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Project: 1956 Paris Métro Map Digital Recreation

Long-time readers of my Transit Maps blog might know that one of my all-time favourite maps is this beautiful two-colour diagram of the Paris Métro from 1956. It’s stylish, beautiful to look at and easy to understand, even with just two printed colours — an elegant combination  of blue and gold. (The background could be a cream paper, or it might be just aged and yellowed white paper: it’s hard to tell!) While the scan from the original source is high-resolution, it’s oversharpened and not suitable for anything other than viewing on a screen. So — as is my wont — I decided to redraw it in Adobe Illustrator, making it completely vector-based.

1956 Paris Metro (2 Color)

Blue and Gold Map: Prints from $30

Here’s the end result (click the image for a larger preview). I strove to be as accurate as possible to the original piece, including the way that the blue ink overprints the gold ink. This required setting up a choke mask for the gold halftone tint area behind the blue route lines so that the two colours overlapped ever so slightly, but the gold dots didn’t show through the solid areas of blue. Old-school trapping work is fun!

Drawing the route lines was surprisingly easy, especially with Illustrator’s new Join and Corners tools, which allowed me to lay out straight sections of track, join them with one mouse flick and then visually modify the radius of corner joints until I  got a perfect fit. A few graduated curves — which would originally have been made with french curves — had to be drawn manually with the Pen tool. I note that the original map was remarkably consistent with its curved corners, using only a few standard values throughout the whole map.

Typography was more challenging — a combination of perfect matches (Engraver’s Gothic for the Plan de Paris title at top right and the Ligne de Sceaux legend), serendipitous substitutions for the original typeface (with a few tweaks, Proxima Nova Condensed turned out to be very similar indeed to the gothic font used for station labels), and some good, old-fashioned redrawing of the fonts I simply couldn’t match.

The Art Deco-styled Métro label at the top left was simple enough, but the gorgeous script used for the locale names around the periphery of the map was another matter. Almost certainly hand-lettered originally, there wasn’t a modern computer font that even came close to matching its style and aesthetics. This meant laboriously tracing each letterform with the Pen tool: very few letters could be reused in other locations because almost every one was slightly different. It was definitely the most time-consuming part of the recreation, but totally worth it in the end!

1956_ParisMetro_2ColorThe final obstacle to overcome was recreating the halftone dots used on the map — gold for the city limits and blue for the Seine. Creating good looking vector-based halftone dots in Illustrator is surprisingly difficult, with results that either look too digital and perfect, or create an unholy mess of millions of paths and anchor points. In the end, I made use of the Illustrator Tint Pack, a collection of lovely, organic-looking, seamless halftone pattern swatches from 5- to 90-percent grey. As you can see from the image to the left, they look fantastic and are very true to the original printed piece. I took great care to use the same line frequency and dot angle as the original map to complete the match.

Of course, once the map was completed, I could use it as a basis for two further related maps. First, a four-colour version using a contemporaneous map as my colour guide. The scan is  low-resolution and a little dark, so there was a bit of guesswork involved, but it looks pretty awesome. Click on the map for a larger preview.

Full-Colour Map: Prints from $30



And finally, just for fun, a version of the map that uses the colours from the current official map. As forests and locale names don’t appear on the modern map, I had to come up with something that suited the colour palette myself. Click on the map for a larger preview.

Modern Colours Map: Prints from $30


As always, your comments are welcome! In addition to the normal inkjet prints from my store, I’m also looking into doing a very limited edition screen print of the two-color map. If you’re interested in a print, please drop me a line so that I can get an idea of numbers.


  1. Pingback: Halftone Map Halftones à la 1956

    • Yeah, the 1950s full colour map is pretty nifty! As for your second question, tracking down vintage typefaces can be incredibly hard… the label text is a slightly condensed grotesque sans serif, but it has some interesting quirks that rule out most modern equivalents as a perfect match. The capital “Q” is particularly unusual, as the tail is like the top half of an “O” sitting underneath the baseline (check the original scan to see this). I’m almost positive that the beautiful script face was hand-lettered, and haven’t found anything even remotely close to it… the loops on the capital “M” are incredibly distinctive, but not to be seen anywhere else around. I’d love for someone with better typeface-making skills me to make a font based on that script — so gorgeous!

      • Chris

        Thanks for your quick reply! I love those fonts 🙂

        Thank you also for reviving this “old” but wonderful piece of map art!

    • Ah yes, the mystery of Line 11! I wondered that too, and went and did some research. 1956, it transpires, is the year that Line 11 was upgraded to be the first Metro line to run on pneumatic rubber tyres… hence the different treatment on the map. Note also that its two termini are labelled in blue, not gold.

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