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C.C. Hogan

Tutorial: Creating a Fantasy Map

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Geography is the bedrock of civilisation

Pretty Maps

Finally, your story written, your incredibly detailed map finished, so you may want to make a pretty version.

There are some very talented map makers out there, especially on Devient art and if you want to have a truly wonderful map, contact one of them.

If you do fancy having a go yourself then you probably need to leap from Illustrator to Photoshop.

First of all, in illustrator, switch off your sea and anything else you do not need as a reference and save your map as a PNG file.

Now, create a new PSD file, 300dpi if it is for print and nice and big, and then paste in your PNG. 

This image will have two uses, so immediately duplicate it!

The most obvious use is as a tracing guide. You will need to keep it as your top layer, reduce the transparency to around 15 or 20% and then lock it.

With the other copy, create a group called background and put it in there. Give it a colour overlay of a neutral colour. My primary use for this is for creating masks that are the shape of my land, but I also use it for putting a glow or drop shadow around my land which works well with a sea background.

Using this layer as a guide I create a mask and then a new pattern layer (Layer > New Fill Layer > Pattern).  I have a couple of textures I have saved as patterns that I use that have a nice "Land from several miles up" feel about them.  I will then create three versions - one nice and green, one sandy, one wintery. With these three layers stacked up, I will use the erase tool, big and soft, to delete areas so that I can give a rough sense of the different areas of topography. 

Look up simple tutorials to see how to use patterns and fills.


With photoshop, brushes will make your life very much easier. In the half complete map below, all the mountains and trees are drawn using brushes that I have found on the web. I am not an artist, so I am rubbish at this myself and brushes save my life.  They are a lot of fun too!

You can get brush styles for everything from more realistic shapes to very Tolkien map style brushes, and lots that will help you give your map extra texture and feel.

Again, keep everything in groups to stay organised. For instance, in this map you can see faint borders, which is helping me think, but I have all the borders in one group so I can switch them all off in one go.

Do check licences with all that you download - often brushes are free, but some are limited to personal use only, which is fair enough.


Adobe CC products introduced libraries which are a godsend for map making. They allow you to store images, colours, text fonts and layer styles (FX).  I have each of my fonts for Village Names, Major Town Names, Country names stored in a library and also styles for each of those. I also have a few sensibly small place markers as images and a couple of other things. This makes it very easy to add, for instance, a town name, then click on the correct text and layer style and it matches with the rest of the map.

Look for tutorials again.

Last Thoughts

I was a little late starting my map on this particular project, as i mentioned earlier, and I now regret that. Eventually, as I became more confused, I put a day aside and worked out a working map in Illustrator and the issues it threw up were mind bending - some journeys were too fast, some mountains were too high, I had the weather wrong in places, all kinds of things that would have been no problem if I had mapped it out properly to begin with.

It takes amazingly little time to make a working map whether you use Illustrator or another program or paint one on your wall in your office (what a lovely idea!), but however you make your map, get on with doing it! Your story will benefit, your characters will love you for it and you will sleep better at night.

Its fun too!

Photoshop Map

  1. Tutorial: Creating a Fantasy Map
  2. The Tools
  3. The importance of mapping
  4. Your Working Map
  5. Using Your Map for Planning
  6. Pretty Maps


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