Sunday, March 20, 2022

Printing NOAA Custom Charts (NCC)

Traditional paper charts are in the process of being replaced with electronic navigational charts (ENC) and a new form of paper chart called NOAA Custom Chart (NCC),  based on these ENC. In this new system, the user designs and creates a high-res PDF file of the paper chart they want using the NOAA NCC online app,  and then it is up to the user to get these printed. Existing print-on-demand (POD) outlets will likely play a major role in that process, especially for commercial and government applications, but there are also other options that might meet the needs of many mariners.  There is a video at the end of this post on the process of creating an NCC PDF.

We keep in mind here that the desire for having the paper charts is for many just a secure backup to the primary navigation done with the electronic charts, and the backups can be in other sizes and papers than are used in the traditional paper charts. The present POD traditional charts are all of standard, fixed sizes and all on high-quality heavy paper. A major virtue of the NCC is we can choose the area we want to chart, it does not have to match existing charts, and it is up to us to choose the size and quality of the paper.

There are several nuances to creating the NCC, such as scale and depth contour choices and the location of compass roses that we cover in a separate NCC design video and is not the topic at hand, which is the printing.  Below is a summary of the products we can create and print.

It takes some thought and practice to get the paper size and chart scale to best meet our needs, which is discussed in the video, but we will want to keep in mind how we are going to print the chart as we make those decisions. A couple things to note in table above.

First, "Paracay" stands for Paradise Cay Publications, who are an official POD chart distributer in California who have agreed to print NCC for users even now, as mariners are just learning this new system. They use high quality paper and have efficient shipping methods in place. Charts printed there will have the correct scale and be on paper we are accustomed to in traditional nautical charts. There is a fiducial marker strip on the bottom right of each NCC that can be used to confirm the printing scale. Likewise on the bottom left there is the intended dimensions of the final product. 

Since this was first published, we have two more POD printers who have joined in, and indeed took the lead in that they have instructions on their websites on how to do this.  Later we will expand the above table. It is worth looking over the print sizes, papers, and costs from each.  See

Needless to say, all remain excellent sources for traditional paper charts, which will be available for many charts for the next year or maybe two. EVG also has an extended source of international paper charts as well as ENC and RNC. 

The process of ending the traditional charts is an ongoing one.  It is not that they will be discontinued on the magic date of Dec 31, 2024; rather they will all be gone by that date, some of which are already gone. Many will be gone  by Oct 5, 2022.  The phrase they use is Sunsetted."

Next, "Office Depot" is here used to represent several commercial printers across the US. Office Depot (who acquired Office Max) has by far the largest number of outlets, but Staples has similar options, as do several smaller chains or individual outlets. Some FedEx Office outlets can also print these, but their prices are notably higher.  I emphasize Office Depot because we have actually made several test prints with them with good success.

It is clear from the table that there are less expensive options to traditional chart printing that might meet some needs. What stands out is the tabloid size of 11x17 for about $1. With this new system, not only can you define the area you want, but you can also create a series of charts all the same size, to make your own chart folio set, which in turn could be coil bound. These new charts can also be laminated, or indeed printed on exotic papers such as waterproof or even Tyvek.... these would be from another source and we are in the process of confirming that they will take part in this program.

To print NCC in the letter, legal, or tabloid size, a good approach that you can try right now from any place in the US is just login to and upload your NCC PDFs, enter your zip code to find the nearest printer, and get the code for the job, which you can then tell the printer. They also give driving instructions to get there! 

You will get back in the email a notice like this

which includes the code you need. Then at the Office Depot, you can use the self service printers by just entering this code. This expands the access to get a print (tabloid or smaller) because the Print Department in the stores have shorter or sometimes irregular hours compared to the full store. 

You can still use the self serve printing without the prior file delivery to because you are given the option to email it to them from there... or use your thumb drive copy.

Beyond the tabloid size, the trick to printing at Office Depot is these NCC charts can be printed in the Blueprint category, which is much less expensive than their poster category. To print these larger charts, or in fact any size, copy them to a thumb drive and take that to the local Office Depot. Larger than tabloid cannot be transmitted with  Tabloid size paper (11x17) is sometimes called "ledger."

Another option is just email the chart files to yourself as attachments and open the mail in your phone to get the files into your phone—or move to your phone by air drop or other means—and use your phone to take them to the printer. At that point, you can mail them to the print desk as you stand there.  Or check with the printer. Each store has a unique email you can use once you make arrangements with the print desk. In the long run, a thumb drive (available at Office Depot!) is likely more efficient than using your phone as a thumb drive.

You can also do it all online, once you find your way to the Blueprint section. A sample of the interface is below:

Once done you can then buy it and either pick up at the store or have them ship it. If you have the charts shipped, it could pay to check Staples options. The printing is about the same price, but the shipping is much less—checking today, Office Depot shipping is ~$10 and Staples ~$5, with the latter offering a 2-hr courier delivery at $15 (we are in Seattle, about 10 mile from this printer).

Some home printers can print 11x17, but it might still be hard to beat the $1 price of having it printed for you. They are using 28# paper for these, which is heavier than most of us have in house, and their colors are calibrated, and they don't run out of magenta!

The 22x34 is also a very nice size for a sailor's chart table. Remember that we almost always have to fold a traditional chart to use it on the chart table in the nav station, so now we have the option to print that same chart as two charts each the size of our chart table... or maybe we only need a limited section of this chart, so we select it out for the NCC design.

When printing these charts you have the choice with the printer to keep the original size  (aspect or shape) or fit to the paper size. We want to always choose to keep the original size, and print on larger paper if needed, then just trim off the blank margins. The 11x17, 22x34, and 34x44 have exact matches on the commercial printers. But if we want, say, the A0 size of 33.1x46.8 we would choose Arch E at 36x48 and just trim it. Below shows the distortion in bearings by printing one one aspect ratio and printing on another.

Letting the printer fit to paper can distort the mercator projection so bearings measured from it will be incorrect. This would not be an issue if the aspect ratio of what you created, say 1.55 of 22x34, matched the one you chose to printed on, say, 11x17, or vice versa. This should not affect the bearings or distance measurements, but technically, one would have the wrong scale by a factor of two. 

Here we produce a chart on 22x34 (aspect 1.55) and decide we want to print it larger at 34x44 (aspect 1.29) or vice versa. It is the same chart on two different paper sizes, comparing the bearing from a point in one corner to the other, we see we get a bearing error when not on the right paper. This can be computed as bearing = atan(34/44) = 37.7º or atan(22/34) = 32.9º. In short, we want to print on the size stated on the bottom left, or one that has the same aspect, ratio of length to width.

(Note this is not a precise description because the print size refers to the paper size, not the chart size, and the margins are not the same width top and bottom, but the bearing discrepancies are about of this magnitude for this aspect difference.)

For the higher quality paper using a professional chart printer like Paracay, the price depends only on the shortest dimension of the chart. For 22 inches or less on the shorter side the cost is 14.95, and for larger than 22 on the short side, the cost is $24.95, up to 42 inches wide on the short side, regardless of the long dimension of the chart in both cases. They also have very good shipping fees: Media Mail is $3.50 for any number of charts or $10.50 for Priority Mail.

A Note on Compass Roses
The NCC program has several known issues they are working on. One is the presentation of compass roses. They have an option to include or not include compass roses, but if the area you have chosen to chart does not include a compass rose on the native RNC, then none shows up on the final product, and the variation is not printed on the chart. 

If the chart has one or two compass roses, you can choose to add them, which may work out just fine. In some cases, like this Center Sound example, adding the roses adds too much clutter.

When compass roses are present and you choose to not shown them, we get these small magvar symbols with the variation noted beside it. It is there then, but not a very satisfying solution.

For those who want to do a bit of extra work, we can capture the compass rose from the set up page and then paste it into the PDF. This operation can be carried out in Mac using the Preview app. In a PC, you can add images to a PDF with the free Inkscape app.

Below is a sample of manually pasting a compass rose into the chart above.

We a free online app that will make these compass roses for you based on a known variation with a transparent background that you can then paste onto the chart where you want it. See link at  This can then be used as we learn how this issue will be resolved by NOAA.

Evaluating a couple samples
Bellow we see two we printed at Office Depot. One at 11x17 (at 1:5,000) and another at 22x34 (at 1:25,000). You can click the image, right-click it, open in new tab, and then zoom for details.

The printing and colors are excellent, but it is still important to make such tests to see what meets your needs. For strictly back up, these should be fine, but even at 28#, the paper is not nearly as durable as the chart paper you can get at POD outlets, such as Paradise Cay. We did a study of chart paper when wet (What Happens When Nautical Charts Get Wet?), and Paradise Cay paper did a superior job. You can even smash them up into a wet mess then dry them out and iron them. These stock Office Depot charts will not handle water, essentially at all. Both ink and paper fail fairly easily. There are lamination options to consider, which might work depending on application. It is about $4 to laminate one... or put on special coatings.

We also did a video on Erasing Property of Print on Demand Charts, and the better papers did well on that, but these simple paper charts do not erase as well. Doable, if we use lighter lines, but not as good as the traditional POD charts.

In short, the quick print outlets at lower price may well meet the needs of many mariners, but traditional POD outlets will be likely be our primary source for paper charts intended for routine use.

As you practice with these now, remember the program is still in the development stage. NOAA is working on several ways to improve the products. In the above chart on the right, for example, we see that the density of soundings obscures at least one important light, so it would be nice to have an option to turn soundings off or at least de-clutter them like most echart programs can do when viewing the ENC—or in this particular case, these soundings have a SCAMIN of 11,999, which means they should not show at all for scales smaller than that. We are looking at 1:25,000 so they should not be there in the first place... at least in ENC terms.  The program does have a nice way to label the depth contours, which might be enough for many applications.


Creating the NCC PDF... and related notes



stu said...

Terrific article! Thanks very much.

Alice Kottmyer said...

FYI,speaking of charts:

The Coast Guard is publishing a notice in the Federal Register tomorrow (3/28) soliciting comments from the public about possible changes to regulations requiring charts onboard, to "implement statutory electronic-chart-use provisions for commercial U.S.-flagged vessels and certain foreign-flagged vessels operating in the waters of the United States."

The comment period closes on 6/27.

David Burch said...

Alice: thanks for that valuable note.

David Burch said...

A couple notes that will be added to the article when I get a chance. Namely two POD agents have now actually added this NCC printing to the their websites

EastView Geospatial


Frugal Navigator

Also the first round version of our compass rose creator is online now at

custom compass rose

I will update the article with these new printing comparisons when possible, in the meantime, you can read the options directly at those sites. We are clearly moving into this transition!

Printseekers said...

Interesting article. I usually just print maps on paper I have (using the fit-to-paper option in my printer settings). And then I get so reduced scale, that it is actually quite hard to use that map :).
But for bigger formats, I guess I would just try some print-on-demand printing solution. Less worry about the technical printer staff, image formatting, scaling, etc.

David Burch said...

For printing in the US, the references we list are likely best bet, but this company (Printseekers) located in Latvia might be worth checking when printing these US charts in Europe. Thanks for the note.