17th Century First Relief Shading by Gyger

Shaded reliefs are already found in early manuscript maps. However they could not be reproduced for want of usable methods. One of the most famous examples is the map „Grosse Landtafel des Kantons Zürich“ (Great Land Board of the Canton of Zurich; 1664–67) by Hans Conrad Gyger, which he had worked on for about 38 years. It is a pen drawing combined with Gouache painting in a scale of approximately 1:32,000. Its relevance lies both in its accuracy and in its display of the topography in a naturalistic manner.

19th Century Relief shading using lithography

Only with the invention of lithography in 1798 it became possible to print half-tones. It is unknown when the first relief shading was printed. Already in 1826 Franz von Hauslab discussed the pros and cons of relief shading in a report. A highlight within the range of small-scaled maps is the Atlas of Japan by Brune Hassenstein, which has been published by Perthes in Gotha in 1885–87.

Cartographers began to combine relief shading with other means of terrain display. Different suggestions using coloured altitudinal belts were submitted. In the second half ot the 19th century diagonal illumination became prevalent over vertical illumination. In 1904 Hermann Kümmerly caused a stir with his school wall map of Switzerland in the scale of 1:400,000. It deploys aerial perspective in the so-called Swiss style.

The excursion maps of the Swiss Alpine Club have been produced exclusively using stone engraving and lithography (for the shaded relief). Several maps are enhanced with a multi-coloured relief and rock representation. A few examples of these beautiful topographic maps are shown in the section Swiss Alpine Club maps.

20th Century (first half) Wenschow process

Nearly at the same time experiments with illuminated three-dimensional relief models were undertaken to derive photographic shaded reliefs. Starting 1925 Karl Wenschow developed a mechanized relief model production process and thus became one of the most well-known representatives of this art. Because of numerous disadvantages, mainly economic ones, mechanized relief shading never became established.

20th Century (second half) Airbrush and first analytical attempts

After World War II many reliefs are drawn by airbrush. Since the end of the 20th century new relief shadings are mostly generated using the computer by analytically computing a shaded relief from digital elevation models. Afterwards, the relief is often locally refined using a raster editor with systematic interventions. Shaded reliefs in topographic maps are mainly held in grey tones, whilst coloured variants are still often found in school atlases.