What Is a Map Scale?

Antonio M. Rosario/Stockbyte/Getty Images

A map scale shows the relationship between the distance on the ground and the corresponding distance on a specific map. Most scales appear on the bottom or top corner of a map.

For example, 1 centimeter on a map might represent 1 mile on the ground. Nearly all maps contain a scale, but the scale used varies depending on the individual map. Map scales are used to help people determine distances, even when the map is rather small in size. The scales are often presented as something similar to 1:100,000, which indicates 1 centimeter for every 1 mile. The larger the number, smaller the scale is.