View Full Version : Ascension's Atlas Style Tutorial - Revised Presentation + Actions

05-08-2012, 11:28 PM
A new presentation of Ascension's Atlas Style Photoshop Tutorial
- Updated: 8/17/2012
- Added a video tutorial!
- New layout, more tips, actions

Hey everyone,

I've added a video tutorial of this tutorial on YouTube - - http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL44EEB5472CD8BE93
I hope it's helpful!!

The Main Tutorial
This is designed so a total Photoshop novice can fully complete the tutorial on their own, but a more advanced user can easily see the relevant commands and move quickly (provided they have the software and basic computer skills). I've tested it on a people and had great results.

Companion (Actions) Tutorial
This version automates any steps where the user doesn't have to give their own creative input and runs them as Photoshop actions. It's really fast. It reduces the number of Steps from to 225 to 63, and it has a method for starting with an existing map shape to just add the style.

I've been using Ascension's Atlas style tutorial and was so happy with it, I decided to re-write it in a way that I could go through it more quickly using as many keyboard shortcuts as possible. What I ended up with was a pretty elaborate document, a lot learned about Photoshop, and something I thought others might enjoy and benefit from.

While I wrote the document, virtually every step of it simply recreates Ascension's style exactly. I even asked him for permission - I don't want to take credit for the style. There are only a couple minor additions or revisions in the overall style, the most drastic of which is just a layer which can easily just be hidden or deleted. The Photoshop document layout is quite different in some areas, but I hope this adds more flexibility and organization for more complex maps.

This tutorial also stops just before Ascension's tutorial started getting into adding titles and towns.

I'm totally open to feedback. If you try it out and get hung up somewhere or whatever, let me know. If I can clarify it more, I will update and re-post.

I hope you all like it!

- some minor tweaks
- added a YouTube series: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL44EEB5472CD8BE93

- combined CS5.1 and CS6 versions into one for both the regular and action companion versions
- added notes to explain differences between CS6 and CS5.1
- a few fixes

- several minor fixes (CS6 versions)
- revised some areas to be clearer (CS6 versions)

05-09-2012, 12:11 AM
Neat idea, putting all those shortcuts and actions in there. Thanks for doing all that work so the rest of us can have a faster/easier time!

05-11-2012, 08:33 AM
Hey you're welcome. I just got Photoshop CS6, so I'll test it against that and make sure it still works.

Sir Frog
05-12-2012, 03:54 PM
I can't seem to see the files...

05-12-2012, 03:57 PM
Hey Sir Frog - try again. I JUST re-uploaded them all and you probably viewed in between taking down old versions and uploading new ones. Let me know if you have any issues in the tut!

I added a Photoshop CS6 version, if you happen to have that already. The main difference is the lighting effects filter.

06-13-2012, 03:36 PM
As a PS newbie I was about to start pleading with Ascension to make things a little easier with layers and PS versions. I’ve actually giving up a few times in frustration on with what layer/copy/duplicate I’m supposed to be on. That certainly isn’t a reflection on an absolutely fantastic contribution from Ascension; which I’m sure for most people with a little more knowledge of PS than I do would probably work through fairly easily..…Thanks Ascension and Kindari you both ROCK!!!

06-21-2012, 11:28 AM
As a PS newbie I was about to start pleading with Ascension to make things a little easier with layers and PS versions. I’ve actually giving up a few times in frustration on with what layer/copy/duplicate I’m supposed to be on. That certainly isn’t a reflection on an absolutely fantastic contribution from Ascension; which I’m sure for most people with a little more knowledge of PS than I do would probably work through fairly easily..…Thanks Ascension and Kindari you both ROCK!!!

Thanks Korbs! That was largely my goal - to take the great work Ascension created and break it into the smallest steps for less experienced users. Hopefully, you learn a lot about Photoshop in the process!

I added another update today, with revisions based on what I saw when went through the tutorial who had absolutely zero experience with photoshop, graphic design software, or image manipulation whatsoever.

If you get really suck on something, let me know. I'll try to help you here, and it will probably help me improve the tutorial for the next guy.

07-15-2012, 11:34 PM
Hi Kindari, stuck again around step 32 in the CS5.1 (refuse to fork out the bucks for 6 :)).
Step 32 is Create a selection from the "Base" ---Layers panel -> Ctrl + click thumbnail
Does that mean...with the layer just created in Step 31 "Layer 1" hold down Ctrl key and then select the "Base" layer i.e. both layers are selected. If thats the case then there is no modify option comming up for me in Step 33 Alt -> S -> M -> E. My guess is that the base layer was still supposed to have the selection on it somehow but perhaps not. Another guess is that step 33 expands the outline of the land shapes by 20 for later coastlines to go in but sorry getting a little lost...and step 46 my next BIG SAVE is so far away :)

07-16-2012, 12:13 AM
Hey Korbs,

I'll explain a little extra because you'll run into this type of step several times...

I've tried to use as "official" as terminology as I can think of, but sometimes that's still pretty confusing. A "selection" in Photoshop refers to when you draw a selection box, circle, or other shape to select some of the pixels. Unless there's an error in my tutorial (which I gladly admit to if found!) when I say "selection" I'm referring to selecting some pixels.

You're doing it half right. After creating "Layer 1", Layer 1 is selected. When you hold Ctrl and click layer "Base", the results depend on *where* you clicked. If you click the name or the empty area in the layers panel next to the name, you get the results you described (both "Layer 1" and "Base" are selected). If this was what I wanted to do, I probably would have worded the step differently. I would have said "Select layer Layer 1 and layer Base --- Layers panel -> ctrl + click layer name.

Alternatively (and this is what I intended), when you hold ctrl and click the *thumbnail* of a layer, that layer's shape will be selected in the image canvas area. You should see the dotted line (sometimes called "marching ants") outlining the shape of your land. Layer 1 will still be the "selected layer", but the "selection" on the image canvas will be the shape of layer Base.

From there, Step 33 will modify that selection shape.

I did notice I didn't put (layer "Layer 1") at the end of Step 32 which indicates that layer "Layer 1" should be selected when you ctrl + click layer "Base" thumbnail. I'll update that later perhaps.

I hope this helps, and feel free to reply if it doesn't explain all the way. Thanks!

07-17-2012, 08:44 AM
OK Now I feel like a super noob:) Thanks Kindari, right select the "thumbnail" image NOT the grey area to the right hand side.

So only addition I can think of so far would be add a little section up the top of your guide…perhaps
PLEASE READ!!!: Although this tutorial should actually help the reader to understand Photoshop, if you’re really new to PS then its probably a good idea to have a look at the following videos.

With a couple YouTube links to some 101 stuff

BTW thanks very much for the help and quick response Kindari, really appreciate it.


07-26-2012, 12:54 AM
Every time I try to open the file, it just opens Photoshop. What's wrong? I really want to learn to make a map that looks the way the one in the picture does.

07-26-2012, 09:04 AM
Hi Telutan,

Which file are you opening when that happens?

07-26-2012, 11:10 AM
There are 4 files to choose from.

The "Attached Thumbnails" are the actual tutorial documents. One is the regular version, the other is the Action Companion, which I recommend only getting after you've done the regular version.

The "Attached Files" are the Action files for Photoshop. Is this what you downloaded? If you open one of those, and open the .atn file inside, it will open Photoshop and add some Actions to your Actions panel.

I hope this helps!

08-17-2012, 02:10 PM
Someone asked for a video tutorial version of this, and so I decided to make one (wow it took way longer than I thought!). It's sort of a new tutorial, but I didn't want to make a whole new thread for it.

Check it out here if you're interested! http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL44EEB5472CD8BE93


08-28-2012, 04:02 PM
Thanks Kindari!!! I followed the YouTube tutorial and had a lot of creating an Atlas. I learned alot about Photoshop with the video, I'm still a beginner. I hope you have more tutorials in sore, maybe a city or town map:D

Thanks for all your hard work.


Yusaku Asano
09-03-2012, 11:23 AM
Both Ascension and Kindari made tremendous work in all levels.
So, first of all a great thanks to both of you to the energy, effort and time you put in making this excellent map tutorial available and accesible to everyone.

However, I have an issue that probably comes with my inexperience with these kind use of photoshop: the mountains.
The technique to create the mountains seems too erratic and unpredictable. As fiddling with the tutorial i understood that the filter generates randomly the mountains and you are playing with the "move" and "erase" in order to come to a result to your liking. While i was making my map, a heavy mountain region with great deal of details concerning the mountains, hills etc i found this method a bit ιnconsisted. For example i have in mind how my mountain ranges will look like and how they distirbuted in the map. Trying to get the result i would like i got a bit disappointed with the result.

Can someone more experienced offer me a tip regarding this issue? Also, is there any way with Ascension's style to be able to draw the mountains the way i like instead of randomly generate them?
Thank you!

09-04-2012, 12:19 PM
Hi Yusaku,

Sometimes I have a similar situation. One possible solution is to make extra mountain layers with random mountains and use them as a source palette...

Let me know if this doesn't make sense - maybe I can do a little video about it.

Setup your map until you get to the step where it tells you to erase, select and move mountains. You should have your land and a solid black background visible.

Create a new layer above layer "Mountains" called layer "Mountains Custom 1" (or whatever you like). Go through the steps in the tutorial we used to setup layer "Mountains" again but for this layer "Mountains Custom 1". I don't have it in front of me, but there would be something like - create new layer, set colors to default, render clouds, render a lighting effects filter with the Atlas Mountains preset, select color range, delete (to get rid of the black), deselect.

Hide layer "Mountains". On layer "Mountains Custom 1" look for mountain ranges or areas that fit the look you want. Single these out - erase the mountains around them or select and move them.

When you have a section you like, select it with the lasso tool (don't forget to have the feather set for the lasso). Use the new layer via copy shortcut: Ctrl + Alt + J (or just Ctrl + J if you don't want to rename the new layer). In the tutorial, we used this to duplicate layers. However, if you use this with just a portion of a layer selected, it copies just that portion to its own layer. Go back to your layer "Mountains Custom 1" and repeat this for each section of mountain that works for your desired setup.

Let's pretend you saw three areas you liked, so you would have each one of those on its own layer. Now, select each layer and position it over your land as you like.

If you don't find enough areas of mountain that look like what you want, keep the ones you like, delete our layer "Mountains Custom 1" and make a new version of it. Each time you do the render clouds filter, it is random, so each time you go through this, you might find a few sections that work. It can be very tedious, I know. You may only find one section you like with each time through this method, but it can work.

After you've copied out all the little sections and positioned them as you like, delete layers "Mountains Custom 1", select all those layers with the individual mountain areas as well as layer "Mountains" and merge them (Ctrl + E).

Alternatively, you may be able to customize the clouds pattern before you apply the Lighting Effects, or even draw your own "clouds" instead of using Filter -> Generate -> Clouds filter. I don't know how well this would work, however; I haven't tried it. I will play around with it when I have some time and see if I can come up with something for that.

I hope this helps, and again - I'll try to experiment with the alternative version there, and this might make a nice little "customize your mountains and learn more about the layer via cut / copy tool" video.



Yusaku Asano
09-05-2012, 10:11 AM
Thank you very much for your swift reply. I ll play a bit with yours options you presented and see how is going. If you manage to find the time and the will in order to play with these techniques as well and share the result with us it would be great too. :)

09-30-2012, 06:38 PM
Kindari This work with PS CS3?

10-01-2012, 09:35 PM
Hi Vellum,

I think it would work with CS3, but I'm not sure. Best bet would be to just try the tutorial (follow the CS 5.5 version) and see if all the features required are in CS3. You might try doing the video version so you can see exactly what a hotkey is supposed to do.

If you get stuck on a specific part, I may be able to answer questions, but again - I'm not sure.

Good luck!

11-08-2012, 10:12 PM
Alright so I've been using your action set in CS5 with zero issues. I recently upgraded to CS6, installed the CS6 action set and everything is fine until I run step 7.

Step 7 produces something like this every single time.

what am I doing wrong?

12-07-2012, 11:24 PM
Just a quick note that the basic tutorial worked in Photoshop 7!
(some of the shortcuts were different key combinations, but it was easy to figure out from the pull-down menus.)

I need it for something a little out of the box, and I love the results.
I need to experiment around with it to smooth out some rough edges caused by operator inexperience with the features.

Thanks and here is my result:


[PS. I can't wait to try the Actions in Photoshop CS 5.1]

02-24-2013, 06:11 PM
Hi there! this is such an amazing tutorial, thanks for sharing.

Im stuck in step 15 (select color range). AS i click that it appears an error message that syas: "no pixels were selected"). IM running CS5. Thanks in advance and hope to learn mroe from your tutorials

04-07-2013, 08:53 PM
Thankyou so much i found this very useful in broadening my map making horizons

04-25-2013, 02:32 AM
Thank you so much! This was awesome. I just did the whole thing minus the country borders and am thrilled with my results!

04-27-2013, 07:17 PM
Even though I'm working in GIMP, I love the techniques. This is my second attempt, because I wanted to develop a ridgeline around the "crater". Thanks for the excellent tutorial...and thanks to the GIMP experts who converted Ascension's original tutorial. I'm fairly new to GIMP, but this wasn't hard at all. Right now I'm just coming to grips with the "why" and not the how.

Wasn't really striving for realism...just wanted to experiment with an interesting Fantasy shape.


04-30-2013, 05:51 PM
I definitely will have to check this out later. I was going to rewrite/format Ascension's tutorial to make it easier to read (those beginning layer steps seem off to me), as well as upload all the gradients, layer styles, color palettes, etc. I went ahead and made based on the tutorial. Actions were another thought, particular for the several selections needed.

04-30-2013, 07:16 PM
@zukeprime - Me like. Are you going to go for a finished product of that map you're playing around with?

05-01-2013, 01:34 PM
Nah...I'm still experimenting with GIMP and Wilbur. I've been working through all the tutorials trying to find my "flow." Right now I'm experimenting with Arsheesh's tutorial on GIMP and Wilbur.

05-01-2013, 04:57 PM
Nah...I'm still experimenting with GIMP and Wilbur. I've been working through all the tutorials trying to find my "flow." Right now I'm experimenting with Arsheesh's tutorial on GIMP and Wilbur.That's too bad. I like the basic landform. There are stories in that shape. :)

05-21-2013, 05:25 PM
I've run into a bit of an issue: when zoomed in, placing rivers I realized that I hadn't feathered the coast early on an have random pixelated noise. I tried created an inverted selection from the Base layer, modifying, and deleting, but this seems to have no effect. Anyone got an idea? Otherwise I'm starting from scratch.

I'm using PS 5.1. Thanks for the awesome tutorial.

05-22-2013, 10:33 PM
Anybody? Wrong forum (general maybe better)?

07-15-2013, 10:21 AM
Thanks for putting this together Kindari!

Super helpful to a complete noob such as myself. Really loved the Youtube walk through! You're a great teacher man!

07-23-2013, 11:47 AM
I tried the original tutorial and got stranded at step 10. I'll try this new version out tomorrow.

I read it for a bit and I must say your writing style is completely superior to the previous version. If only all tutorials were written in this style, it's much more clear.

08-06-2013, 05:46 AM
Wow man, this is my first post right here, and I would like to say thank you very much for all your trouble, you are awesome! I'll say thanks a lot too to Ascencion for making the original tutorials, you guys rock :D

Airik Rotscale
03-07-2014, 05:11 AM
This was created with the tutorial, with 3 and 2 pixels for the rivers, a darker color for the oceans, and some texture and color overlay for the forests. Thanks for the guide, it was simple and easy to follow. Also wanted to mention that I used a previously created land base from a different map 62099 created using the fantasy map tutorial from Jessica Khoury at Fantasy Mapmaking Tutorial (1 of 5) - YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8qUFyy00Haw)

Daniel Morgan
03-24-2014, 08:09 PM
Hello. Cheers for all the amazing work, I have found that this is a wonderful way to get into cartography. The instructions were very clear and I found it an amazing learning process. I have made about 4 maps now, each time changing little bits and pieces but I have come up with a few features I would like to add in that I don't quite have the experience to know how to implement and at what times would be best to chuck them in.

I would like to add beaches where land mass touches the water. The best way I thought of doing this was to create a separate layer with a coloured cloud filter that was cut from the Base layer and then contracted 1 pixel but I'm not quite sure how to work with the mapping to make this apply properly.

I fiddled around with the size of the chisel for the mountains and found increasing the number to around 50 gave a really defined set of mountains. I have a few on my map that level off the at the top rather than form some really cool peaks which I assume is an interaction between the cloud render and the effects and because of them they somewhat make the other mountains seem smaller in scale. I have had a fiddle but cant seem to get some really huge peaks so any help with fitting in those would be cool.

I also found if you put a cloud layer between the hills and the mountains you can get some really cool storm effects but again I'm not quite sure the best way to localise these around specific mountains.

I will chuck in some images from my latest map so you can get a better idea, the third map in the section is the one I want to try adding these features to, I was trying some alternate ways to put in rivers here by cutting them in all the way back in the base map. From being a complete novice with Photoshop to having some ideas of the tools and effects in just a few maps is really neat testament to the work you put into your tutorial. Cheers for all your work.

62588 62587 62585 62586

Johnny Au
03-27-2014, 10:09 AM
The tutorial is really good.

Can you create a version with Mac shortcuts for us Mac users? The tutorial all use Windows shortcuts.

06-24-2014, 11:00 PM
Dude. Seriously. Your video tutorial was the most helpful thing I have seen on the internet as an aspiring cartographer. Thanks so much. I was having some trouble with Ascension's .doc and you cleared it all up for me.

08-28-2014, 07:20 PM

First off, thank you so much for this. You've alleviated so much frustration with layer procedures getting these amazing effects that PS is capable of.

Next, I have absolutely no problems following the tutorial. That's a first. :P

I mostly lost the ability to draw maps from nerve damage; and tutorials like this breathe life back into one of my favorite hobbies.

Finally, the action method has been giving me a lil difficulty.

I get the error in the image here and I'm not sure what to do.

Any ideas?

08-28-2014, 07:51 PM
I think it's because you layer is empty. If that is the case, cloud by difference won't work.

08-29-2014, 12:01 AM
I think it's because you layer is empty. If that is the case, cloud by difference won't work.

Adding clouds when the error pops, allowed it to make difference clouds.

Another snag, with mountain layers not duplicating what's on the original layer, then the ocean layer not inverse-ing (thus making the ocean texture appear under the land base, instead of around the map.

I'll keep re-reading the tutorial in case I'm missing something.

Maybe the action doesn't work very well in CS3. If I can't figure it out, I'll just keep doing it the normal way.

That's ok, it's still an amazingly great form of making these kind of Atlas maps.

12-28-2014, 07:15 PM
Hi, Kindari. First of all, congratulations to you for the tutorial and the videos, and to Ascension for creating the tutorial first. They're very helpful, thank you.

But I'm stuck in step 18-b-vi. My Photoshop version is CS6 but the Ctrl+Backspace command doesn't work. So I went to the Menu. Edit > Fill (here is Shift+F5) > Background Color and OK, but the selection wasn't filled with white (White is the Background color, I double checked), however it's still transparent. As in the image below. You guys can help me?


12-29-2014, 06:00 AM
Try using the Paint Bucket tool and click inside the selection. If you click outside of the selection nothing will happen. I use CS so I'm not sure what the variations are between my dinosaur and the new versions.

12-29-2014, 01:53 PM
It also doesn't work, the selection continues without color. By the way, if I fill with black, which is the foreground, the selection gets red, as in the image.


12-29-2014, 05:17 PM
You're working on a mask then. You may have inadvertently hit the Q button and entered Quick Mask mode.

12-29-2014, 08:08 PM
Omg, how fool I was kkkkkk Yeah, that was it. I have no experience with PS. Thank you, man, you're the best. =DD

12-29-2014, 08:17 PM
My pleasure, man.

02-08-2015, 03:57 PM

I'm having a problem with the action "Atlas 1 - Step 7". After I run this action, there seems to be a sort of vignette being applied somewhere. I've attached a picture showing what I mean.


03-13-2015, 07:34 PM
I can't seem to see the link it the written instructions - If I am missing it, forgive me...... can you advise? many thanks

03-13-2015, 07:45 PM
I can't seem to see the link it the written instructions - If I am missing it, forgive me...... can you advise? many thanks

A link to what ?

03-19-2015, 06:23 AM
First of all, excellent tutorial. You have a very clear spoken voice. I am getting a little stuck though. I am not sure if it is my cs 3 version, or what but I have 2 main issues. First, in step 15 when I select color range it comes up as empty. I imagine that is because the layer is only a clouds layer with a layer style color overlay. So instead I used magic wand and selected anything that was black. However since this is a common step in the rest of the tutorial, I wonder if there is someway to fix this.

Second issue is in step 26 If I clear layer styles on the ocean adjust layer, it reverts back to just a black and white clouds layer. The layer style on it is the color?

Because you didn't indicate the reason for each step, I don't really know the goal. Are you trying to have 2-3 different widths for shading and height?

Thanks again for the tutorial and for any help you might be able to offer.

05-05-2015, 02:34 AM
I love the tutorial! I went through the manual version completely, but alas, my laptop crashed midsave near the end, and I lost the whole thing. Two whole days of work gone!

I figured this would be a good time to switch to the actionscript version to recreate my work (*sob*), but I'm getting the same problem some other people are... step 7 just isn't working right.


This looks absolutely nothing close to resembling what I had when doing it manually. The lighting is messed up, and the gradient is different too! What's going wrong? I'm using Photoshop CC, which I believe is the same as CS6.

Can anyone help? Is there something wrong with the script as uploaded, given that some others have expressed issues with this step as well?