The EARTH atlas series is an exclusive limited edition set of atlases with the plates from each atlas being destroyed at the end of the print run. Millennium House (the publisher) had one objective when making the EARTH atlas series. It was quite simply to produce the largest and best atlases in publishing history. EARTH was to showcase our planet in a way it has never been presented before. It was to be a snapshot of time, much like a time capsule.

EARTH was created for the map enthusiast, the collector, the armchair traveler, libraries, universities, and large corporate businesses, or, some might say, those who demand luxury. Over 100 cartographers, geographers, designers, and editors were involved in the production of EARTH.

The Western Europe plate from EARTH (Blue)
EARTH (Blue) featured an in-depth look at the important physical and geo-political challenges facing the Earth today.


Starting with a blank canvas can be daunting, particularly when the design brief is so bold and ambitious, coupled with the fact that you don’t have any data to support the brief or cartographers to bring the data to life! The first task was to start building out a team of cartographers who could provide the mapping required for the atlas. The goal was to ensure that each region of the world was mapped by a local cartographer to ensure the best local map experience possible. 

While the search for Cartographers was underway, we set about designing the cartographic symbology for the atlas (see below). In Cartography, map symbols and their colour come with a set of commonly understood associations with the real world. Blue relates to water, green is commonly associated with recreational spaces or low elevation, dashed lines relate to intermittent rivers; unsealed paths or disputed boundaries, and so on. When setting about designing a visual language for the atlas it was important to recognize and respect these common cartographic conventions and associations. In addition to this, we recognized that the representation of cultural and political forms on world atlases has traditionally been formal and somewhat conservative in the past. Within this framework we had to find a way to create a unique visual brand for EARTH that stood out from the rest, but wasn’t too far right or left of center.

EARTH (Blue) cartographic symbology and style specifications

Underlying the cultural and political features on each atlas plate was a series of highly detailed terrain (relief) representations. The relief was combined with hypsometric and bathymetric tints. Hypsometric and bathymetric tints enable the reader to easily identify elevations that are above or below sea level and are a commonly used as a backdrop in world atlases. The palette chosen for the hypsometric tints ran from green (low elevations) to white (high elevations–glaciers). When combined with the terrain, the tints took on a rich and colourful appearance, something that Gordon Cheers, the Managing Director at Millennium House loved. This rich colour palette set the backdrop for all other layers to play within.

The relief and hypsometric and bathymetric tints combination set a unique for each plate. Keeping this in mind, we set about choosing two relatively neutral and traditional typefaces to label the thousands of political and cultural places that existed on each plate. We chose Myriad and Garamond as our two core typefaces. We chose Myriad as our san-serif because of its very neutral but expandable properties (we had to extend Myriad’s glyph collection to include all the vast array of diacritics that existed throughout the world, particularly in SE Asia). Myriad was rolled out across all of cities, like Paris, Rome, Tokyo, New York City etc. We chose Garamond to compliment and contrast with Myriad. Garamond brings a very traditional, almost old-style look and feel to the maps. Garamond was used for political labels like continents, states, provinces and natural features, like mountain ranges, rivers and mountain peaks. The two typefaces provided a strong contrast between the different types of features on the map.

The final appearance of each plate was one whereby country names, large physical features and global cities were easily identified amongst a thousands of other map features like rivers, roads, airports, mountain peaks, island etc, while the rich hypsometric and bathymetric tints gave the atlas its own unique and feel.

A section from North East USA atlas plate from EARTH (Blue)

Once the map design fundamentals were in place, it was time to define the coverage, projections, and scales of each map. The scale of the regional maps in EARTH (Blue) range from 1:1 million in Europe to 1:10.5 million (Russian Fed.). The majority of the maps are in the range of 1:2 million to 1:5.5 million. The sheer size of the atlas afforded us to present parts of the world in a level of detail not seen before in atlases.

The coverage and scale of each atlas plate in EARTH (Blue).

Editing the atlas

A team of more than a dozen Map Editors were employed to check every detail of the atlases. The process of map editing was lengthy and painstaking. All of the maps were thoroughly checked for content accuracy and consistency. Close attention was paid to the implementation of the different map styles and classifications of map features. With over 60 cartographers involved it was important that there was consistency between each plate throughout the atlas.

Gordon Cheers (center), Roger Smith (right) and I (left) show off a single page from EARTH (Platinum) after it had been through one round of cartographic edits.

Production and Printing Challenges

EARTH (Blue) features a blue leather cover and each page is lined with silver gilding to prevent yellowing. It also features wooden bindings for extra strength and support of its heavy weight. Each corner of the atlas is fitted with silver corner guards to protect the book from wear and tear. The atlas was packaged in a heavy duty box (slipcase) to further protect it from wear and tear. The sheer size of EARTH (Platinum) was problematic on many fronts. For example, the paper had to be heavy enough not to tear when the pages were turned, but every increase in paper weight quickly added to the overall weight of the atlas, which was unwieldy at best. Once the book was printed and bound it was packed up in a box that was about the size of a normal car making the cost of shipping it around the world prohibitively expensive!  

Behind the scenes at the printer in Hong Kong


Some of the world’s most prestigious libraries and universities now store EARTH atlases in their rare books collections. EARTH pushed the skills of all the people involved in the project, in particular the cartographers. During map production, the computers of several cartographers crashed and had to be upgraded because the map files were so large and so detailed.

The cartography in EARTH has been acknowledged by the IMTA (International Map Trade Association) with the award for Best Book Based Product and Best Cartographic Product, and EARTH has also been acknowledged, winning the 2009 Book of the Year award from the Galley Club in Sydney, Australia.

EARTH may well be the last atlas of this grandeur ever to be published as our reliance on online mapping, satellite navigation, and print-on-demand applications is gradually making these great atlases extinct. Thankfully though, the distinct properties of an atlas will never be lost. Atlases are much more than a book of maps—they are a time capsule of people, places, cultures, and history. Each of the 60 cartographers, as well as the designers, editors, researchers, consultants, and production staff involved in EARTH is very proud of what they have achieved.

The team from the Guinness World Records measures EARTH (Platinum) as it makes its way into the record books as the largest atlas ever produced.

Footnote: The Klencke atlas held the record for the largest atlas in the world for over 350 years. The Klencke atlas was presented to Charles II in 1660 following the English Civil War. The atlas contains 41 large wall maps in an ornate binding that bears symbols of the kingdoms of Great Britain and France. At the time, the maps were considered to encapsulate the entire knowledge of the world. Source: Johann Mauritis.