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How to Create a Print Template in QGIS

Since attending a two-day CIEEM QGIS training course in London earlier this year, which we reported in the TETRIX Blog, we’ve been getting to grips with using QGIS as part of our day-to-day operations, from creating simple ecological constraints information, to generating complex viewshed maps in support of wind farm development for our renewable clients.

Having previously used ArcGIS (an ESRI product), we've been really interested to discuss our many positive experiences of QGIS with other users, who are new to the program. One comment we're hearing time and time again is how to create a standardised print composer template - one that can be applied across an entire business or just a simple set of figures.

The good news is that creating a standard print composer template couldn’t be easier, so we thought we would write a short tutorial blog to help other QGIS users create their own print composer template, which can then be repeatedly used, without a need to create a new print layout every time you need to print off a project-related output.

In order to complete the following tutorial you will need a current copy of QGIS running on your computer and a test project with accompanying shapefiles and mapping. If you don’t have a copy of QGIS on your computer, then you can download and install the latest version for FREE from the QGIS Web Site.

We hope our tutorial is helpful and would very much like to hear your experience with this freely available GIS program. However, in the event you encounter any issues with the tutorial below then please feel free to get in touch and we can provide you with a more detailed account of the process!


Following on from our previous QGIS blog, we've used the same sample project, which focusses on our local park (Dawsholm Park) an surrounding area, located in the north-west of Glasgow.

From ‘Project’ under the main menu, select ‘New Print Composer’. A small window will appear entitled ‘Composer Title’. Give your print composer a suitable name, for example, Print Template, and then select ‘OK’ to confirm.

From the menu select 'new print composer'.
Give your print composer a suitable reference or name.

Depending on whether you are running Windows or Mac OS, you will then be presented with your main print composer window. As you will be note from the above screenshots, we're running QGIS for Mac OS, so please bear in mind there may be subtle differences with QGIS on a Windows PC. In addition, on some computers, the print composer may open up as an additional tab to the main QGIS window; however, on our computer this opens up as a separate ‘second’ window.

Now comes the creative part, choosing a print layout that you can tailor to the individual needs of your business or your projects. There are several options to choose from, in terms of the process of physically creating a new print layout. We've found that the option that works best for us is using a series of frames to contain and present your project related outputs (map), accompanying legend and project related information. However, first-thing-first, select “Show Grid’ from ‘View’ under the main menu. This will turn on the print composer grid to help you accurately position your various frames within the print window. Once this is done you can then start the process of creating your various print composer frames. We created our print layout by adding a combination of text and picture frames to the main print composer window. For information, the main map frame, the legend frame and the project detail frame are all text frames, while our company logo is a picture frame. We've also add an overall text frame to bring your frames together and make them pop. You can add these elements to your print composer by selecting the applicable option from the composer toolbar (shown on the left of our screen).

From the main menu select 'view', then 'show grid'.
Using your mouse, locate and size the frame accordingly.

Once you have created and sized your frames accordingly, now comes the exciting part - adding your map and an accompanying legend. From the composer toolbar, select the ‘Add New Map’ icon. Using your mouse, press the left button without letting go and drag your mouse to the desired width and depth of your map window. Let the mouse button go and your map should appear in the text frame. If necessary you can re-size the map by selecting and dragging one of the four map corners. In addition, you can move the map contents using the 'Move Item Content' icon from the composer toolbar. Furthermore, as shown in the image below, you can also rename the various mapping elements under the ‘Item’ box in the top right of your screen.

Once you've added your map window, add a legend.

Repeat the same process for your map legend using ‘Add New Legend’ from the composer toolbar. As you will see from the above example, our legend presents information for our site boundary, SSSI and AWI shapefile layers. If required, you can edit the legend text and other legend variables under the “Legend Items’ box in the right hand of your screen. Finally, do not forget to add a north arrow to your map. To do this select ‘Add Image’ from the composer toolbar and select an image file of your choosing. Alternatively, you can select a variety of arrow images from the resources folder in the main QGIS program folder.

Now comes the clever part - converting your map composer into a template file. The first bit of good news is that this couldn’t be easier. To do this select ‘Save as Template’ from ‘Composer’ under the main menu. When you complete the selection, you will be presented with a new window providing you with an option to save your composer as a template. In our experience, it is best to create a new, separate folder for saving your various templates. Once you have created a folder, give the template an appropriate title and select ‘save’.

From the main menu, under composer select 'save as template'.

The next step in the process is applying your saved template to a new print composer window. To apply the template, open up a new composer window (for the benefit of doubt, you should see a blank page in front of you). From ‘Composer’ under the main menu, select ‘Add Items from Template’. You will then be presented with a folder window. From the window select the template you just saved from the templates folder location and select ‘open’. After a couple of seconds, your blank composer will be populated with the contents of your saved template. All you then need to do then is to update the map and legend, and edit the figure information.

From the main menu, under composer select 'add items from template'.

Image Credit: TETRIX Ecology & Google Maps

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