Getting Started with QGIS

What is QGIS?

QGIS is a free and open source Geographic Information System that runs on Windows, Mac and Linux. You can download it for free from

In this Getting Started guide I will show you:

For this article I will be using QGIS 3.32.3-Lima on macOS Sonoma.

Creating and Saving a QGIS Project

Most everything you do in QGIS is going to be done in the context of a Project, so it’s important that we get comfortable with creating and saving them.

Create a Directory for your Mapping Projects

I suggest keeping all your mapping projects together in a dedicated folder (or directory) on your machine. Depending on the size of your projects and data you may or may not want this folder to be in your iCloud Drive.

Creating and Saving a Project

Now that we have a folder for our project, let’s create one in QGIS. There are a few ways we can do this:

Next we should give the project a formal title:

We should now see that our QGIS window title has change from Untitled Project to Interesting Places.

Now that our project has a title we can save it:

Adding an OpenStreetMap Layer

You may have noticed that the main “document” area of QGIS is currently blank and gives us no idea where we are mapping. Fortunately we can use OpenStreetMap to provide a nice base map to quickly visualize things:

Panning and Zooming around a Map

When you start QGIS the default tool that’s enabled is the Pan Map tool — the hand icon in the Map Navigation Toolbar. You can click and drag to pan around the map but it’s not too helpful when we’re this zoomed out.

Let’s get a closer look at things by zooming in:

Using the Locator Bar

Another way we can quickly find what we are looking for is by using the Locator Bar in the lower left of the QGIS window:

For example, if we wanted to find Easter Island we could use the Nominatim Geocoder option to find it:

You can then use the Zoom In tool to further refine the area you are looking for:

Creating Spatial Bookmarks

As we work maps we will likely be panning and zooming in and out. It would be convenient to be able to return to this initial view of the island after we’ve completed some detail work.

To do that we can create what’s known as a Spatial Bookmark. These bookmarks can be stored at a Project level or a User level. User level Spatial Bookmarks are good for locations you might need to refer to across several projects. In this case we’ll create a Project level Spatial Bookmark. Once again, there are a few ways to accomplish this:

Whichever method you choose you will be greeted with a *Bookmark Editor *dialog. For this bookmark we’ll set the following:

Leave everything else as is and click Save. You should now see your new bookmark show up in the Browser under Project Bookmarks.

If we pan and zoom around the map and ever want to get back to this initial view, all we need to do is double-click the Easter Island bookmark.

This bookmark will also come in handy when creating a Print Layout, which is what we’ll do next.

Creating a Print Layout

Up until now we’ve been working in what’s called the Map View. This view is a bit of a mixture between managing geographic data and styling geographic data.

When we want to create a printable view of our map we need to create a Print Layout. A Print Layout will allow us to add things like titles, legends, north arrows, attributions, area maps and things of that nature. It will also let us save the resulting layout as a PDF and other image formats.

Adding a Print Layout

To create a new print layout:

Setting the Page Size

Before we add any elements to our print layout we need to set the Page Size. This is easiest to do when there’s nothing else on the map yet:

For my layout I’ll be setting the Size to Letter and the Orientation to Landscape

Adding a Map Title

Let’s add a title to our map so folks know what we’re showing:

Adding the Map

Of course our map isn’t much use with the actual location on it, so let’s add it:

It might seem silly to have to add the actual map to the layout but there are cases where you might want to have multiple maps in a layout, such as having a detailed view with an inset overview of the overall location.

Saving a PDF

The last step is to export our map as a PDF. Would you be surprised to learn there’s a couple of ways to do this?

The only thing left to do is open up your PDF and check it out.


This is only scratching the surface of what is possible with QGIS but what you’ve learned today will be the basis of many mapping projects in QGIS.

If you’re interested in learning more please follow me on YouTube. If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to reach out to me on Mastodon.