The following is a method for converting QGIS projects into stylized Cloud Optimised Geotiffs (COG)s. The process is devised as an alternative to raster tiling and explores the use of COGs as a raster-tile-esque format along with QGIS as a styling editor replacing Tilemill.

For those unfamiliar with the COG format, there is an excellent explanation here.  

For COG uses in QGIS, users readers can look here.

Basic Method

  1. Develop QGIS project
  2. Build in zoom rules for scales
  3. “Export as Image” based on scale and zoom resolution
  4. Images converted to overview structure, with the lowest scale being the base of the overviews
  5. Combine images into COG.
  6. Upload COG to S3 and consume via webviewer or QGIS

The Method in Detail

The method relies on two processes readily available today. One is the QGIS “Export to Image” function and two, is a quirk of GDAL overviews, where an overview can read an overview of itself. 

Let’s build a hypothetical QGIS project with a hillshade.tif, multiplied into an elevation DEM.tif gradient, and a vector roads layer placed over top. With the roads layer in place, build a few varying road widths like:

  • road_width = 1 at 250k scale
  • road_width = 5 at 100k scale
  • road_width = 10 at 50k scale

With these rules in place, let’s next export a few images from capturing the style changes using the QGIS “Export to Image” function. ‘Export to Image” allows users to export images from the project based on extent, resolution, and scale. Sort of like taking snapshots of a project at different zoom levels and in different areas of interest.  When used properly, the exported image will honour the zoom rule for that scale.  So, from the example, users could export three images using the scale capturing the road width changes. Let’s say the exports are named:

  • 50k.tif
  • 100k.tif
  • 250k.tif

Great, we can export images with zoom rules honoured in the images, but what does it matter? Well, if we could “stack” these images in QGIS, have the resolution set to half of each other,  and have them automatically turn on/off as users zoom, we would see the changes happening for each scale. This is entirely possible and how overviews work in geospatial;  we now just need to hack the overview method for the purposes of viewing our images in this manner. 

Here is the basic premise: in order to get our images to act as overviews, we want to reduce the geospatial image resolution (not DPI) by half of the image before it. So, if the image at the bottom (50k.tif) is 14, then the 100k.tif is 28.  These are strange DPIs, but will make more sense in a moment. 

The resolution we are seeking for each image is based on the screen resolution, scale, and pixel width of the tile. In its most basic form, the resolution of the for a given scale can be found by multiplying the scale (in metres) by 0.00028.

  • Resolution = Scale * 0.00028
  • Where, 0.00028 is metres/pixel.  

Knowing this equation, we can begin to build a “tile matrix” composed of Zoom Level, Scale, and Resolution.   Here is good explanation of the tile matrix from the OGC.

Matrices are available for a number of projections.  The NZTM tile matrix developed by LINZ is here. Inspecting the NZTM matrix,  the resolutions we are seeking for the image scales are:

Snippet of NZTM Tile Matrix for the Web

Now we know the image resolution we need,  when we “Export to Image” from QGIS we can set the proper resolution for the images as if they were stacked into a pyramid. Let’s revise the export of the images and use the correct resolution:

  • 50k.tif (image resolution = 14)
  • 100k.tif (image resolution = 28)
  • 250k.tif (image resolution = 70)

I do this programmatically using pyQGIS leveraging QPainter.  You can see a full python script here.

Here is where the Overviews now come into play. We want the 50k.tif image to see the 100k.tif image as an overview and so on down the line.  Fortunately, we can rely on a strange quirk of GDAL to do this.  Using GDAL, or any other raster tool, convert your image stack look like so:

  • 50k.tif -> No change
  • 100k.tif -> 50k.tif.ovr
  • 250k.tif -> 50k.tif.ovr.ovr

GDAL command line example: 

gdal_translate \
	100k.tif \
        50k.tif.ovr \
        -of "GTiff" \
        -r bilinear \
        -co PROFILE=BASELINE \
        -co BIGTIFF=YES \
        -co TILED=YES

* Note: we are stripping the header from only the overview images using PROFILE=BASELINE. We don’t need the additional information and it makes a lighter file.

Now we have:

  • 50k.tif 
  • 50k.tif.ovr
  • 50k.tif.ovr.ovr

You could now load only the 50k.tif file into QGIS and see the changes from the other files happen as you zoom in. If you wanted and you only planned to use QGIS, you could leave it here, but this post is about how to bring this into a single file format (COG), ready for the web.

The last step is to bring all these files into a single file format, the COG. When creating a COG, GDAL will allow users to use external overviews we already generated instead of generating them itself.  That is what we do here.  We point to the single base file, set the output format to COG, and compress the tiled overviews.

gdal_translate \
	50k.tif \
	50k-cog.tif \
	-of COG \

In the end, we have a single COG tif file, with internal overviews tiled and acting like “zoom” scales.

From this point, the COG can be transferred to a location like S3 and accessed by Openlayers. You can view loading a three band COG in Openlayers here, to get a sense on how to access the file.  This is how I load the COG using Openlayers:

const url = "https://d3cywq4ybqu7io.cloudfront.net/cogs/as-raster-tile/50000-cog.tif"

const cogSource = new GeoTIFF({
  sources: [
  convertToRGB: true,

const cog = new TileLayer({
  crossOrigin: 'anonymous',
  source: cogSource,
  extent: extent,

* the notable bit here is that you might need to use: convertToRGB: true

You can view the website with the COG in action here.

The COG may also be directly access from S3 in QGIS without the need to download the file. In the “Add Layers”, you can access the COG as a “Raster” using the “http” connection.


There are a lot of moving parts in this process and it can get a bit confusing about what step goes where. Here is a link to the Git repo I built with a few examples. Please do contact me with questions and I will try to help however I can.

5 thoughts on “QGIS TO STYLIZED COGs

  1. gdal_translate \
    100k.tif \
    50k.tif.ovr \
    -of “GTiff” \
    -r bilinear \
    -co BIGTIFF=YES \
    -co TILED=YES

    could likely just be replaced with “ln -s 100k.tif 50k.tif.ovr”, or the renaming/copying command of your operating system 🙂 “-r bilinear” is certainly useless as you don’t resample. And the benefit of -co PROFILE=BASELINE is just a saving of a few hundred bytes.


  2. Hi, I’m lost there, in which step do you calculate the final DPI setting needed to export the image ? The tool doesn’t offer geospatial resolution input


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