View Full Version : Map-Making: A Tutorial
07-11-2009, 02:51 PM
This is something I've been meaning to do for a while now, and finally decided to bite the bullet and post it. A lot of folks, both here and on other forums I frequent, have been wondering how exactly I put a map together, especially the fantasy ones. Now, I don't claim to be an expert, no not by any means. For experts, check out some of the guys on http://www.cartographersguild.com/ ; some of that stuff will blow your mind. But this is how I create a fantasy map, step by step. Hope it helps someone...
Note: This tutorial is very Photoshop intensive. I use PS CS2, but the layout and functions are similar in different versions.
Step One: The concept
First of all, I come up with a rough idea for what I want the map to be about. I suppose this part isn't strictly necessary; you could just randomly doodle and come up with something interesting, but that's never worked for me. So for this map, the theme is 'Celtic Vampires and Pseudo-English Kingdoms'. I want a map that shows a bunch of Britain-esque isles, with perhaps a slice of mainland at one edge of the map, for perspective. It's going to be the setting for my next book. The White Isles, we'll call 'em. I've decided I want at least three major islands, with a crapload of lesser ones and archipelagoes scattered around. The more southerly islands are populated by pseudo-English and Welsh nations, while the cold north is home to fierce tribes of celtic vampires.
Step Two: Preliminary mapping
In this step, I open up good old MS Paint (which just about everyone should have factory-installed on their puter, or some equivalent thereof). I make a new document, of a good size: 1800x1500 pixels. This gives me plenty of room to work. Later on, if I decide I don't need that much room, I can always crop the size a bit.
Now what I do is choose a bright color, like red, and start sketching in coastlines, like so:
I use the Brush tool, on the medium setting. It's not necessary to be microscopically accurate at this stage; this is just a rough outline, a guide for placement. It's not even necessarily how the map's going to look when everything's in place either, as you'll see later on.
07-11-2009, 03:26 PM
Step Three: Landforms
***This is where we start getting into Photoshop***
***Note: the picture sizes shown here are purely for illustration purposes; when you're doing this for real, create a larger picture size than I've done here.***
Now that I've got a rough idea of island/continent placement, I can start to put in the fine detail of the coastlines. What I do is open a new PS document (the larger the better). Before anything else, I select black for my primary color in the color selection box. Then, I select 'Filter', then 'Render', the 'Clouds'. You should end up with this:
Then, go to 'Image', 'Adustments', 'Brightness/Contrast'. A box will show up with two bars, Brightness and Contrast. Set the Contrast bar all the way over to the right (+100). You'll end up with something like this:
Now you've got nifty continental outlines that you can chop up and recombine any way you see fit. This is why I use a very large image size for this step; the bigger the image, the more coastline there is to use.
For variety, I make at least three or four of these 'cloud outline' pictures, and save them as 'map1', 'map2', etc., usually saved as PNG files.
Step Four: Placement
Now we start having a little fun. Open up your red outline map, you know, the one we created in step 2. Open it in MS Paint. Now, open a SECOND Paint file - open one of your 'cloud maps' in this Paint screen.
Next, use the Paint 'Free-Form Select' tool to select an area of coastline from the cloud map. What you're doing here is using clipped areas of the cloud maps to create the actual coastline of your real map. Remember how we did that rough red outline of where you want your landmasses to be? This is why. Now you can use those outlines to assist you.
Okay, you've selected an area of coast from the cloud map. Now, right click on it. Select 'copy'. Now, switch to the Paint screen where you've got your red-outline map displayed. Right click anywhere on the screen and select 'paste'.
IMPORTANT: THIS PLACES THAT SLICE YOU COPIED FROM THE CLOUD MAP INTO THE RED OUTLINE MAP. DO NOT CLICK ANYWHERE OUTSIDE OF THAT COPY!
Now we've got our red outline map with a chunk of copied cloud map sitting there. There's a dotted outline running around that chunk - that's the edge of what you copied. Now, LEFT CLICK on that chunk and HOLD DOWN THE LEFT CLICK BUTTON. This selects the chunk and allows you to move it anywhere on the map. What I do here is, look for an area of the red outline that I think this chunk would look good on:
NOTE: In Paint, you'll notice two boxes that appear when you select the 'Free-Form Select' or regular 'Select' tools. This is a layering tool - if you select the BOTTOM BOX, every new chunk you copy and paste into your red outline map will be BENEATH the previous one, thus avoiding any white overlap.
To finish up this step, just copy and paste chunks of the various cloud maps to your red outline map. This is where you really define the look of your map, as far as landmasses go. As I said earlier, the red outline is a guide only, a place holder. As you're placing these cloud chunks, you may decide you want to add another island or six. Go for it.
Now, when you're done copying and pasting, you're probably going to have some areas where the coastlines don't meet up, or areas that just don't look good - maybe some too-straight lines, for example. To correct that, just magnify your map (using the Magnifier tool; I usually go to 400%) and fill in or change those areas using the Pencil tool (in black, to match the rest of the coast.
Once you're happy with the coast outlines, use the 'Fill With Color' tool to fill in the interior of your islands and continents with black, creating a solid landform.
NOTE: You can also place major lakes during this step. Use the same procedure as you did to create the landforms; copy a likely looking island from one of your cloud maps and plop it down anywhere you like. You can also hand-draw the lakes, using the Pencil tool. That's what I do for most of them.
Okay, now you've got your continents, your islands, and your major archipelagoes situated where you want them. Next, I want to add in a bunch of smaller islands in the seas between the large islands. There's a couple different ways to do this:
1. Using the Pencil tool, draw them in manually. This is what I usually do, to get a more 'natural' look. Normally, these tiny islands are just a few pixels long and wide. Sometimes they're no more than a dot or three.
2. Using the Airbrush tool (make sure the color is still black), randomly press it a time or two (using one of the three settings for it you like the best, depending on how close together you want the islands). You'll get a roughly spherical group of random marks. Since it IS spherical, you'll still want to go in and erase some of the marks, and hand-draw in others, so it looks more realistic.
07-11-2009, 03:46 PM
Step Four: Outlining and Color Fill
In this step, I'll be outlining the landmasses. This step is not necessary, but if you want a solid color outline around the continents, as opposed to no 'border' between land and sea, this is what you do.
One: Open your map in Photoshop. (The map we did in the previous steps, that started out as your red outline map. What? You didnt' save it? Shame on you! Saving is very very important. Make multiple copies of everything in case you screw something up and need to backtrack.)
Two: Select 'Filter', 'Stylize', 'Find Edges'. You'll get a map that shows nothing but the outline of the landforms.
Three: Select 'Edit', then 'Fade Find Edges'. I usually fade it down to about 40%. Now what you've got is a map with a light gray interior on the landforms, each landform surrounded by a double line, one black, one a dark gray.
Four: Save this map as MapOutline.png or something similar, so as not to confuse it with the base map we created in step three.
Five: Open MapOutline.png in MS Paint. At this point there's a couple of ways you can go. You can leave both double lines around the coasts as is, perhaps just changing their colors, or you can erase one of the lines, creating a thinner coast, or make both lines the same color, creating a thicker coast. An easy way to change the color of something in Paint is this:
Using the 'Pick Color' tool (it looks like an eyedropper), select the color you want to change FROM by left-clicking on that color (in this case, I'm going to click on the outer line of the two double lines on the coasts). Using the same Pick Color tool, select the color you want to change TO by right-clicking on that color. I'm going to erase the outer line by changing from its dark gray color to white. Then I'm going to change the interior line from black to brown.
When you're done, you'll have an outline map, just like all those nifty base maps we use to make alternate history maps, except with the interiors of the landmasses all colored gray.
Six: Change the color of the landmass interiors. I'm going to make mine a neutral tan color, but you can make yours any color you want. I've found it's better to make this color lighter rather than darker, so that later on down the road, your special effects (mountains, rivers, etc) and text shows up better.
Seven: Change the color of the oceans. This isn't necessary; sometimes leaving them white actually helps when you apply photoshop ocean effects. But in this case, I'm changing the ocean color to a nice medium blue.
I end up with this:
07-11-2009, 03:50 PM
A NOTE ON SAVING:
When I save my maps in progress, I always save as a PNG file. Why? Bitmaps are far too big, and JPEGS tend to blur and distort color, creating an unholy mess. PNG files are smaller than bitmaps, and cleaner than JPEGs.
07-11-2009, 04:20 PM
Step Five: Oceans
Now I'm going to be filling in my oceans with some nifty (and easy) PS effects. Depending on how you want your map to look, you may want to skip this step.
Create an Ocean Template
One: Open Photoshop, and create a new file, the same size as your base map.
Two: Select a blue color for your primary color. It doesn't really matter which color you choose, so long as you think it looks nice.
Three: Select 'Filter', 'Render', 'Clouds'. You'll get this:
Four: Select 'Filter', 'Artistic', 'Plastic Wrap'. The image now looks like this:
Five: Save this image as 'oceanbackground.png'. Now go to 'Edit' and 'Define Pattern'. This makes that ocean file a pattern which you can use to fill in the bodies of water on your map. Close oceanbackground.png and open your actual map file.
Six: Select the Paint Bucket Tool. Up at the top of your screen (in CS2) you'll see a little dialog drop-down box. Select 'Pattern'. To the right of the drop-down, there's a little window displaying the current pattern. Click on that window and select your ocean pattern.
Seven: Now just click on a water area of your map, using our friend the Paint Bucket Tool. This will fill in that area with our ocean pattern. Now, you can either leave it as is, or you can tweak it a bit. Remember how I made my oceans a blue color earlier? Now you'll see why.
Eight: Select 'Edit', then 'Fade Paint Bucket'. This allows that blue base color of my ocean to show through the pattern. I usually fade the pattern down to 30 or 40%.
Nine: Repeat steps seven and eight for all bodies of water.
07-12-2009, 12:43 PM
Thanks! More to come later on.
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