Now don’t get me wrong, I love the cartography on the Esri produced basemaps. They are very pretty and warm my heart. But in the real world they are totally unusable. I’ve talked about how I’ve searched for a “white label” basemap to throw behind my data for years. In fact, I lamented that the Esri Ocean Basemap didn’t go in enough zooms because I wanted to use it as a generic basemap. Clearly Esri is listening to me (hey, that’s how I choose to view this). Say hello to Esri Canvas Maps.

Canvas Maps: a new set of online basemaps specifically designed to give users a neutral ‘canvas’ on which to better display data.

Clearly they seem influence by the great work of Stamen and I even see a bits of Bing Maps in their look. But that’s OK because is what we are looking for. Something to give our users reference without getting in the way of our story. I’d recommend every user of Esri’s basemaps to switch out their background maps to these now Esri Canvas Maps immediately. Your users will appreciate it. I don’t see them available in the basemap list on or inside ArcGIS Desktop, but if you search ArcGIS for grey, you’ll see a couple of versions of them.