View Full Version : [Award Winner] Regional Map using Xara Xtreme 4.0

07-06-2008, 02:46 AM
Regional Map using Xara Xtreme 4.0

I decided to create a tutorial for the style of continental/regional maps I've been creating lately for myself and commission work.

The following map was completely created in Xara Xtreme 4.0 using free photo textures I obtained from CGTextures.com (2 stone textures and a forest texture.)

First a peek at the map being created in this tutorial...

07-06-2008, 03:11 AM
I usually create maps for a specific final dimension size. Since this map is for a tutorial, I created an 8.5 x 11 inch map at 100 pixels per inch for ease...

Step One: Once the page is setup, I begin creating a coastline shape, using the freehand tool from edge to edge. Once I reach an edge, with the freehand drawing tool still selected, I click and hold the Alt key, which forces the freehand line into a straight line, which drag to the corner of the page, release the Alt Key, the press the Alt Key again, and continue along the edge to the next corner, eventually closing the shape from the starting point.

The default color is black, but I want a more subtle shade of green. I click the color menu at the bottom of the screen and choose the color I want.

The first image below shows the green shape I created...

Step Two: I want to create a river extending from the right side of the map reaching the coast. This requires drawing both sides of the river narrowing to a point at the source and widening out at the mouth.

Because it is difficult to maintain the proper distance from river bank to river bank, once I complete the shape, with it selected I click the "point mover" tool located just beneath the freehand tool on the left side of the screen. Its a black line with some "bezier curves" handles in red. I zoom in close to the river and begin altering its shape to best fit my needs.

The second image shows the closed shape in the default color black.

Step Three: I create a fork in the river, by freehand drawing a tributary. Using the same techniques as step two. The difference is the use of the Arrange/Combine/Add from the main menu at the top of the screen. This combines the two river objects into a single object.

The third image shows the combined rivers.

Step Four: With the combined rivers object selected, I click and hold the Shift key, which allows me select additional objects with the river object, in this case the background regional map shape. Once both objects are selected use Arrange/Combine/Subtract.

Its important to note that the object located above the two selected objects is what becomes subtracted. If you placed the river object beneath the continent shape, the land get subtracted instead. Make sure the object you want to subtract away is above the other object.

The fourth image shows the subtracted river from the land shape.

Step Five: Although not always necessary, I wanted to create a plateau where I plan to place a mountain range. So I draw a shape straight at the edges as in how the land shape was originally created, then a freehand shape skirting the rivers to create a canyon effect around them.

Image five, shows the closed plateau object.

07-06-2008, 03:55 AM
Step Six: Onwards with the plateau. After changing the color to the same green as the regional background (this too will change later in the tutorial), I select the Bevel Tool on the left side tool menu. Arrow handles now appear around the selected plateau object. I select one of the arrow handles and slightly drag it outward to create the bevel.

The default bevel setting is "flat", which is not want I want. Note at the top of the screen, just below the Main Menu, is a drop down box. This has a list of all types of bevels available. Play around if you like at each one. The bevel setting I chose for the plateau is "chiselled 2".

The bevel by default creates a strongly toned light and shadow side of the bevel - which is too strong in most cases. To soften this you will be using the slider tool to the right of the drop down menu you used to select the bevel.
The first setting to "slide" is contrast - drag the slider to the left to about 10.

The second drop down menu, just to the right of the bevel type drop down, offers other settings. Size, contrast, light direction, light angle are the options available. After adjusting the contrast, select the "light angle" and drag the slider to the right at a setting about 60. If you go to far the shading disappears altogether, which isn't the goal here.

With object still selected, you will want to also "Feather" the edge of the bevel to better blend in the with the background. The "Feather Tool" is located at the far right end, just above the Main Menu - its actually a slider tool currently set to "None". When you click it, a slider appears, click it and drag it to the right just a few pixels or enough until it looks right. Sometimes it helps to zoom in, as what looks good at full map size and up close may be very different. Looking right at closeup is the important factor.

The first image shows the results of this step.

Step Seven: next, I want to import a stone texture for use in filling the objects created, in this case the plateau.

One of the cool features of Xtreme, once you import an image in, immediately delete it. Any image imported to Xtreme becomes stored in the image gallery. Various tools including the fill tool accesses the gallery for specific fills.

The second image shows the imported texture, before deletion.

Step Eight: Select the plateau object. Then select the color fill tool - its the pouring paint bucket on the tool menu. Go to the top of the screen, where a new set of tools appear just below the main menu. The first drop down shows the options. In this case, select "Bitmap". A new tool appears to the right of that, showing the gallery. The default setting is the Xara logo fill. The gallery tool shows all available imported bitmaps, in this case, only the stone texture is available. Select it.

Vertice handles appear within the object. By selecting and dragging the end of either vertice away from the center, the fill enlargens. Rotating the handle rotates the fill. Adjust until it looks right...

Another option available, next to the dropdown menu is "single image", "repeated image", and "repeated image inverted." Depending on the texture you are working with, determines which option is best. For seamless textures "repeated image" works fine. For non-seamless images, try "repeated image inverted." (For this tutorial use the last one.)

The third image shows the results of this step.

Step Nine: I don't want the plateau to be solid image fill, I want to blend in some of the background green. Select the Transparency Tool on the left side menu (it the wine glass). The new dropdown at the top of the screen has many options. The option you'll be using, is used on other tools as well throughout this tutorial. Select "Fractal Clouds".

At small scale the "Fractal Clouds" transparency object looks crappy. Its best to enlarge and rotate to taste. This is done exactly the same as you enlarged and rotated the image fill. In order for the blends to have a greater contrast. Notice the right facing arrow, between the dropdown options on the right side of the transparency tool menu at the top of the screen. Clicking on this opens a "line graph" that gives you more control. Of the two settings under the graph, the top one adjusts the amount of the plateau fill is used, while the bottom option increases the contrast.

Note the settings in the shown "line graph menu" in the fourth image - these are the general settings you want.

Step Ten: I want the background green land shape to have a blend of the same stone texture. So I select the land shape, then in the Main Menu, select "Edit/Copy Object". Now for some Xara magic, click "Edit/Paste Object in Place". This places the copy exactly on top of the original.

Most apps let you copy and paste, but the paste occurs at the center of the page. Xara lets you copy from anywhere on the screen and then pasting exactly on top of the original - many uses for this...

Image five shows the copy on top of everything.

07-06-2008, 04:21 AM
OK, we're half way through this tutorial.

Step Eleven: first select "Arrange/Move to Back" to place the copied land shape and place it where we want. Because we really want this layer just above the copied land, select "Arrange/Move Forward".

Next select the color fill tool, then "bitmap" from the top dropdown menu, then select the stone texture from the available gallery.

Just as we blended the background on the plateau, you will repeat this process for this layer. The settings should show more green than stone, so drag the slider until such is achieved. Then adjust the lower slider to the left almost all the way to a setting about 5. This greatly contrasts the two layers.

The first image below shows the results.

Step Twelve: creating mountains. On the plateau, using the Freehand drawing tool, I create a rough shape of my mountain base, its colored in default black.

The second image shows the mountain shape.

Step Thirteen: apply the Stone texture fill into the mountain, as we've applied the stone texture to the plateau and the copied land shape.

The third image shows the filled mountain shape.

Step Fourteen: now select the Bevel Tool on the right side tool menu. In this case, we will be using the default first option of the dropdown menu for a "Flat" bevel. You don't need to select it as its the default option. Drag the arrow handle inward until there top surface disappears to a point.

Insure to adjust the contrast and light angle so the shadows aren't as severe.

With the mountain object still selected, you MUST use the feather slider tool as the mountains seem to float above the ground level if you don't. I create a feather of half way to all the way, depending on the size of your mountain object. Don't forget this step its important for the best look.

The fourth image shows the result.

Continue to create mountain shapes insuring to each shape closely follows the edge of the nearest mountains. Apply the same fill, but rotate differently to differ from other mountains. Apply the bevel and adjust settings.

Step Fifteen: Now to start creating forests. Using the freehand tool, create a rough shape for your forest, try to create scalloped edges.

Once completed, you will need to adjust the transparency to show internal and edge openings in the forest to give it the realistic look.

As with mountains, remember to apply a feather here. It makes the difference in truly realistic forest terrain!

The fifth image shows the results of this (as well as the completed set of mountains.)

07-06-2008, 05:02 AM
Five more steps and this tutorial is finished!

Step Sixteen: Next import a forest texture, I used the best one I could find at:http://www.cgtextures.com

Import, then delete. Select the forest shape, apply the forest texture with the Color Fill Tool and the bitmap selection of the dropdown and the forest texture (now added to the gallery.)

Sometimes I want a different color then the texture provided. So with the forest filled, forest shape selected, click the Transparency Tool. In the top transparency menu, the second dropdown with the default setting of "Mix", go to the second option which is "Stained Glass".

This option of transparency works very similar to a layers effect in Photoshop. It allows the background object to show through the shape the effect is applied to - it looks right to me.

Continue to create a second forest shape on the other side of the river.

I forgot to mention, these particular forests should be placed on the ground level below the plateau, as I plan to use a different colored forest on top.

The first image shows the results.

Step Seventeen: now to create the forests on the plateau and in the valleys between the mountains we've created. Using the freehand drawing tool create a scalloped forest shape on ground areas and valleys between the mountains (we want the mountains to rise above the forest level.)

The second image shows this result.

Step Eighteen: apply the Forest texture fill. Since these forests are so scanty in shape, you won't need to apply a transparency effect. Instead "Feather" the object to give it a more realistic edge - don't let the forest disappear by feathering tool much, however.

The third image shows the results (along with the completed forested areas.)

Step Nineteen: now to create the water level, first the shallows. This one is easy. First create a rectangle that completely covers the map area. Select the "teal color" in the color menu at the very bottom of the screen. Next go to "Arrange/Move to Back". That's it, now your river is filled as well as the oceans beyond the coast.

In Campaign Cartographer, the water level is created at map setup in the wizard at the start of the app. Because Xara Xtreme is a vector drawing application, you can do any step, at any time. I usually do the water last.

The fourth image shows the results.

Step Twenty: last step, create the deeper waters. Similar to how you created the land shape in step one, you will create the deep water area, beyond the shallows, but closely following the contour of the coast line. You will be required to again, again use the Alt key, when you get to the edges of the map, to insure a clean, straight line.

Once the shape is closed, apply a darker blue from the Color Menu at the bottom of the screen. Select color to your taste of course. Rather than a harsh line between deep and shallows, you will apply a feather using the Feather slider at the top right of the screen.

Notice however, that the shallows are showing through. There are several ways to handle this. One way, is to create a narrow rectangle on the edges of the map, where it should still be deep water. Use this to hide the feather, with the same color as your feathered deep water object.

The other way to handle this is how we have to take the final exported map into GIMP or Photoshop and apply a crop to clean it off.

Anyway, the map is complete as far as Xara is concerned. Save the file in .xar format by going "File/Save As", so you can make edits later on. Now you want to export this map for useability. Go to "File/Export" and select your preferred file format, whether its BMP, JPG, PNG, whatever. Within the settings of the file format you can adjust color depth, resolution to whatever your needs.

The last image below shows the completed map, before export.

That's it!

07-06-2008, 09:23 AM
Superb. These are some of the most realistic hand created terrain maps I have seen. Rep heading your way...

07-06-2008, 12:39 PM
Thanks, Redrobes.

While I do like using 3D apps as well, Xara is so fast and easy to use, that I can really experiment with the look of the maps I work on, and I can create a 3D look with simple bevels, shadows and transparency. Add actual photos of terrain and the photo-realism just jumps off the page.

Because I am getting used to the workflow and the techniques, here. I created this tutorial map in less than an hour! It took much longer to input the tutorial here, than creating the map itself. :P


07-06-2008, 03:05 PM
Simply superb, GP - you've taken this to a new level. I think we are the only ones who use Xara and Drawplus - hopefully your wonderful work will bring in others.

07-07-2008, 03:09 PM
Well... I made a map using Xara... great tutorial, I had no troubles with any part of it ... except that my map was done very fast and is no where near the quality of yours... but I thought I would post it up and let you know at least one person followed it :D

I did have one question.. when you are using the freehand draw tool... what % do you use for the smoothing?

07-07-2008, 03:29 PM
I did have one question.. when you are using the freehand draw tool... what % do you use for the smoothing?

I like to take down to almost 0 (the far left) except there's no smoothing and you might get jaggies, so I tend to up this to about 15 or so, depending on what I'm creating. For coastlines and rivers 15 is about right.

Nice job, but I see you had the smoothing nearly 100% - way too much, but nice first try, Del!


07-07-2008, 03:45 PM
Del, one more thing, you don't have to worry about pre-setting your smoothing level, just draw your object and close the shape. Let it default to whatever smoothing exists.

Before you do anything else, go to the smoothing slider and adjust downwards and watch the smoothing change "on the fly", lower it until you feel it looks right to you and there's your perfect smoothing setting.

Unfortunately, if you do something else like a fill or create another object, the smoothing is now set in the object and can't go back and smooth some more. You'll have to live with or draw the object again and follow the instructions above...


07-07-2008, 05:44 PM
it was set to whatever the default is... 50% i think, I just went back and deleted a few nodes... getting used to the bevel adjustment was taking too long, lol.

I do like the speed... and I like the way it creates mountains as well... but I think you did at least convert one forum member :) .. I'll be using Xara quite a bit I expect

07-24-2008, 12:47 AM
A slight thread jack, but still cool.

I finally joined Cartotalk.com after seeing a question regarding the use of Xara Xtreme for Real World Mapping, that I had to answer, thoroughly! :P

I even posted a link to my Celanta map, which uses all the techniques from this tutorial to create.

I actually convinced a pro cartographer/GIS analyst to download Xara. She works in a not-for-profit organization and searching for low cost graphics alternatives for use by staff of analysts.

So I'm about to start working on a version of this tutorial tailored for real world map uses to post at Cartotalk.com.

I will be sure to post it here, as well, when completed.


07-24-2008, 02:55 PM
Make sure you pimp us!!! ;)

07-24-2008, 03:12 PM
Make sure you pimp us!!! ;)

I started my post at cartotalk with "I'm one of those fantasy cartographers from Cartographers' Guild..." I wanted to make sure the GIS audience there got the idea where I was coming from right off the bat.

I will be sure to PIMP CG on the back page of my tutorial PDF!! :arrow:


07-26-2008, 01:32 AM
Here's the watered down tutorial I created for Cartotalk website - a forum site much like CG, but for professional cartographers and GIS analysts, you know "real world maps"!

This tutorial just covers creating a forest and a mountain. It is very step-by-step with every Tool with a graphic to identify it, so a brand new user could pick it up right away.

I definitely pimped the Guild! On page 10 of the tutorial.

I've seen some cool and professional looking tutorial formats out there, so I put some thought into the design of this one. Enjoy! :D