Skip to main content

Finding and Using GIS Data: Natural Earth

The AGS Library's Guide to Finding GIS data and working with it for your specific project needs

Natural Earth

How to Use Natural Earth

How to Use Natural Earth.

Unlike many datasets which were designed for measurement and analysis, Natural Earth was made for cartography.

Available on Natural Earth are shapefiles of the world, individual countries, states, communities, railroads, airports, parks, physical features, raster imagery, and much more-- all of which can be easily stylized to make any map look visually stunning. Many of the features come paired with corresponding attribute information.

  • Vector downloads are available in ESRI Shapefile Format
  • ​Rasters are downloaded as TIFF files, with TFW world file


Step 1). Decide which scale you want to use.

Natural Earth offers their data in three scales: 1:10,000,000, 1:50,000,000, and 1:110,000,000.

You should make this decision based on how “zoomed in,” or detailed your want your map to be. For example, the following images are from the Natural Earth Countries layer zoomed in on the Aegean Sea at the three available scales.

When depicting smaller areas, the more detailed 1:10,000,000 scale displays features better.  

On the other hand, the 1:110,000,000 scale can be better for mapping larger areas. Observe the Countries layers at each scale when zoomed out on the entire world:

Most of the detail in the 1:10,000,000 and 1:50,000,000 scales is unnecessary. These detials makes the map look too busy and like it lacks neatness. To represent larger areas, the 1:110,000,000 scale works better. 


Step 2). After deciding which scale to use, the next step is to decide what kind of data you want.

Natural Earth organizes its data into three categories:

  • Cultural Vectors
  • Physical Vectors
  • Raster Data

Cultural Data:

  • Countries
  • Disputed Breakaway Areas
  • First Order Admin (Provinces, Departments, States, etc.)
  • Populated Places
  • Urban Polygons
  • Parks and Protected Areas
  • Water Boundary Indicators
  • Roads
  • Railroads
  • Airports
  • Ports
  • Timezones
  • ​Cultural Building Blocks (Labels, Points, Seams, and More). 

Physical Data:

  • Coastline
  • Land 
  • Minor Islands
  • Reefs
  • Ocean
  • River and Lake Centerlines
  • Lakes and Reservoirs
  • Labels for Major Physical Features
  • Playas
  • Antarctic Ice Shelves
  • Glaciated Areas
  • Bathymetry
  • ​Geographic Lines
  • Graticules
  • ​Physical Building Blocks (Labels, Points, Seams, and More). 

Raster Data:

  • Cross-blended Hyspometric Tints
  • Natural Earth 1
  • Natural Earth 2 (used in the banner of this guide)
  • Ocean Bottom
  • Shaded Relief
  • Gray Earth
  • Manual Shaded Relief of Contiguous U.S.​

Descriptions of each feature are available on Natural Earth's Features Page

Request Data from the AGSL

UWM Libraries, 3rd Floor, East Wing
2311 E. Hartford Ave.
Milwaukee, WI 53211
(414) 229-6282

Data Request Form Geospatial Data Homepage E-mail us

Satisfaction Survey

We want to make sure that the GeoData Services at the AGSL remain useful and relevant to you.  Please complete our survey and help us improve our services.  This survey is being performed strictly for improvement of our services to you.  The information is not being used in any research at UWM or elsewhere.  You remain anonymous unless you opt-in at the end of the survey by providing your e-mail.  The survey uses the UWM Qualtrics survey instrument.

Click to Start Survey