This introductory workshop was given by Andy Eschbacher on March 13, 2015 at KQED. As taught, it was 2 hours long.

March 13, 2015


  1. Introduction to CartoDB (20 minutes)
    • Brief history
    • Broad range of use cases
    • Intro to the interface
  2. Hands-on mapping workshop (45 minutes)
    • Setting up accounts
    • Data import
    • Choropleth, Category, Intensity Maps
    • Basic map styling
    • Column data types
    • Torque – temporal maps
    • Sharing visualizations
  3. CartoDB with JavaScript briefly (5 minutes)
  4. Odyssey.js (10 minutes)
  5. Other Things and Wrap Up (10 minutes)
    • Resources
    • Seeking help

Goals for today

  • Quickly and easily make meaningful maps from data in minutes
  • Show the breadth of data analysis available to you through CartoDB
  • Prepare data for use in mapping

Later reference

You can find this document in my GitHub Account.

1. Intro to CartoDB

1.1 Overview

I’ll show you some slides!

1.2 Journalists Using CartoDB

  1. Demonstrations in Brazil
  2. LA Sheriff Election Results
  3. Alcatraz Escape revisited

1.3 Tour of the Interface

Data Import

Basic Data Import Data import dialog Most major formats for storing data: Excel Spreadsheets, CSV files, Shapefiles, KML (Google Earth), etc. See complete list here.

  1. Import by URL! Handy when in a workshop and you don’t want to overwhelm the bandwidth :)
  2. Select file from your computer
  3. Common Data contains useful datasets for everyday use (admin regions, USGS earthquake data, ports and their locations, and many more)

Integration with Google Drive and Dropbox.

Twitter firehose access for Enterprise accounts.

Data tables in CartoDB

Column names

Column names

Editing Data point by point

editing data

Filters & SQL


Filters are a great way to explore your data. Besides filtering your data, they allow you to see histograms of the distributions, the number of unique entries, or a search box for columns that have a large number of text entries.

Types of visualizations

  • Simple – most basic visualization
  • Cluster – counts number of points within a certain binned region
  • Choropleth – makes a histogram of your data and gives bins different colors depending on the color ramp chosen
  • Category – color data based on unique category (works best for a handful of unique types)
  • Bubble – size markers based on column values
  • Intensity – colors by density
  • Density – data aggregated by number of points within a hexagon
  • Torque – temporal visualization of data
  • Heat maps – greater color intensity indicate greater density of data

Check out visualization documentation for more.

Data for the following from DataSF.

Simple Map

The visualization style simple is the default visualization for all maps.

Simple visualization

Styles available in the wizard

Styling options

  • Marker Fill: change the size, color, and opacity of all markers
  • Marker Stroke: change the width, color, and opacity of every marker’s border
  • Composite Operation: change the color of markers when they overlap
  • Label Text: Text appearing by a marker (can be from columns)
Category Maps

Color features by discrete elements.

Category Map


Infowindow options

  • Select which column data appear in infowindow by toggling column on
  • Customize further by selecting

Change basemap

Select basemaps from different providers, use custom color, NASA data, MapBox tiles, etc.

Basemap options


Add annotations to your maps:



Choropleth maps show map elements colored according to where a value associated with the map element falls in a range. It’s like a histogram where each bin is colored differently according to a color scale you pick. Notice the CartoCSS screenshot above.

Choropleth map

Features to notice:

  • Column choice of how geometry is categorized
  • Number of color bins
  • Color ramp choices

Quantification is an option to pay attention to since it controls how the data is binned into different colors. Equal interval gives bins of equal size across the range, which means that outliers stand out. Quantile bins so that each bin has approximately the same number of values. Heads/tails works well for data that has more of an exponential characteristic. Jenks is best for data that has some clustering to it (i.e., it’s multimodal).

CartoCSS basics

CartoCSS is the styling language for our maps.

CartoCSS screenshot


Can be easily customized


You have the option of giving it a title, and changing the text for the colors. You can also change the colors manually, or, even better, change the color ramp back in the wizard. If you want to explore other color ramps, check out Color Brewer for some very well thought out color schemes.

Torque maps

CartoDB created a fully zoomable map that changes in time. Imgur

Some examples

  1. World Cup tweets saturate this map
  2. Tweets that mention sunrise map (captured in an animated gif above)
  3. Animal migration patterns
  4. Alcatraz Escape revisited

Sharing/publishing your maps

You can share your maps by doing this in a visualization:

Share your map

Last few things

Click on the 90-degree arrow to get back to view your tables/visualizations

go back to tables

Navigation bar

2. Hands-on Mapping Workshop

Let’s make maps.

If you don’t have an account setup, go here:

Otherwise, login to your account.

Data Import

Import a new dataset by copying the link (not downloading) and pasting it into the import window in your CartoDB account:

USGS reported seismic activity (earthquakes)

Data Import

2.1 Simple Map

Challenge #1

Using the styles in simple, try to recreate the visualization below. It’s similar to an intensity map that shows where earthquakes are occurring in largest numbers.

Challenge #1

For later reference, here’s more on quantification.

2.2 Choropleth Map

Challenge #2

Make a choropleth map

Next select choropleth from the Vizualization wizard. By default it will select depth. Select the mag column (which means magnitude or power of the earthquake).

Notice that there are lots of US-based earthquakes that are fairly weak – so perhaps filtering for earthquakes above 3.0 will give a better visualization of our data.

hint: notice that a filter was used Choropleth Map

2.3 Category Map

Challenge #3

Try to recreate this map using category. net is the column to categorize by…

Category challenge

2.4 Torque Map

Challenge #4 – Create a basic torque map

Create a torque map that looks like the one below. Hint: Select the time column of the earthquake data.

Torque animation

2.5 Multilayer map

Three basic types of data appear on a map.

  • Point data – like we saw for the earthquakes
  • Line data – like flight paths, can be seen in this example
  • Polygon data – like the shapes of states

Go back to your dashboard and click on Common Data. Find Administrative Regions, then click on USA States.

After the data imports into your account, click on the large + on the panel on the right side of the page.

multilayer visualization

Select the earthquake dataset. It’s default name on import is all_month. Then hit Add layer and you will get this:

Add additional layer

Name your visualization something fancy.

You can customize each layer just as you would customize a single layer.

Try to create a map that looks like this:

Multilayer Map

Multilayer Resources

Journo examples

Abortion clinic access

3. CartoDB.js

CartoDB.js is our JavaScript API – a way to make maps using JavaScript.

3.1 What it looks like

Three pieces to JavaScript maps

The example above uses HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to make a map appear on a webpage.

Check out our Map Academy course on CartoDB.js if you want to learn more.

3.2 Extensibility

Use CartoDB.js with other JavaScript libraries to make powerful web map apps.

Check out Urban Reviewer.

If you take a look at the source code, there are a dozen libraries linked: Urban Reviewer source code

3.3 Epic Example

Illustreets shows standard of living information across England to amazing detail. There are millions of data points, each can be interacted with to give graphs, summaries, etc.

4. Odyssey (if we have time) – Telling narratives with map visualizations

Odyssey is in the process of being brought to Editor like other visualizations. For now, play in the sandbox.


Getting started!

Go to:

Brief tour of the interface.

Replace the header in the box on the right with this:

- baseurl: "{z}/{x}/{y}.png"
- title: "Percent of people that say Coke"
- author: "Your name"
- cartodb_filter: ""
- vizjson: ""

If you want to add your own vizjson file for another visualization, go to the visualization you want to use in the CartoDB Editor, click on Share in the upper right hand corner, and copy the link under CartoDB.js. You can now paste that link in place of the vizjson link given in the above example.

I’m using a different base map (baseurl), changing the title and author, and adding a data layer by adding the vizjson and cartodb_filter portions.

If you want to add images use the following format:

![Image title](image link)


![David Bowie](

5. Wrap Up

More resources

  1. Map Academy
  2. CartoDB Tutorials
  3. CartoDB Editor Documentation
  4. CartoDB APIs
  5. Gallery of nice maps

My contact:

If you make a map you’re proud of or just want to say hello, connect with me @MrEPhysics.