Tips From Our Mapmakers

As you all know, we have a ton of great mapmakers here. They post their work regularly in the Map Thread, which elicits awe and quite a few compliments. However, there are many - including myself - that would like to be able to design such excellent maps, and aren't quite sure where to start. There are plenty of image-manipulation guides out there on the Internet, but not many that deal specifically with maps.

That's where this thread comes in! Our master mappers can post their tips, tricks, and guides for all to see, and perhaps answer a few queries from the less experienced. As for the rest of you - if there are any previously-posted guides that have been buried over the years, link to them here.

To kick this off, I'll link to a few guides:

Satellite Map Making - by MNP

Map-making with Inkscape - by LSCatilina

A really quick and easy way to make realistic fantasy maps... - by EdT (The pictures seem to be broken, unfortunately)

Nearly-Dr. Thande's MSPaint Tutorial - Learn recolouring, diagonal stripes and more! - by Thande
 
Last edited:
While I'm not the best mapmaker here and I don't have any defined way of doing things, here are a few tips I find useful.

  • Look at real maps! This is especially helpful if you want to make your map look like it actually came from an ATL, something I tend to aim for.
  • Keep your map focused on the topic at hand. Maps aren't meant to reveal everything.
  • Don't be afraid to add a few details. While you don't want to overload the viewer with information, a changed city name or a section for flags adds a lot to the map. Just make sure it's relevant!
  • If you can, use different projections. They catch the eye and show that you've put some work into the map. The basemaps have their uses and can turn out great, but when I see a Worlda map I tend to skip over it.
 
If the primary focus and differences are limited to a small area, always use a map that also focuses on that small area, either by cropping a larger map or tracing over a map off the internet.

That's another good point actually, don't be afraid to trace over online maps if you have a programme with layers. It can be a lot easier than using the world (as you'll often get the city positions, roads, rivers, mountains etc. 'for free' so to speak) and will undoubtedly make the map more arresting to the interest.
 
Hm good point.

When I work with GIMP, this is usually the basic process:

1. Find a basemap to use (meaning any map that shows what you need)

2. If the map shows a lot more than what you need, crop it

3. Use the Paths tool to trace all terrain (only necessary when the map shows parts of a sea or contains lakes)

4. Have GIMP draw the lines you traced using the Paths tool in an empty layer (I like to use line size 2 for this. 1 is usually too thin for the other steps)

5. Create a layer that contains either solid colour (I like white) or a texture you want to use, and put it below the layer with the terrain lines (This step doesn't have to be step 5, but it gets useful here)

6. If there's water, select the area(s) that should contain water, increase selection size by 1, create a new layer below the lines but above the background layer, and fill it with whatever colour you want to use for water.

7. Now that you have the terrain ready, you can now start drawing in borders, preferably also using the Paths tool. (Though drawing it by hand first and then tracing over that to get nicer looking lines is also an option.) If the basemap has some of the borders you need, just make the background layer invisible so you can use them for tracing. This should be in the same layer as the terrain lines.
8. If you want to colour the countries, sub-divisions or whatever, just use the same process as described on step 6.

9. If you want to mark cities, put down city markers in a new layer (just a round black, white or yellow dot will suffice, though there's also star brushes available on the Internet)

10. If you want rivers, trace in the river in a new layer

11. Add all the text you want


This is all very basic, but hopefully it can be of some use to you.
 
Last edited:
Hm good point.

When I work with GIMP, this is usually the basic process:

1. Find a basemap to use (meaning any map that shows what you need)

2. If the map shows a lot more than what you need, crop it

3. Use the Paths tool to trace all terrain (only necessary when the map shows parts of a sea or contains lakes)

4. Have GIMP draw the lines you traced using the Paths tool in an empty layer (I like to use line size 2 for this. 1 is usually too thin for the other steps)

5. Create a layer that contains either solid colour (I like white) or a texture you want to use, and put it below the layer with the terrain lines (This step doesn't have to be step 5, but it gets useful here)

6. If there's water, select the area(s) that should contain water, increase selection size by 1, create a new layer below the lines but above the background layer, and fill it with whatever colour you want to use for water.

7. Now that you have the terrain ready, create a new layer. You can now start drawing in borders, preferably also using the Paths tool. (Though drawing it by hand first and then tracing over that to get nicer looking lines is also an option.) If the basemap has some of the borders you need, just make the background layer invisible so you can use them for tracing.

8. If you want to colour the countries, sub-divisions or whatever, just use the same process as described on step 6.

9. If you want to mark cities, put down city markers in a new layer (just a round black, white or yellow dot will suffice, though there's also star brushes available on the Internet)

10. If you want rivers, trace in the river in a new layer

11. Add all the text you want


This is all very basic, but hopefully it can be of some use to you.
Cheers I'll give it a go :)
 
Top