How to show shaded relief in locator maps

Our locator maps come with a shaded relief, or “hillshade,” which is a fancy way of saying that readers will be able to see mountains and valleys in your locator maps. Whether it's the Andes or the Alps, Mount Everest or the Grand Canyon, all terrain that goes up will be visible as terrain that goes up.

Our shaded relief is available between zoom levels 3 and 12, and gets more detailed the more you zoom in. Here you can see the shaded relief turned on and turned off. It can add some valuable context.

How can you enable shaded relief?

You can show shaded relief on your locator map by clicking one tiny checkbox. It’s turned off by default, so don’t miss it: Create a locator map (by clicking here or going to “Create a map” on our maps page) and then check the checkbox "Mountains" in step 2: Design map. And that’s it! You should now see some mountains and hills.

How does it work?

On each supported zoom level, we designed 6 layers of shades: 2 shades for the bright northwest side of the mountains on which the warm sun shines, and 4 shades for the dark southeast side of the mountain. 

If you own a custom design theme as part of a Custom or Enterprise plan, you can define your own colors for the bright and dark sides of your shaded relief — simply get in touch with us at and let us know which colors you’d like.

But why northwest and southeast, you ask? It’s not an arbitrary decision we’ve made; when the light comes from the upper left, we humans perceive mountains as mountains — not as valleys. Don’t rotate a locator map with a shaded relief too much. It will lead to “relief inversion” and look a bit odd.

With the six layers of shades, we create a visual illusion of mountains and valleys. But they are not shown in 3D (as opposed to e.g. our 3D buildings). That’s why our shaded relief blends out if you tilt your map.

You will see a little warning below the Mountains checkbox that tells you when you zoomed in or titled too much to see the shaded relief. So just play around! We’re looking forward to seeing what you will create with the new maps.