What is a basemap and why is it important?

Why do I need a basemap?

A basemap provides both the foundation and the initial building blocks for creating your map. It provides users with a geographical and a visual context for your data. Whether your map is a fixed image or part of an interactive feature of your website the choice of basemap will affect how users interpret your map and use it.

Why is choosing the right basemap important?

A good base map enhances the information you are showing and the user experience of your map and therefore your website. The right basemap stimulates interest and makes the user identify your map as an important  source of information. It should encourage users to interact with your map to enhance their understanding of your data and website. On a visual level, it showcases your data. A well-presented combination of basemap and data legitimises the reason for having a map in the first place. Choosing the wrong basemap can have the opposite effect; it can detract from your data and, in some cases, make your data seem incorrect and as a result invalidate your map.

Which basemap should I be using?

A basemap will normally provide one or more of the following features:

  • Streets
  • Landmarks
  • Boundaries
  • Waterways
  • Satellite imagery
  • Areas of elevation

When deciding what base map to use and what features it needs to show or highlight it’s important to think about your target audience. For example:

  1. Is one base map sufficient or should you give a choice of base maps?  
  2. Does the base map support the ability of users to zoom into very large scales?
  3. Does the base map need to include contour or height data (e.g. for cyclists)?

Some base maps are pre-determined by the project. For example, a Local Plan must use Ordnance Survey mapping because it is a statutory document. However, there are still decisions to be made even if the basemap is pre-determined. For example:

  1. Should the basemap be shown in colour or in B&W?
  2. Is your data positionally accurate enough to be displayed over the chosen basemap?
  3. Does the basemap need to be simplified so your data is more clearly displayed?

OpusMap and basemapping

OpusMap takes account of the need to choose the right basemap. The choice made depends on the type of project you are undertaking,  how you would like it to display your data in terms of layers and styles presented over the basemap and how you want users to interpret and interact with your data. OpusMap provides a selection of pre-configured basemaps for you to choose from, these include:

  • Aerial photography
  • Open street map
  • OS opendata and mastermap (colour)
  • OS opendata and mastermap (greyscale)
  • OS opendata and streetview

These basemaps can be further customised depending on how you want to visualise your map and the user experience you’re trying to deliver with your map. We can also add other basemaps from external sources via a feed.

As part of an update to Opus4 we’ll be providing a new range of editing tools so you can customise and brand basemaps to meet the design demands of your project and the user experience demands of your target audience.

For assistance in choosing a basemap, you can contact the OpusMap team by calling 01270 611011 or emailing

This site uses Cookies to improve user experience, please see our Privacy Notice

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.