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Cartographic Boundary File Description

The cartographic boundary files are simplified representations of selected geographic areas from the Census Bureauís MAF/TIGER geographic database.  These boundary files are specifically designed for small scale thematic mapping.

When possible generalization is performed with intent to maintain the hierarchical relationships among geographies and to maintain the alignment of geographies within a file set for a given year.

To improve the appearance of shapes, areas are represented with fewer vertices than detailed TIGER/Line equivalents.  Some small holes or discontiguous parts of areas are not included in generalized files.

Generalized boundary files are clipped to a simplified version of the U.S. outline.  As a result, some off-shore areas may be excluded from the generalized files.  This simplified U.S. outline is available for download for reference.


  • Simplified shapes improve the appearance of geographic areas when displayed at small scales.
  • These boundary files take up less disk space than their ungeneralized equivalents.
  • Cartographic boundary files take less time to render on screen.


  • These files should not be used for:
    • geographic analysis including area or perimeter calculation.
    • geocoding addresses.
    • determining precise geographic area relationships.
  • Some geographic areas are excluded from these files.
  • Geographic areas may not align with the same areas from another year.

File Naming Convention

2013 Files

The 2013 cartographic boundary shapefiles are named cb_2013_ss_<entity> and the 2013 cartographic boundary KML files are named cb_2013_ss_<entity>_rr.kmz where:

  • ss = state fips code or 'us' for a national level file
  • entity = the entity name
  • rr = resolution level
    • 500k = 1:500,000
    • 5m = 1:5,000,000
    • 20m = 1:20,000,000

For a list of entity names and their descriptions for the 2013 cartographic boundary files, please see our Entity Name Description [PDF] document.

2010 Files

The 2010 cartographic boundary files are named where:

  • ss = state fips code or 'us' for a national level file
  • lll = summary level code
  • vv = 2-digit version code
  • rr = resolution level
    • 500k = 1:500,000
    • 5m = 1:5,000,000
    • 20m = 1:20,000,000

For a complete list of summary level codes for the cartographic boundary files, please see our Summary Level Codes Page.

For the naming convention of cartographic boundary files created prior to 2010, please see our naming convention page for previous versions.


Files are available at target map scales of:

  • 1:500,000
  • 1:5,000,000
  • 1:20,000,000

Geographic areas are not available at all target scales.

Need More Detailed Files?

If the Cartographic Boundary files are not detailed enough to meet your needs, try one of our other types of TIGER Products.

[PDF] or PDF denotes a file in Adobe’s Portable Document Format. To view the file, you will need the Adobe® Reader® Off Site available free from Adobe.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Geography | (301) 763-1128 |  Last Revised: July 03, 2014