How to Create and Use Maps in Power BI (Ultimate Guide)

Written by co-founder Kasper Langmann, Microsoft Office Specialist.

Using a Power BI map is a great way to visualize data that represent locations.

With visually appealing maps and easy-to-understand content, your users will be able to gain more insight into your data.

But how do you create and use maps in Power BI?

In this article, you’ll learn the basics of Power BI maps. We’ll show you how to create one using each type of built-in Power BI map.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Let’s start exploring! 🚗

*This tutorial is for Power BI Online (also called "Power BI Service"). If you have Power BI Desktop, then click here and go to the online version.

Introduction to Power BI Maps

Power BI is a business intelligence and analytics tool fit for non-technical and technical users to manage, analyze, visualize and share data with others.

One of its key features is visualization — that is, present data and insights using appealing visuals.

Among the visuals available in Power BI are maps. 

There are 4 types of core or built-in map visuals:

  • Map (Basic)
  • Filled Map
  • ArcGIS Maps
  • Shape Map

Both Power BI Desktop and Service support maps. However, if you would like to create a Shape Map, you might have to use Power BI Desktop since this feature is still in preview.

Also, each of these types has its own strengths and weaknesses which we will go through later.

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of how each map looks using data from the free “Retail Analysis Sample” dataset:

Side-by-side comparison of all built-in Power BI maps

Before going through, think first if a map is really necessary for your data. Power BI maps are great if you would like to answer questions related to geospatial or distance between locations.

Using a map is also a good idea if you would like to show insight about quantity or something related to numbers that are connected to certain locations.

But for the sake of this tutorial, we’ll be showing you the basics in creating each type of map. Let’s go! 👍

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Preparing Your Dataset

As mentioned earlier, we’ll be using the “Retail Analysis Sample”.

However, if you’re using your own dataset, there are a few things you need to know.

First, make sure that your location data is correctly geo-coded.

What this means is that you should check if your data are categorized.

An easy way to check it is on the fields pane of your reports builder. A location data is correctly categorized when you see a globe icon beside it.

For example, in our dataset, you’ll see that icon beside the ‘City’ field:

A globe icon beside a field name that signifies its a location-type data

If not, you’ll have to change and set the data categorization in Power BI Desktop.

Also, it’s easier for maps to…well…map the location when you use more than one location.

For example, mapping out a location complete with city, state, and country details is easier than mapping out a location with a city alone. This would confuse the map especially if there are other locations of the same name that exist in other parts of the world.

Even better if you add or use latitude and longitude values to your dataset. This would clearly erase any ambiguity in your location.

All maps except for Shape Map has a latitude and longitude data field. The values must be in decimal number format when setting it:

The latitude and longitude data fields on Power BI’s basic map

If you have the latitude and longitude data, simply drag their fields to these boxes so the map could give you more precise locations.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Power BI (Basic) Map

This type of map is best for basic display. There’s not much customization you can do as this is only good for common uses. However, there are certain things you can do to make it look better and fit your purposes like changing the map style and turning it into a heat map.

Pros:

  • Easy to use
  • Fully supported by the Microsoft Power BI team
  • Perfect for basic and common uses
  • Includes map themes

Cons:

  • Rare geocoding issues giving you inaccurate locations
  • No support for custom geographic formats like GeoJson, ESRI Shapefiles, and others

Creating a Basic Map

An easy way to do this is by clicking its icon on the visualizations pane and dragging the type of field you would like to use.

Let’s use the stores’ ‘PostalCode’ and drag it to the ‘Location’ bucket:

Those bubbles represent the locations.

If you like, you could add another field on the ‘Size’ bucket that would show its relevance to the location.

For example, adding ‘Total Units This Year’ will show you the contribution of these stores to the total units sold this year.

Simply drag the ‘Total Units This Year’ field to the ‘Size’ bucket:

As you can see on the map, the bubbles change in size depending on the total units sold this year per store.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Formatting a Basic Map

There are lots of formatting options on a basic map. Some of it that are relevant to maps include:

  • Data colors
  • Category
  • Bubbles
  • Map controls
  • Map styles
  • Heat map

There are 5 available map themes:

  • Aerial
  • Dark
  • Light
  • Grayscale
  • Road (default)

To change the map style, open the ‘Format’ section on the visualization pane.

Then, clickMap styles’ and select your preferred theme.

For example, let’s change the map’s theme to ‘Aerial’:

If you would like to turn the ‘Heat map’ on, just click on it to change it from ‘Off’ to ‘On’:

Turning on the heat map would also affect the available formatting options. Try each of the options and see how it affects the map.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Filled Map

A filled map, also known as a choropleth map, shows shaded geographic areas. You might find it a bit similar to the heat map. However, a filled map displays different values on the map by color scaling and saturation.

Pros:

  • Easy to use
  • Also has map styles available
  • Flexible map

Cons:

  • Rare geocoding issues giving you inaccurate locations
  • No support for custom geographic formats like GeoJson, ESRI Shapefiles, and others

Creating a Filled Map

The filled map icon is just beside the ‘Map’ icon.

This time, we’ll not be using postal codes as ‘Territory’ is a more fitting location data for this map.

After clicking the icon, an empty filled map will appear on the canvas. To fill it with data, drag the ‘Territory’ field to the ‘Location’ bucket:

The map looks similar to the basic map except for the filled territories that represent the stores.

It’s also possible to add different legends on it. For example, we could add ‘City’ in it to show the different cities within the territory.

To do it, drag the ‘City’ field to the ‘Legend’ bucket:

Adding a legend based on the ‘City’ where the stores reside

With ‘City’ as the legend, the filled out territories become color-coded dividing the territory to cities.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Formatting a Filled Map

The options available on a filled map are similar to that of a basic map minus the heat map.

To view the formatting options, click the ‘Format’ button on the visualizations pane:

The format button on the filled map along with the available formatting options

You’re already familiar with these options if you have tried them earlier. To reverse the effect of an option, press ‘Ctrl’ + ‘Z’ on your keyboard to undo it.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

ArcGIS Maps for Power BI

ArcGIS (Geographic Information Systems) maps are more advanced than your typical basic map. This type of map includes features not found in others like drivetime radius and clustering.

Pros:

  • Options for drivetime and distance radii
  • Clustering feature as you zoom in or out
  • Heatmap feature
  • Option for reference layers from ArcGIS Online
  • Built-in infographics feature that updates as you move around the map

Cons:

  • Can’t add custom shapes unless added to ArcGIS Online first and shared publicly
  • Not shown when publishing to web or embedding
  • Not available for Power BI Report Server

Creating an ArcGIS Map

Though more advanced, the process of making an ArcGIS map is the same as with the earlier maps.

Click its icon on the visualizations pane and drag the ‘City’ field on the ‘Location’ bucket:

Making an ArcGIS map with the ‘City’ field

Since the ArcGIS map is more advanced than the basic map, it can handle the ‘City’ field quite well.

Let’s add the ‘Total Units This Year’ to the ‘Size’ bucket to increase the size of the bubbles:

How ‘Total Units This Year’ affects the locations on the ArcGIS map

Like how it was with the basic map, the bubble would correspond to how the ‘Total Units This Year’ data differs from each city.

In case you didn’t know, you could hover your mouse over a bubble and see the data behind it:

Seeing the data behind an item on an ArcGIS map

Editing an ArcGIS Map

If you’ve tried visiting the ‘Format’ section of this map, you probably noticed there are only a few options in it.

That’s because there’s a separate way to edit an ArcGIS map.

Click on the map and click the ellipsis icon (the one with the three dots) found on the upper right corner of the visual.

Then, clickEdit’:

The ‘Edit’ button on an ArcGIS map

You’re now on the editing mode of an ArcGIS map.

There are lots of options here:

  • Basemap (similar to basic map’s style)
  • Location type (represent locations as points or boundaries)
  • Map theme (choices include location only, heat map, size, or clustering)
  • Symbol style (settings for the symbol used with bubble as default)
  • Pins (pin a location)
  • Drive time (drive time from a starting location)
  • Reference layer (available demographics and ArcGIS layers)
  • Infographics (available demographics you can add to the map)

To edit the map, just click on your desired option.

Let’s change the ‘Basemap’ to ‘Streets’:

Amazing, right?

Let’s try another one.

You could add an infographic on the map with respect to the current view.

For example, adding a ‘Household Income’ would add an infographic on the upper right side of the map:

Suffice to say, there are lots of things you can do with an ArcGIS map that you can’t do with the other maps in Power BI.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Shape Map

This is a type of map that shows polygon shapes on the canvas with a blank background. A shape map varies with the other maps in a lot of ways including having built-in geographies and the ability to import custom shapes using the TopoJSON format.

Pros:

  • Allows custom geography
  • Allows any type of 2D shape

Cons:

  • Still in preview mode so it can only be used in Power BI Desktop
  • No background or basemap option
  • No label on the map
  • No points or lines; only renders polygon shapes
  • Not ideal for large TopoJSON file as it may load slowly

Enabling the Shape Map on Power BI Desktop

Since this map is still on preview mode, you have to enable it on your Power BI Desktop to use it.

ClickFile’ on the tab list:

The 'File' button on the tab list

Then, hover your mouse over ‘Options and settings’ and select ‘Options‘:

The 'Options and settings' button on the 'File' tab

Go to ‘Preview features’ and checkShape map visual’:

With that, you’ll be able to see the shape map icon on the visualizations pane and use it.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Creating a Shape Map

Once you enabled it, the shape map will appear beside the filled map.

Let’s use it together with the ‘Territory’ field on the ‘Location’ bucket:

A shape map with the ‘Territory’ field

As you can see, the map looks pretty simple.

You can mix it with other data and show the relationship between the two.

For example, once we addTotal Units This Year’ to the ‘Color saturation’, you’ll show changes on the map.

The saturation levels will depend on the total units sold this year for that territory.

Adding ‘Total Units This Year’ to the ‘Color saturation’ bucket on a shape map

Cool, huh! In a way, it feels a bit like a heat map but with shapes and color saturation.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Formatting a Shape Map

The formatting options of a shape map is the same as other maps in Power BI except for ‘Shape’.

The ‘Shape’ literally decides the shape of the map and its project.

Currently, it’s set to ‘USA: states’ and ‘Albers USA’. Changing it to another country’s map when your data is in the US would not make sense.

However, you could try changing the ‘Projection’ to see which one you would like.

For example, let’s change the ‘Projection’ to ‘Orthographic’:

Changing the projection of a shape map into ‘Orthographic’

Notice how the map changed its projection? Feel free to play with the different projections available. Simply revert it to default to reset the ‘Shape’ option.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Conclusion

There are lots of ways to visualize your geospatial data in Power BI — from a simple and basic map to an advanced map where you can put other infographics.

When choosing a map to visualize your data, consider your intended analysis and reason for doing so. Once you got that, review the purpose of each map type as well as the pros and cons of each map.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto