powerful style editing of any map maker.
Users looking for something simple and easy to use— for example to map the locations of their retail stores on their website— will want to look elsewhere. Mapbox Studio is overkill for this (plus it doesn’t include an “embed” option).
Instead Mapbox Studio is best for users looking for a professional map creation tool. For example, Mapbox is used in those fancy Vox videos on Youtube.
One important thing to know: Mapbox Studio is the only map maker in this article that does not use Google Maps. Instead Mapbox uses Open Street Maps, a free, open-source wiki map of the world. Because of this you might notice different results when you search for an address on Google Maps and on Mapbox— they use a completely different data set.
In fact, Mapbox competes with Google in providing location-based developer tools (APIs and SDKs). Basically companies like Uber and Facebook use Mapbox instead of Google for their mapping tools. (Mapbox Studio is their product for non-developers.)
Excellent style customization. Data entry isn’t ideal.
Snazzy Maps got started as a library of preset styles that you can apply to your embedded Google Maps.
It’s an awesome resource. You can browse over 4,000 map styles:
Snazzy Maps also includes a very simple Map Builder— though I find one aspect of it frustrating: instead of adding markers by an address, Snazzy Maps requires you to add markers by longitude and latitude. It’d be easier if I could search addresses. (Tip: if you need the longitude and latitude you always search the address in Google and append “coordinates” for example “cn tower coordinates” or “42 Dalton Street, Toronto coordinates.”)
There’s also no bulk upload options— for example if you wanted to upload markers from a CSV file.
The upside is that that Snazzy Maps has fantastic style editing. There’s a huge amount of styling you can do to infowindows— you can even create a custom infowindow from scratch! Though unfortunately if you’re creating a custom infowindow style, you’ll have to adjust the style for each marker individually— which gets tedious with a big data set.
In the end, Snazzy Maps is a strong tool for creating maps with custom styles.
Powerful and free. Only downside? Poor style customization.
Google My Maps feels like a Google product. It has a bit of a learning curve but once you learn it, you'll find it has surprising depth in features. It’s main weakness is in map styling.
My Maps is best used for adding markers, driving routes, biking routes and walking routes. Each of these are organized within layers. I find it especially useful for creating biking and walking routes— drawing them is quick and effortless:
There’s also undo and redo buttons and an excellent tool for measuring out areas:
Markers can be customized by choosing from a selection of Google icons or choosing one of the 30 colors Google has pre-choosen— you actually can’t choose a custom marker color!
When maps are shared or embedded they automatically have this red bar (see below). Unfortunately you can't customize the bar in any meaningful way— for example you're stuck with the red color.
A Wordpress plugin— so it only works with Wordpress websites.
WP Google Maps has a lot of handy features— custom fields, a store locator, video embedding, infowindow themes (though you can’t customize your own), directions, traffic layering, markers, shapes and a variety of style customizations. Their demo page has a good collection of live examples of these features.
Like most Wordpress plugins, the interface for WP Google Maps is pretty cluttered and unwieldy:
There’s a free version and a paid version. The free version is limited to one map and has a number of feature limitations.
Mapline lets you upload datasets (basically— spreadsheets) and display them as markers and shapes and categorize them within territory boundaries to a map. While you can add markers manually by searching by address, I found that interface to be clumsy.
It lacks certain style options. For example, there are only 3 base map styles you can choose from and infowindows just display data, with no meaningful formatting options.
It includes route planning and other powerful features around territory boundaries— which allows you to parse your data by location, for example you can add upload all your sales data for the US and then see revenue state by state.
There is an excel add-in and XML feed (only available in the most expensive plan) that updates your map data in real-time.
Prices run from $0 - $106 per month. Plan differences are around the total number of maps and datasets— as well as features (for example: multiple users costs $106 / month).
If you’re familiar with Adobe Photoshop, you’ll probably notice Scribble Maps has a similar sidebar:
Scribble Maps is also probably comparable to Photoshop in terms of a learning curve— it’s more of an advanced tool that can occasionally get confusing.
For example, the language and icons aren’t always very clear— I hovered over this icon and it’s called Operations & Analysis. How would anyone know what that means?
There’s a lot you can do with Scribble Maps: you can create legends, find the dimensions of shapes, mix and match base maps, filter data, rotate markers, create flight lines, clicking a marker can launch a link and much more.
Occasionally I found some of the features lacking. For example, creating custom info windows feels clumsy:
There is a free version but it’s pretty limitated— you can only export 450x450 images of maps. Otherwise pricing goes from $19 - $100 / month.
An easy way to create a map with multiple markers but there are limited customization options.
For example, there are only 3 marker shapes (no custom shapes), 7 marker colors (no custom color option) and 6 base map layer styles:
There is a $99 / month version of BatchGeo that lets you password protect maps, add multiple users, removes BatchGeo branding and a few other options.
Lets you import marker data from Google Spreadsheets, Excel and more.
First things first— ZeeMaps has a pretty untidy interface that can be clumsy to navigate:
I often found myself confused using the interface. For example, how would anyone know what these tiny icons represent on the modal window?
The reason to use ZeeMaps is that it allows you to import data from all sorts of different locations: Crowd Source, Google Spreadsheets, Microsoft Excel, CSV, KML, GeoRSS feed or Copy-and Paste.
There is a free plan— but limits maps to 100 lifetime views… which is hardly anything. If you anticipate your map being viewed often you’ll need to use a paid plan— which runs from $19.95 - $99.95 / month.
Maps Generator is a very basic tool that let’s you create embeddable Google Maps.
It’s really simple except for one thing: it requires you to sign up for a Google Maps API key. For this reason, I’d suggest you use another map maker.
Registering for a Google Maps API key will be intimidating to most people— I’m a web developer and I still find it confusing to manage my Google API keys!
The other thing to be aware of is that Maps Generator includes a link back to their website in your embed code. You can easily delete if you are comfortable editing HTML code!
A fun, educational way for students to overlay economic and climate data— but not really a professional map creation tool.
NatGeo Mapmaker's standout feature is that it allows you to mix and match layers from a catalogue of National Geographic data— for example can add a layer for California gold mines, climate zones, natural disaster hot spots, population density and more. There’s just under 90 layers available.
The idea is that you can mix and match these layers to try to tease out relationships. For example, I added population density and light density and adjusted the transparency to get a sense of how they relate to one another:
There’s also a map style (called a Base Map) that gives your maps a hand-drawn feel. You can change to other styles though if you’d prefer.
You can add shapes, text and markers to the map— but you place them by clicking on the map. There isn’t an option to manually place markers by latitude/longitude or by address.
You can add in text, videos and images as “links” (better as info windows) on markers.
Bookmarks are a neat idea but I couldn’t really get it to work right. I didn’t quite understand it.
In the end, the NatGeo Mapmaker is mostly for fun. You can’t really publish it in a meaningful way other than a “read-only” link that you can show to friends and family.