Elijah Asaolu I am a programmer, I have a life.

Cesium vs. Mapbox: Which mapping service is best?

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Cesium and Mapbox

When looking toward integrating 3D maps or elements into your application, Cesium and Mapbox are good options.

The purpose of this article is to explain and give a crucial comparison between these two popular mapping services based on the following key elements:

  • Customization options
  • API’s and SDK’s
  • Look and feel

We’ll also look more generally at the pros and cons of each mapping service.

What is Cesium?

Cesium provides a fast, simple, end-to-end platform for tiling, visualizing, sharing, and analyzing 3D geospatial data.

Cesium helps to transform massive and diverse 3D geospatial data into streamable 3D content that’s ready to be used in your application and in any other environment.

Cesium Pros

Globe view support

Cesium provides support for representations of the Earth in a 3D globe view model. It gives you the ability to freely move around in the virtual environment by changing the viewing angle and position. One additional capability of globe view is that it allows you to represent many different views of the surface of the Earth.

Fully 3D

Unlike Mapbox, Cesium is fully 3D out of the box. This allows for the rotation and visualization of objects from multiple perspectives. This makes the experience of implementing and compositing 3D objects in mapping services even more seamless.

3D data tiling and streaming

Cesium provides 3D tiling, which transforms massive and diverse 3D geospatial data into streamable 3D content ready to be used in your application. You could also arrange and bring together data from multiple sources to visualize it as one.

Generous free trial option and flexible pricing plans

At the time of writing this article, Cesium provides a community (or free tier) plan of up to 15 GB/month for data streaming, unlimited apps, end users, and 5 GB storage space to host and share your 3D contents. This option is suitable for non-commercial projects.

Cesium Cons

Relatively larger SDK size

Compared to Mapbox, Cesium has a relatively larger SDK size, with the latest unpacked version of Cesium.js, (released Oct 01 2020), weighing up to 79.4 MB.

Incomplete building information

Unlike Mapbox, Cesium does not provide building information (more on this under the look and feel section).

Slower response time

Cesium has a slow response time, with an update upon interacting with the globe view loading at around +3sec on a stable 7.2Mbps Internet connection.

An image depicting how Cesium works.

How about Mapbox?

Mapbox, on the other hand, helps developers build better mapping, navigation, and search experiences across different platforms.

Unlike Cesium, Mapbox provides vast mapping services outside of 3D mapping, some of which include:

  • Augmented reality navigation
  • Automotive (driving experience)

Mapbox Pros

Choose between different map styles

Mapbox provides several map styles that can either be used directly in your application or as a starting point for creating a new custom style in Mapbox Studio.

Generous free trial

Mapbox also offers a generous free tier, with up to 50,000/month free map loads for web and up to 25,000 monthly active users for their mobile SDKs.

Faster load/ update time

On a sample 3D building display test, Mapbox seems to update the map faster than Cesium. It loads at a little less than 2 seconds while under a stable 7.2Mbps internet connection.

Mapbox provides building information

Unlike Cesium, Mapbox provides support for 3D buildings information (more on this under the look and feel section).

Mapbox Cons

Mapbox Uses 2.5D Instead Of 3D

While Cesium uses 3D out of the box, Mapbox uses 2.5D (2D shapes with height). This makes gathering and combining multiple 3D objects using other third party libraries like Three.js a bit complicated.

A line graph showing the popularity of Mapbox over a six month period.
Image credit – npmtrends.com

Customization option

Cesium has a robust and secure cloud platform, Cesium ion, where 3D data can be easily hosted, edited, and streamed across multiple devices.

On the platform, you also have access to curated 3D content including Cesium World Terrain, Bing Maps imagery, and Cesium OSM Buildings.

Another amazing feature of Cesium ion is that it lets you create and share map-based stories without writing code.

While you could choose from Mapbox ready-to-use style templates, like Cesium ion, Mapbox also offers a similar platform: Mapbox Studio. However, it has more capabilities. For example, it lets you add point of interest labels to map, lets you change the map color, and adjust the road width, among other awesome capabilities. And you can easily integrate your design across all of their SDKs.


Cesium is built mainly for the web. Its primary SDK is Cesium.js, an open source JavaScript library that streams data from Cesium ion to create 3D globes and maps.

Mapbox, on the other hand, provides Mapbox GL. Mapbox GL a suite of open-source libraries for embedding customizable and responsive client-side maps in web, mobile, and desktop applications.

Along with Mapbox GL, they also offer commercial SDKs for every of their other services.

Look, feel, and map interaction


 3D image in Mapbox.

The above image is an example of a 3D building in Mapbox, clearly providing the surrounding buildings information which will make it even easier to navigate the map.

Below is an example of a similar 3D building in Cesium. Unlike Mapbox, there is no building information, which would make it more complicated to navigate the map.

Cesium sample image.


In this post, we covered the differences between Cesium and Mapbox. We addressed the pros and cons tied to each of them, compared the look of both maps, and established which is more popular. While both platforms offer great mapping services, obviously Mapbox offers a lot more features than Cesium.

If you are looking to host and share 3D contents across multiple platforms, Cesium is probably the option you’ll want to go with. On the other hand if your goal is to display 3D data and leverage more mapping features, then Mapbox is the best choice.

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Elijah Asaolu I am a programmer, I have a life.

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