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What are coastal vignettes and how can I create them?

Last Published: April 25, 2020


The cartographic representation of where land and water meet can be drawn using a number of different methods, some of which are called coastal vignettes. Coastal vignettes symbolize the water from the shoreline towards open water.

A vignette is usually thought of as a drawing (i.e., symbolized graphic mark) that gradually fades into the surrounding background leaving an undefined edge ( 2003).

On historic maps, a set of contours parallel to shore highlight the water areas along coastlines. On more recent maps, gradation of color is often used, ranging from white along shore to the blue used for the open water areas (USGS 2002).
[O-image] Example of color gradation coastal vignette
Because lighter values are associated with “less” of something, this approach leads the map reader to the impression that coastal areas are shallower than open water areas – an impression that cartographers often want to propagate because of its general truth (Robinson, et al. 1995; Tufte 1991; Tufte 1997). Additionally, the white areas near shore may be associated with the white water of breaking waves along beaches.

The white paper linked in the Related Information below demonstrates how to create coastal vignettes to symbolize the water using two different methods for creating a gradation in color – Buffers and Euclidean Distance. Each method shows how to use tools available in both ArcGIS 8.x and in the geoprocessing framework of ArcGIS 9.0 (ESRI 2004).

Article ID:000007739

  • ArcMap 8 x
  • ArcMap 9 x

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