Recently, I have been pushing myself to test my capability in generating high quality cartographic works in QGIS. Since I took on a mini project on Malaysian state of Kedah, this atlas was truly a combination of open source data and open source software.
For data in Malaysia, I manage to obtain through third party sources for district, subdistrict and voting locality boundaries. In Malaysia, these sorts of data are super hard to find (generally all forms of datasets for large scale maps of Malaysia are not for free). The roads, railways, rivers and land use data was sourced from Open Street Map (I recommend http://extract.bbbike.org/). Avoid choosing QGIS tool for Open Street Map as you get good coverage of the dataset with minimal attributes (making them redundant). The terrain is not exactly open source as it came from ASTER GDEM and hence, it restricts anyone to produce commercial maps.
The software I used was QGIS. In order to produce 200+ page atlas (based on sub district levels), I used Print Composer. It is the equivalent of Data Driven Pages in ArcGIS. I have made full use multi map concept where I can pinpoint the reader where they are (the inset maps). The legend size remains difficult thing to adjust (now I realized there is legend customization through filter) as it dominates a significant chunk of the map. The scale is tricky part and I resorted to numeric figure as QGIS hasn't improved on the variable scale legend. Now, I also realized there are better options to choose from for the North Arrows.
How about the map itself? I used pretty much standard colour schemes for every dataset for the atlas. Hillshading worked out very well for the Bandar Padang Mat Sirat and Bandar Yan (impressed with QGIS capability). Choosing the colour of roads required much judgment as the terrain colouring exerted its influence significantly. The text visibility has been controlled after much playing around and deliberation. The original dataset of roads showed many road segmentation, Using the blending option, I was able to show a full continuity for the highways.A lot of judgement was used to determine how many layers are relevant to the atlas and which ones need to be kicked out.
Below here are some examples of urban, semi-urban and rural settings of Kedah (viewed through maps). When the final product came out, I was impressed with QGIS capability. For more maps, please contact me here.