What is GIS?

Tools that help visualize complex geographic information

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are tools to capture, store, edit, analyze, manage, and present geographic information visually. Software for GIS enable all levels of geographic knowledge workers to create queries, investigate spatial data, edit spatial data (points, lines, and shapes), and present mapping information.

Combined with this visual data is “attribute data” which provides more detail about the shape.  For example, a shapes of school buildings would likely include attributes like the name of the school, year built, students/teacher population, etc. GIS solutions can help answer complicated questions including “Show me all the fire hydrants within 200 yards of the schools in this city.”  If the data is available and accurate, a GIS tool can highlight this information, and decision makers easily interpret the results.

Learn more about GIS basics >>

GIS Layers example
Overhead view GIS example

Example of GIS Overlays

Imagine different sets of information visually stacked on top of each other.  Looking at the image to the left, see groups of objects stacked visually on top of each other in this order:

  • Vehicles
  • Sidewalks
  • Roads
  • Buildings
  • Tress and vegetation

GIS Software

Depending on your needs, there are various software solutions for managing, editing, querying, and presenting GIS information.  Most GIS Analysts need two things:

  1. Basemap – an image that acts as a bottom layer upon which to present geographic information.  This is usually a photograph of land or water from the top down, and is meant to provide visual context to the shape data being presented.
  2. Shape data – points, lines, or shapes of information on top of a basemap. For example, you can show a proposed changes to a highway on top of a photo of the current road structure.

Canvas X GIS software allows you to import and export geographic information in many common formats that let you show information on different layers, edit shapes, perform complex geographic queries, and create incredible graphics & presentations in one application.

GIS Workflows

How different people use GIS data

There are different uses for GIS tools and data, and one needs additional knowledge for more complicated tasks.  The most common use is for end users needing accurate, complete datasets to understand mapping information.  Whether you need GIS information to navigate to a new coffee shop or you need a visualization of a large construction site, presentations help visualize complicated geographic data.


Log geographic data


Surveyors will use Geographic Positioning Systems (GPS) to record data. This data is used to create accurate digital maps.

GIS Technicians

Create and improve maps and shape data

GIS Technicians

Correct and edit geographic data (points, lines, and shapes) in GIS data repositories.

GIS Analysts

Perform queries and create visualizations

GIS Analysts

Query data to create interesting visualization that simplify geographic information.

Decision Makers

Determine and approve real-world changes

Decision Makers

Use GIS visualizations and the resulting data set to determine where changes may be needed.

What is GIS data?

GIS Data formats

GIS data comes in various formats:

  • Photos of top-down images
  • Geodatabase
  • Google KML/KMZ
  • Shapefile
  • CAD dataset

Canvas X GIS supports many GIS formats and other image/vector formats.  See our list of compatible import and export formats >>

One of the great values of the Canvas software is in its collection of file format translators.

Michael E, Boeing

Where can I get GIS data?

Many states, counties, provinces, cities and municipalities provide access to their geographic data. Simply search for your location and look for “shape files”.  For example, Miami-Dade County has much of their data freely available for download.  You can find paid or free mapping data in many places – just make sure the data is from a reputable source and up to date.

GIS data types

GIS Market

  • Geographic Information Systems market is estimated to be worth $17.5 billion by 2023.
  • US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment to US GIS professionals to grow 19% between 2014 and 2024.
  • Job titles are Geographer, Cartographer / Photogrammetrist, Urban / Regional Planner, Surveyor with an average salary of over $70,000.
  • Cartographers move on to become managers in less than 10 years time, according to actual career map data from Zippia.

GIS Industries


Show changes to highways and roads, and help the public see what’s coming.


Plan new legislation geographically and create visuals for the public to understand the impacts.


Plan and manage lines, right-of-ways, and easements. Help decision makers understand impacts of changes.


Understand population, coverage, and areas for expansion visually.


Plan and reference your right-of-ways and easements, and help decision makers visualize changes.

Real Estate

View properties and assets of interest on a map.

How do I start?

Try the full application without any limitations or restrictions for 14 days.