Hi. I am interested in using raw geographic data to render a map with desktop software. My goal is to create a map of a single state from the US with basic geographic features: shaded elevation relief and rivers and county lines. I want to have a high degree of control over the aesthetic of the rendered map, although I am fine to do much of this in photoshop once the basic map has been made.
Having never worked with any GIS or mapping software before, I just need help getting started. What rendering program would you recommend? Mapnik, maperitive, QGIS, sharpmap are a few I have come across.
Comparing the different choices might be tough. For example I picked Mapnik because I found some sample code snippets that showed how to do what I wanted. But I don’t know if it would have been easier to achieve my desired results with other programs.
For what it is worth, I ended up with a fairly stock Postgresql/Mapnik setup with a bunch of scripts to get OSM and SRTM data and then use some of the gdal utilities to use the SRTM elevation data to create shape files containing contours, hill and slope shading and elevation relief. And then, wrapped in more scripts, use Mapnik to put it all together. It took a while to get all the pieces to work together and it was frustrating at times with the lack of documentation or multiple conflicting descriptions of how things worked. End result: I am pretty sure you could do what you ask using Mapnik, gdal, etc. and the price is right (free). But unless you are comfortable with hacking a bunch of scripts you will may troubles.
Would your other proposed options be easier? I haven’t a clue.