With the tmap package, thematic maps can be generated with great flexibility. The syntax for creating plots is similar to that of ggplot2. The tmap package also contains many facility functions for reading and processing shape files (see overview). This vignette will focus on the core business of tmap, which is plotting maps. It’s also possible to plot maps interactively; see vignette("tmap-modes").

Shape objects

We refer to shape objects as objects from the class Spatial or Raster, respectively from the sp and the raster package. The supported subclasses are:

Without data With data
Polygons SpatialPolygons SpatialPolygonsDataFrame
Points SpatialPoints SpatialPointsDataFrame
Lines SpatialLines SpatialLinesDataFrame
Raster SpatialGrid SpatialGridDataFrame
Raster SpatialPixels SpatialPixelsDataFrame
Raster RasterLayer
Raster RasterBrick
Raster RasterStack

Obviously, shape objects with data (the right-hand side column) are recommended, since data is what we want to show.

Load shape object of Europe (contained in this package):


Shape objects in ESRI format can be read with read_shape and written with write_shape. Projection can be get and set with get_projection and set_projection respectively. Note: projections can also directly (and temporarily) be set in the plotting method (as argument of tm_shape, see below).

Quick thematic map

The plotting syntax is based on that of ggplot. The qtm function is tmap’s equivalent to ggplot2’s qplot. The first, and only required argument is a shape object:


So, by default, the polygons (in case the shape object is a SpatialPolygonsDataFrame) are filled with light grey, and the polygon borders are drawn in dark grey.

A choropleth is created with the following code:

qtm(Europe, fill="well_being", text="iso_a3", text.size="AREA", root=5, fill.title="Well-Being Index", 
    fill.textNA="Non-European countries", 
    format="Europe", style="gray")

In this code, fill and text serve as aesthetics. Both well_being and iso_a3 are variables of the data contained in the shape object Europe. A color palette, in this case the qualitative palette from yellow to red, is mapped to the values of well_being. The variable iso_a3 contains the text labels, in this case the country codes. The arguments text.size and root determine the fontsizes of the text labels (in this case, the fifth root of the area sizes are taken). The fill.title argument is the title for the fill-legend. The argument fill.textNA is the legend text for missing values. The final two arguments, format and style are predefined layout settings for this shape object (see layout).

The function qtm offers the same flexibility as the main plotting method (to be described next). However, for more complex plots, the main plotting method is recommended for tis readability.

Plotting with tmap elements

The main plotting method, the equivalent to ggplot2’s ggplot, consists of elements that start with tm_. The first element to start with is tm_shape, which specifies the shape object. Next, one, or a combination of the following drawing layers should be specified:

Drawing layer Description Aesthetics
tm_fill Fills the polygons col
tm_borders Draws polygon borders col, lwd
tm_polygons Combination of tm_fill and tm_borders col
tm_bubbles Draws bubbles size, col
tm_dots Draws dots col
tm_lines Draws polylines col, lwd
tm_raster Draws a raster col
tm_text Add text labels text, size, col

Both constant values as well as data variable names can be assigned to the aesthetic arguments (except for tm_borders). For instance, tm_fill(col="blue") colors all polygons blue, while tm_fill(col="var1"), where "var1" is the name of a data variable in the shape object, creates a choropleth. If a vector of constant values or variable names are provided, small multiples are created.

The following layers are map attributes:

Attribute layer Description
tm_grid Add coordinate grid lines
tm_credits Add credits text label
tm_compass Add map compass
tm_scale_bar Add scale bar

The last plot is reproduced as follows:

tm_shape(Europe) +
    tm_fill("well_being", textNA="Non-European countries", title="Well-Being Index") +
    tm_borders() +
    tm_text("iso_a3", size="AREA", root=5) + 
tm_format_Europe() +

We refer to tm_shape and its subsequent drawing layers as a group. Multiple groups can be stacked. To illustrate this, let’s create a topographic map of Europe:

data(land, rivers, metro)

tm_shape(land) + 
    tm_raster("trees", breaks=seq(0, 100, by=20), legend.show = FALSE) +
tm_shape(Europe, is.master = TRUE) +
    tm_borders() +
tm_shape(rivers) +
    tm_lines(lwd="strokelwd", scale=5, legend.lwd.show = FALSE) +
tm_shape(metro) +
    tm_bubbles("pop2010", "red", border.col = "black", border.lwd=1, 
        size.lim = c(0, 11e6), sizes.legend = c(1e6, 2e6, 4e6, 6e6, 10e6), 
        title.size="Metropolitan Population") +
    tm_text("name", size="pop2010", scale=1, root=4, size.lowerbound = .6, 
        bg.color="white", bg.alpha = .75, 
        auto.placement = 1, legend.size.show = FALSE) + 
tm_format_Europe() +

Things to learn from this code:

Small multiples

Small multiples are generated in two ways:

  1. By assigning multiple values to at least one of the aesthetic arguments:
tm_shape(Europe) +
    tm_polygons(c("pop_est_dens", "gdp_cap_est"), style="kmeans", 
        title=c("Population density", "GDP per capita")) +
tm_format_Europe() + 

  1. By defining a group-by variable in tm_facets:
tm_shape(Europe) +
    tm_polygons("well_being", title="Well-Being Index") +
    tm_facets("part") +

Notice that this plot has a different layout than the previous one. In the last plot, panels are used, and the legend is shown next to the maps. These options can be changed with the arguments panel.show and legend.outside of tm_layout. By default, the panel/external legend layout is used when the group-by variable is specified, since in that case, the multiples share a common legend.

The scales of each aesthetic argument can be set to either fixed or free, and also, the coordinate ranges of the small multiples:

tm_shape(Europe[Europe$continent=="Europe",]) +
    tm_fill("part", legend.show = FALSE) +
    tm_facets("name", free.coords=TRUE, drop.units=TRUE)

The argument drop.units is used to drop all non-selected spatial units. If drop.shapes=FALSE then neighboring countries are also visible.

Map layout

The layout of the thematic map can be changed with tm_layout or one of its wrapper functions. In the next example we use two of these wrapper functions, one for the overall format of world maps, and one for the legend.

pal8 <- c("#33A02C", "#B2DF8A", "#FDBF6F", "#1F78B4", "#999999", "#E31A1C", "#E6E6E6", "#A6CEE3")
tm_shape(land, ylim = c(-88,88), relative=FALSE) +
    tm_raster("cover_cls", palette = pal8, title="Global Land Cover", legend.hist=TRUE, legend.hist.z=0) +
tm_shape(World) +
    tm_borders() +
tm_format_World(inner.margins=0) +
          position = c("left","bottom"), 
          bg.color = "white",