Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Introducing Maps Engine Lite - a better tool for customizing maps

This article is an introduction to Google's Maps Engine Lite, which is a tool for creating custom maps.

What is Google Maps Engine Lite

In late March 2013, Google announced a beta (ie late-stage test) of Maps Engine Lite - and now it is available from the main Google Maps interface, without the word "beta" in sight.

This is a web application to let you "Create powerful custom maps", and it has more features than the current  "My Maps" custom-map editor in Google Maps, which I've used until now to put certain maps into one of my blogs.

You can access it at: https://mapsengine.google.com/

Once you have signed in to a Google account, you can either view/edit an existing map that you have make with Maps Engine Lite or which has been shared with you in MEL, or create a new one.

How to create a custom map using Maps Engine Lite

Click on the New Map button from the front screen, or the New map link from the manage-files folder (top left side of the screen).

Use the arrow beside Base Map to choose the style that you want applied: this covers both what is shown, and the colour scheme. At the moment the options are:
  • Map (ie ordinary - like regular Google maps)
  • Satellite
  • Terrain
  • Light Political
  • Mono City
  • Simple Atlas
  • Light Landmass
  • Dark Landmass
  • Whitewater

Add places to the map by:

Drawing them - You add things to the map with the Placemark and line or shape-drawing tools.  These are similar to those for Google Custom Maps, though they're now separate into two items.


Importing them - from either CSV/Excel files or you existing Google Custom Maps - see http://support.google.com/mapsengine/?p=lite_addplaces for details about what is possible.

You can separate the map into multiple layers, and you have access to Google Maps regular search feature: search-results are placed on non-permanent "search" layer, and you can select a result, right click on it and Save it to the map you are currently editing.

While editing the map, you have these options
  • Style - lets you choose whether to show individual markers, or a sequence of letters/colours
  • Table - Edit the list of placemarkers and lines - giving each a name or description
  • Labels - lets you choose whether to show marker labels on the map or not - and whether to use the name or description field.

Sharing maps you have made

The map can be shared using the green Share button in the top right corner, via gmail, G+, Facebook, Twitter or anything else which lets you use a link like this:

Putting Custom Maps on your website or blog

In Maps Engine Lite, the "embed on my website" option is available under the Save icon (currently at the top left, with options New map, Open and  Embed).  

However it only works if you have first clicked the green Share button, and set the map-visibility to Public (ie not just "anyone with the link").

This gives you a simple iframe statement like this:
<iframe height="480" src="http://mapsengine.google.com/map/view?mid=zV9FBQ3J7L1o.kzRGlAso0tmU" width="640"></iframe>
You can easily change the size via the height and width options, but there is no zoom level option - and I assume that the centre of the displayed map is represented in the coding  (this doesn't always work so well for Custom Maps - I usually recommend that people use the customization option).

And once you have the code, you can put it into your blog in the same way you would add any other 3rd party HTML.   The code above gives a map like this:

Notice that the map itself tells you that it was made with Maps Engine, and that it says it is for non-commercial use:   commercial users can buy access to a far more powerful version of the Maps Engine.

Advantages and disadvantages of Maps Engine Lite

So far I've only done a quick test, but initial impressions are:


Richer interface than custom maps - you can do more things.

Layers are a particularly good addition - it would be great if individual layers could be turned on/off from embedded version of the map.

Alternative colour scheme - will make it easier to create maps that are more suitable for certain circumstances, eg with a faded background.

Sequential markers - I don't have to use my own set of custom markers any more.

Uses the same base data as regular Google Maps - so the Follow Your World service can be used to get you updates about changes to the image-data.


No access to Google Streetview while you are editing the map.

Currently if you choose sequential markers, the labels and colours in the key on the left are not always the same as the ones used inside the map.

No Snap-to-roads option for lines

No custom map markers:  if you import a map from My Maps (aka Google Custom Maps), then any custom markers that you have are retained, and you can choose to use them again, but there is no way to add new custom markers.

What else have you found?

Related Articles:

Creating a Google Custom Map

Adding a Google Custom Map to your blog

Adding 3rd party HTML to your blog

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  1. I have found the good and bad as you have. I think that there is definite room for improvement.

    Do you know a way to link to a point on the map I created?

  2. I have imported a map I have made with google maps, it allows it. But it doesn't import imagine and videos I put on places of my map

  3. would love to know how you hid the layers panel, can't figure it out at all!

  4. Yes, how do you hide the layers panel.....? hugely mysterious so far....

  5. Good point - How do you hide the layers panel? Also, what control is there over attributes such as 'Zoom' ?

    1. You don't do anything to hide the Layers panel: if you want to make a map to embed into your website, follow the instructions given above, and you will get a map like I have shown with no layers panel. The layers panel will only show if you try to use screen-capture for making a graphic for your website - and this isn't a good way to do it anyway.

  6. I have tried to import several Google Maps but haven't been able to upload more than three... maybe it doesn't allow more than three layers or is it a question of allowing just a limited number of markers?

    1. yeah, the lite version only allows three layersw, while the pro version allows 100

  7. Hello,

    I did not understand how did you manage to get rid of the layers panel

    My map is the following iframe src="http://mapsengine.google.com/map/embed?mid=z_KXj6vxwEBw.kHwJy_CZMK_U" width="640" height="960" /iframe

    But as you can see the layers panel is shown and I desperately need to get rid of it because in tablet/smartphone view it covers all the map and you cannot see anything but the panel...


    1. How did you get your map code?

      If you compare it with the code I've given above, you will see that you have


      while I have


    2. It appears that the panel is hidden when the map is less than 580px wide (approx.) The map here is 500px wide

  8. Does Anyone know how to turn the "description" option back on. I turned off one in one of my pin locations and it turned it off for all my pins and I can't find how to turn it back on to type in my descriptions.

  9. hi, i putted your exactly thing: src="http://mapsengine.google.com/map/view?mid=zV9FBQ3J7L1o.kzRGlAso0tmU
    but the layers panel still alives

  10. Need an option to turn off the panel regardless of width!

  11. When the player width is less than 580px the layer panel will dissappear, but you can't directly control it.

  12. If you know how to code, you can use the Map API and display a map made in the Map Engine, and maybe remove the layers panel using some options:

  13. After embedding my maps, some of them give the option to change the base map in the lower left corner while others do not. Any ideas how to make them all allow base map changes?