THINGS TO LOOK FOR IN A ZIP CODE MAP

There are several companies in the custom ZIP Code map market and this page demonstrates some of the key differences between our maps and other maps that you might encounter on the Internet.  This page highlights some of the challenges that come with the custom map production business and explains our unique solutions to these problems.  This page also explains how we are able to produce better maps at a fraction of the cost that our competitors charge.

Here is a list of things to look for when comparing services.

Are the Cities and Towns Represented as Polygons or Points?

The vast majority of our competition sells maps that represent each populated place (i.e. city or town) as a single point on the map (rather than as a filled polygon that represents the area actually covered by the populated place).  Representing cities and towns as "dots" rather than polygons is a simplification that can be enormously misleading.  Both ZIP Code and populated place boundaries can be very messy, but the most useful maps cleanly make sense of this "messiness" instead of ignoring it.  A single ZIP Code area may include only a tiny part of a town, it may be fully enclosed by a town, it may fully enclose a town, it may fully enclose multiple towns, or it may not contain any towns... none of which you can determine when only select populated places are represented as single "dots" on the map.  Our maps show the actual land area that cities and towns cover, so that you can quickly see relationships between ZIP Codes boundaries and city and town boundaries.

Representing cities and towns as "dots" is a simplification process that has several production-side advantages to the cartographic company (that are direct disadvantages to you as a the purchaser):

  • By reducing all populated places to "dots," it is much easier to simply "drop" suburbs and smaller populated places.  Our maps show the areas covered by all populated places... if it has an area, then we show it and go out of our way to label it.

  • By reducing all populated places to "dots," it is possible to cover a lot of land area without extensive production time in map cleanup (populated places are also messy... a single town may cover several non-contiguous areas--all of which may need to be labeled).  Label placement and the human cost associated with production "clean-up" is a significant portion of the cost of virtually all maps.

We have written our own raw mapping software from scratch and are able to accurately show the areas covered by cities and towns (regardless of their size or complexity).  The index to our maps also show the precise x,y locations and county name of virtually all populated places drawn from the USGS Geographic Names server (often down to the neighborhood subdivision name). 

Are ALL ZIP Codes Indexed?  How are they Indexed?

Most companies who sell ZIP Code maps only index the ZIP Codes that are associated with a street delivery range and do not index ZIP Codes associated with Post Office boxes only or similar delivery types (in some cities, as many as half of the ZIP Codes do not appear in the index for this reason).  We index all ZIP Codes that fall within the coverage of each map with a precise x,y coordinates that correspond with rulers that run along the top and side of each map.

Also, most other companies provide a grid index that defines specific square regions of the map (i.e. if you are looking for ZIP Code 44406, go hunt for it in grid E6).  Our index gives you a precise x,y coordinate for every ZIP Code and populated place, so you can quickly know exactly where a specific feature is located.

Do You have to Pay A Lot More for Electronic Copies of Your Map?

All custom maps are also produced in PDF format and are sent to you at no additional charge.  For maps that you order out of the shopping cart, electronic copies cost only a few dollars more.

Can You Request a Free Print Sample from Them?

Are their--or our--online previews fuzzy and you are not sure what you are going to get?  We send free print samples... at least one free and complete ZIP Code state map and one ZIP Code metro map to everyone who requests it using our form (linked from the front page) so that you can get a good idea what your maps are likely to look like.  Free print samples are sent via USPS Priority Mail (2-3 days).  To the best of our knowledge, we are the only company in the custom map market that offers this free sample service.

Do You Get Free Census Data? 

Now that you know where a ZIP Code is, do you know how many people live inside it?  The number of housing units?  Average household income?  Average home value?  Average age of their houses?  We offer extensive free Census data for all custom maps that we produce, and for all maps that are ordered through our shopping cart. 

Price, Quality, Production Speed, and Customizations

Producing inexpensive, fast, and high-quality custom maps is a challenging business, in part because the average client comes with a high degree of map literacy and brings a set of relatively high expectations that are largely informed by road atlases or non-ZIP Code maps that are produced thousands or millions of times over (i.e. the Rand McNally Atlases, etc.) that cost as little as a few dollars for an entire book of maps.

Because of this background, many clients are initially surprised by the relatively high cost of custom ZIP Code maps.  Much of the unexpected cost can be attributed to two sources:

  • All maps have to be produced... i.e. someone has to sit down at a computer and--at least--clean up the map and prepare it for output (if you know going in that you're going to be selling hundreds or thousands of copies of this map, then you can afford to spend many dozens of production hours on it).  Likewise, how can you justify spending five hours producing a map for a single client who simply will not pay more than $60 for it?  It has been our experience that the only way to succeed in the low-cost custom map market is to develop superior technology that generates maps very cleanly and that require very little production time.  Our raw maps are generated using software that we designed from scratch to maximize efficiency.  This increased efficiency allows us to produce your custom map in a fraction of the time that it takes most competing companies (most of our custom maps mail the same day and copies of maps in our shopping cart mail almost immediately).
  • Print and finishing costs for a single map for a single client can be considerable and are largely unavoidable.

Like most similar companies, our business is split between fully custom maps that we generate and produce on demand and those that we have already produced and sell at a reduced cost.  We are the only company on the Internet that allows you to custom configure and preview the scope of your custom map... including adjusting all four margins as needed.  We are also the only company on the Internet that allows you to extract, assign ranges and colors, and merge Census data with your map from all of Summary File 1 and Summary File 3 (in fact, we are the only organization outside of the Census Bureau to replicate all of Summary File 1 and Summary File 3 online in any format).

 

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