In a move that reflects the growing dominance of the digital environment in mapping, the U.S. Geological Survey has removed copies of map separates as a routine product. From this point forward, special funding arrangements will be required to obtain copies from the archives. Prices will likely be substantially higher than previously.
Map separates are stable-base film copies of the content of USGS maps in black and white, typically ordered as map layers. For instance, the contour lines would be one separate, or one could specify that water features and transportation features be combined into one composite separate.
Separates were popular in the 1980s and 1990s as the raw material for digitizing and scanning, as well as for traditional cartography (e.g., screening a separate as a backdrop for a map). More recently the demand has fallen sharply, leading to the decision to remove this money-losing item from the USGS product line.
USGS staff explain that the shift in focus within the agency toward The National Map is also related to the elimination of map separate availability. While The National Map approach will allow a user to view individual map layers, it isnt yet clear how multiple layers from diverse sources will be reconciled with one another geometrically or cartographically.