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Sat Aug 19 11:40:27 2017

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QGIS layouts rewrite – progress report #1

Following our recent successful QGIS Layout and Reporting Engine crowdfunding campaign, we’ve been hard at working ripping up the internals of the QGIS 2.x print composer and rebuilding a brand new, shiny QGIS layouts engine. This is exciting work – it’s very satisfying to be able to cleanup a lot of the old composer code in QGIS and take opportunities along the way to fix long standing bugs and add new features.

While it’s not ready for daily use yet, there’s already been a lot of interesting changes which have landed in the layouts work as a result of this campaign. Let’s take a look at what’s been implemented so far…

  • We’ve added support for different measurements units all throughout layouts. While this means it’s now possible to set page sizes using centimeters, inches, pixels, points, etc, it goes much deeper than just that. In layouts, everything which has a size or position can take advantage of this unit support. So you can have page sizes in centimeters, but a map item with a size set in points, and positioned in millimeters! Having pixels as a unit type makes creation of screen-based layouts much easier – even right down to pixel perfect positioning and sizing of items…
  • Page handling has been totally reworked. Instead of the single “number of pages” control available in QGIS 2.x, layouts have complete flexibility in page setup. It’s now possible to have a layout with mixed page sizes and orientations (including data defined page size for different pages in the layout!). 
  • A revised status bar, with improved layout interaction widgets. We’ve also taken the opportunity to add some new features like a zoom level slider and option to zoom to layout width:
  • Layout interaction tools (such as pan/zoom/insert item/etc) have been reworked. There’s now a much more flexible framework for creation of layout tools (based off the main QGIS map canvas approach), which even allows for plugins to implement their own layout interaction tools! As part of this we’ve addressed a long standing annoyance which meant that creating new items always drew the “preview” shape of the new item as a rectangle – even for non-rectangular items. Now you get a real shape showing exactly how the created item will be sized and positioned:
  • On the topic of plugins – the layout branch has full support for plugin-provided item types. This means that QGIS plugins can create new classes of items which can be added to a layout. This opens the door for plugins allowing charts and visualisations which take advantage of all the mature Python and JS charting libraries! This is a really exciting change – in 2.x there was no way for plugins to extend or interact with composer, so we’re really keen to see where the community takes this when 3.0 is released.
  • We’ve ported another feature commonly found in illustration/DTP applications. Now, when you’re creating a new item and just click in your layout (instead of click-and-drag), you get a handy dialog allowing you to specify the exact position and dimensions for the created item. You can again see in this dialog how layouts have full support for units for both the position and size:
  • Another oft-requested feature which we’ve finally been able to add (thanks to the refactored and cleaned code) is a context menu for layouts! It’s currently quite empty, but will be expanded as this work progresses…
  • Snapping to guides and grids has been reworked. We’ve added a new snapping marker to show exactly were items will be snapped to:
  • Snapping to guides now occurs when creating new layout items (this didn’t happen in Composer in 2.x – only snapping to grids occurred when drawing new items).
  • The snapped cursor position is shown in status bar whenever a snapped point will be used, instead of the unsnapped position.
  • Unlike in Composers in QGIS 2.x, Layouts in 3.0 adopt the standard UX of dragging out rulers to create guide lines (instead of clicking on a ruler position to create a new guide). Creation of a horizontal guide is now done by grabbing the top ruler and dragging it down, and a vertical guide is created by grabbing the left ruler and dragging it out to the layout.
  • Better feedback is given in the ruler when a guide can be dragged. We now show guide positions in the rulers, and give an indication (via mouse cursor change) when these guides can be repositioned by click-and-drag.
  • Another very exciting change is the addition of a new “Guide Manager”. The guide manager allows numeric modification of existing guides and creation of new guides. Finally it’s possible to position guides at exact locations! Again, you can see the full support for layout units in place here – guides can be positioned using any available unit.
  • There’s also a handy new shortcut in the Guide Manager to allow applying the guides from the current page to all other pages in your layout.
  • We’ve refined the snapping logic. In Composer in QGIS 2.x,  grids would always take precedence whenever both a grid and guide were within tolerance of a point. Now, guides will always take precedence – since they have been manually set by users we make the assumption that they have been explicitly placed at highly desirable snapping locations, and should be selected over the general background grid. Additionally, grid snapping was previously only done if BOTH the x and y of the point could be snapped to the grid. We now snap to the nearest grid line for x/y separately. This means if a point is close to a vertical grid line but not a horizontal one it will still snap to that nearby vertical grid line.
  • Lastly, we’ve added a handy context menu to the rulers:

This is just a taster of the great new functionality coming in QGIS 3.0. This is all a direct result of the forward-thinking investments and generosity of the backers in our QGIS Layout and Reporting Engine crowdfunding campaign. Without their contributions, none of this would be possible – so our thanks go out to those organisations and individuals once again!

Stay tuned for more updates as the work continues…



QGIS Layout and Reporting Engine Campaign – a success!

Thanks to the tireless efforts and incredible generosity of the QGIS user community, our crowdfunded QGIS Layout and Reporting Engine campaign was a tremendous success! We’ve reached the funding goal for this project, and as a result QGIS 3.0 will include a more powerful print composer with a reworked code base. You can read more about what we have planned at the campaign page.

We’d like to take this opportunity to extend our heartfelt thanks to all the backers who have pledged to support this project:

We’ve also received numerous anonymous contributions in addition to these – please know that the QGIS community extends their gratitude for your contributions too! This campaign was also successful thanks to The Agency for Data Supply and Efficiency, Denmark, who stepped up and have funded an initial component of this project directly.

We’d also like to thank every member of the QGIS community who assisted with promoting this campaign and bringing it to the attention of these backers. Without your efforts we would not have been able to reach these backers and the campaign would not have been successful.

We’ll be posting more updates as this work progresses. Stay tuned…


QGIS Composer Rewrite and Layout Engine crowdfund – half way there!

If you’ve been following our recent blog posts, you’ll be aware that we are currently running a crowd funding campaign to extend the capabilities of QGIS’ print composer. You can read full details about this over at the campaign page.

The good news is that we’ve just hit the mid way point of the funds! Many generous backers have stepped up with contributions and we’re well on the way to reaching the funding goal. However, we still need your help make this work a reality.

Right now, what we need most is interested users and community members who will reach out to their local QGIS users and seek more backing for the campaign. We need to publicise the campaign beyond the regular online QGIS community, to the thousands of enterprises and organisations which rely on QGIS for their daily mapping operations. We need community members who can get in contact with these organisations and help convince them that investing back into the open source software they utilise is beneficial (and often will even SAVE them money in the long run, due to the increased productivity that changes like our composer improvements will bring!).

So, while social media reshares have been vital to reaching the current stage, we now need more “hands on” helpers who will take this on. If you know of any organisations which depend on QGIS for their mapping outputs, now’s the time to get in contact with them directly and advise them of this campaign!




QGIS Composer Rewrite and Layout Engine crowdfund launched!

At North Road we believe that crowdfunding is a sustainable way to maintain and enhance open source software, like the QGIS open source GIS package. We’ve run a number of successful crowdfunding campaigns in the past, including support in QGIS for live layer effects, a point cluster renderer, and a unique value renderer for raster layers.

Now, we’re proud to announce our latest crowd funding endeavour, and our biggest to date, the QGIS Layout and Reporting Engine Campaign.

This campaign covers stage 1 of a large, ongoing project to modernise and expand on QGIS’ print composer and layout facilities. Over time QGIS’ composer functionality has grown extensively and now is capable of creating flexible, high quality cartographic outputs. However, we’ve now hit a limit where the current code architecture is prohibiting further improvements and important fixes. In order to add a reporting framework to QGIS, it is necessary for us to refactor and improve large sections of the composer code.

If this campaign is successful, we’ll be adding flexible report generation features to QGIS and cleaning up all the existing composer code. As part of these clean up, we’ll be taking the opportunity to tackle a number of current limitations which cannot be addressed in the current composition code:

  • Layouts will become unit aware, allowing for item placement and properties using millimetres, inches, pixels, centimetres, points, etc.
  • Layouts will have the ability to include mixed page sizes and orientations.
  • Plugins will be able to create custom composer item types (eg allow utilisation of 3rd party graphing and visualisation libraries!).
  • Individual layout items can be rasterised without affecting the rest of the layout. For instance, a map which requires rasterisation due to its use of blend modes will not require all other layout items (such as headings, legends, etc) to be rasterised. This will greatly benefit PDF outputs for complex map layouts.
  • The code refresh will allow more extensive use of data defined layout item properties.
  • A render caching system will be implemented for items, speeding up use of the layout designer and also paving the way for use of live paint effects on layout items (eg dynamic drop shadows).

Full details on what we have planned are available here: QGIS Layout and Reporting Engine Campaign.

To make it possible we need 30,000€ pledged before 31 May 2017. You can help make this a reality by supporting the campaign or by sharing the campaign page and increasing exposure to the campaign. Updates to follow!

Point cluster renderer crowdfunding – successful!

Great news! Thanks in part to some generous last minute pledges, our QGIS Point Cluster Renderer campaign has successfully reached its target. This means that QGIS 3.0 will now include a full feature and flexible cluster renderer.

In the meantime, we’d like to extend our warmest thanks to the following generous contributors, whose pledges have made this work possible:

  • Andreas Neumann
  • Qtibia Engineering (Tudor Barascu)
  • Karl-Magnus Jönsson
  • Geonesia (Nicolas Ponzo)

Plus numerous additional anonymous backers whose generous contributions are also highly valued. If you run into any of these funders at a QGIS user group or conference, make sure you treat them like the GIS rock-stars they are!

Keep an eye out on our social media accounts as we’ll be posting more video demonstrations of this work as it lands in the QGIS codebase.


Point cluster renderer crowdfunding – the final countdown!

At North Road we are currently running a crowdfunding campaign to sponsor work on a new “Point Cluster Renderer” for QGIS. This is a really exciting new feature which would help make possible some neat styling effects which just aren’t possible in QGIS at the moment. The campaign is now in its final hours and we’ve still got some way to go to reach the campaign goals. If you’re interested in seeing this feature happen, now’s the time to jump onboard and contribute to the campaign!

Before time runs out we’d like to share some more details on how the cluster renderer can be enhanced through the use of data defined symbol overrides. Data defined overrides are where a huge part of QGIS’ symbology power resides. If you’re not familiar with them, we’d suggest grabbing a copy of Anita Graser and Gretchen Peterson’s reference “QGIS Map Design” (seriously – buy this book. You won’t regret it!). Basically, data defined properties allow you to set rules in place which control exactly how each individual feature in a layer is rendered. So, for instance, you can create an override which makes just a single feature render in a different color, or with a larger label, or so that all features with a value over 100 render with a bold label.

We’ve designed the point cluster renderer to take full advantage of QGIS data defined symbology. What this means is that the cluster symbol (ie, the marker which is rendered when 2 or more points are sufficiently close together) will respect any data defined overrides you set for this symbol, and each individual cluster symbol can have a different appearance as a result.

To make this even more flexible, the clusterer will also provide two additional new variables which can be used in data defined overrides for the symbol. The first of these, @cluster_size, will be preset to equal the number of features which have been clustered together at that point. Eg, if the cluster consists of 4 individual neighbouring features, then @cluster_size will be 4 when the cluster symbol is rendered. This can be used to alter the appearance of the cluster symbol based on the number of associated points. The mockup below shows how this could be used to scale the cluster symbol size so that clusters with more points are rendered larger than clusters with less points:

symbol_sizeIn this mockup we’ve also used a font marker symbol layer to render the actual cluster size inside the symbol too. Of course, because almost every property of symbols in QGIS can be data defined there’s almost no limit how @cluster_size could be used – you could use it to change the symbol color by pairing it with QGIS’ ramp_color function, or alter the symbol opacity, or the outline width… basically anything!

The second new expression variable which would be introduced with the cluster renderer is @cluster_color. This variable allows you to access the color of the points contained within each cluster. Since the cluster renderer is built “on top” of an existing renderer, any point which is NOT contained within a cluster is rendered using the specified renderer. For example, if you use a categorized symbol renderer then all points which aren’t in clusters will be drawn using these categorized classes. In this case isolated points will be drawn using different colors to match the predefined classes.

When multiple points are clustered together, @cluster_color will be set to match the color of any contained points. The points must all have the same color, if they differ then @cluster_color will be null. It’s easiest to illustrate this concept! In the below mockup, we’ve used a categorized render to shade points by an attribute (in this case rail line segment name), and used an uninspiring dark grey circle for the cluster markers:


Using @cluster_color together with a data defined color override, we can force these cluster markers to retain the colors from the points within each cluster:


Much nicer! You’ll note that a single dark grey point remains, which is where the cluster consists of stations from multiple different line segments. In this case @cluster_color is null, so the data defined override is not applied and the marker falls back to the dark grey color.

Of course, both @cluster_size and @cluster_color can be combined to create some very nice results:


So there we have it – using data defined overrides with the cluster marker renderer allows for extremely flexible, powerful cartography!

Now’s the time to get involved… if you’re wanting to see this feature in QGIS, head over to the crowd funding page to find out how YOU can contribute!


Point cluster renderer crowdfund launched!

We’ve just launched a new crowd funding campaign to implement a live point cluster renderer within QGIS. Full details are available on the campaign page.


This is a really exciting new feature which would help make possible some neat styling effects which just aren’t possible in QGIS at the moment. To make it possible we need 2300€ pledged before 31 August. You can help make this a reality by supporting the campaign or by sharing the page and increasing exposure to the campaign. Updates to follow!

Kickstarter Alert – Live Layer Effects for QGIS

QGIS is well regarded for its fantastic cartographic abilities – it’s got a huge range of symbology styles and options which can be used to style your maps. But there’s more we can do to push this even further.

One long requested cartographic feature has been for live drop shadows on layers. Why stop there? Why not inner and outer glow effects and live blur effects? Just imagine the cartographic possibilities if this functionality was available from within a GIS, and didn’t require exporting maps to external editors…

I’ve launched a Kickstarter project to fund implementing live layer effects like this within QGIS. Please consider donating or spreading the word if you’d find this feature useful!

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