Robin Wilson

Robin is a former academic in remote sensing, now working as a freelance geospatial data scientist and software developer. He has released a number of open-source Python packages, and is active in software sustainability research. He blogs at

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From static PDFs to interactive, geospatial PDFs, or, ‘I never knew that PDFs could do that!’
Robin Wilson

You’ve almost certainly used the PDF format to store a map visualisation before - but did you know that PDFs aren’t restricted to static data? Using Geospatial PDFs you can build interactive PDFs in which layers can be switched on and off, data and locations can be queried, and data can even be re-loaded back into a GIS system. And you don’t need fancy software to create these PDFs: it can be done with QGIS and GDAL.

This talk will start with the basics of exporting a Geospatial PDF from QGIS, and demonstrate what can be done with the resulting PDF. I will then show how nicely styled Geospatial PDFs can be created in GDAL using a XML configuration file (yes, GDAL can do vector styling!). Finally, I will show just how far you can take this...creating a fully-interactive, animated geospatial data display application in a PDF file (yes, really - it sounds crazy, and it probably is a bit crazy, but it works!).

This particular application allows visualisation of shipping tracks alongside ancillary data, and the interactivity allows you to show and hide layers, jump to specific times, step through time and produce an animation of the ship’s track. Of course, being a PDF, this can be shared as a single file, easily printed at any stage, and doesn’t require the installation of specific GIS software. This is implemented through the magic of Python, GDAL and the PDF Javascript API. This final output can be created entirely using open-source software, but does require the proprietary Adobe Reader software to work to its full extent - although most Geospatial PDFs can be used with a range of PDF reader applications.

Open-source code samples will be provided alongside the presentation, and the presentation will include interactive demonstration of the created PDFs. The presentation is likely to appeal to users of all experience levels, and may introduce even expert users to possibilities they had never considered!