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Christopher Powell
08-27-2013, 11:24 AM
So, here is my novice's dilemma. I have spent countless hours crafting what I believe to be a detailed, beautiful and compelling world map for my novel. Now I want to add some text for the cities, rivers and nation names that you would expect any map to contain.

It looks awful.

I am running into a brick wall trying to make my text legible AND interesting. Or hell I would just settle for legible at this point. I've tried drop shadows. I've tried different fonts and such to no avail. I desperately need some advice.

I have attached four maps. One of the entire region minus any text:
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An earlier version of the entire region with text added for some nations:
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A zoomed in version of the island chain region without text:
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and with text:
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I also welcome any and all advice on the rest of my map out side of the text. Doesn't mean I will take your advice, but I certainly welcome it. :D

Everything was mouse-drawn in Gimp 2.8.6

*Sorry! I tried looking for a tutorial on text placement but could not find one... until I posted this thread! I will attempt to read that 17 page monstrosity, but in the meanwhile, feel free to critique what I have accomplished so far!

Viking
08-27-2013, 11:54 AM
I've run into this problem myself. For me what works is keeping things basic and picking a clean font that is legible at the sizes you need them to be. "Straighter" fonts are more legibile when they are at smaller sizes. Some good advice that was given to me once was to keep fonts straight and horizontal where possible as that facilitates readability as opposed to warping words. Warping words (by which I mean putting them on curves or on waves) can be used but you have to be careful in how the program does it as some will warp the individual letters.

There is a great tutorial out there about word placement I will try to do a quick search for shortly. Basically you want words to be fully in or outside of areas (say fully on land, or fully over water). Mountains and forests can chop up words and rivers can be annoying too and should be avoided.

Viking
08-27-2013, 12:12 PM
57256 I just did a quick thing showing an approach you could try. I used simpler fonts in smaller sizes keeping things straighter. For the larger names I double spaced between the letters of the names which isn't always advisable but I know it gets done sometimes. You'll notice the white outlines or drop shadows don't always aid in legibility. Here I personally find the unoutlined text clearer. For the ashlands I used a lighter font against the darker background. Whatever you do try to keep things consistent as in all political names have a single font, colour and possibly size, regional names another set, perhaps bodies of water another but try to avoid making every name unique.

One thing I did not experiment with is opacity. The lower the opacity on text the more subtle it becomes. On large pieces of text this is sometimes desirable so it does not overpower the rest of the landscape and smaller names.

In my sample I could have renamed the Vejr isles the Vejr sea. I just realized maybe two those Js are supposed to be Ts :p My bad!!!

Azelor
08-27-2013, 12:33 PM
It look good with the black labels.

And how about placing the names rotating counter-clockwise ? That would fit with the center maelstrom and the general concept of the map but at the cost of readability. Just an idea.

Christopher Powell
08-27-2013, 01:45 PM
Thanks for the great suggestions Viking.

Yeah, you misspelled some of the names, but I'll take the blame for that since I used crazy fonts that are difficult to read.:|

My primary concern was that I made my map too colorful, and that I would have to do a major redesign to make it actually informative instead of just pretty to look at. You have given me hope with your examples!

@Azelor
That is an interesting suggestion. I think it also pinpoints what exactly felt so wrong about the larger map with text. The storm in the center clashes with having the text rotated in a way that doesn't complement it. I'm not convinced I want to lose the readability yet but I will definitely experiment with that. Thank you very much!

Midgardsormr
08-27-2013, 03:52 PM
I sometimes find that a stroke, glow or drop shadow is useful, but not at full strength. I like to start with a 1 pixel stroke in a color complementary to the text. I reduce the opacity of the stroke to 0 (I know you can do that in Photoshop, not sure about Gimp), and then increase it until I feel like the text's legibility is optimized. If the label is very large, or I get all the way to 100% opacity without seeing improvement, then I'll start adjusting other parameters. The key is to use just enough, and no more.

It is also important to have sufficient color contrast between the labels and the underlying imagery. I think the black on deep blue is getting a bit lost because the values are so similar. Try something like a very pale yellow on the ocean to start with. That color might also work for labels over the green areas, but it definitely will not work over the desert, where you'll want a darker label.

Well-made, non-decorative fonts are important. There are plenty of good fonts with high legibility that can evoke high fantasy, or science fiction, or pirates, or whatever. A decorative font is great for a map's title or a really huge label, but the smaller the text is, the less a decorative font is desirable.

Regarding serif vs sans serif: It doesn't really matter so much for labeling a map, but serif fonts are usually more readable, so they're preferred for body copy. Readability is a measure of how much fatigue a typeface causes in large blocks. Legibility is a measure of how quickly a headline can be comprehended. Serif fonts tend to have a stylistic association with a time period that is post-industrial revolution and pre-information age.

Christopher Powell
08-27-2013, 05:08 PM
Thank you for the points on the fonts, Midgarsormr. I fully realized that mistake after seeing the results of trying to be fancy with it.

I like your suggestions on font color. It may sound incredibly amateurish but I never even contemplated using a different color font before I posted here. It seems so obvious in retrospect.

Gimp does have an opacity option on it's drop shadow function so I will try messing around with that too.

Also, I just want to open this up to general dissection of the map itself, aside from only text suggestions (I know I specifically asked for that, not trying to sound ungrateful here). Any thoughts on the map itself? I know the mountains don't look like they make sense, but, the idea was that some sort of event, either an impact from a comet/meteorite or maybe a magical event caused an impact crater to form. Over time, natural erosion and such caused it to break down into what you see here. So those aren't meant to be traditionally formed mountains. They are actually remnants of a crater ring.

I also tried to factor in some more traditional mountains and terrain because obviously an impact doesn't stop plate tectonics (unless of course it is large enough to obliterate the planet...). That is also why the ring is slightly distorted. I also figured weather patterns would cause different parts to erode at different rates.

Anyway, I welcome any and all suggestions, even if it really amounts to "nice try but don't quit your day job".

jbgibson
08-31-2013, 05:55 PM
Have you found the excellent guide Ravells posted (http://www.cartographersguild.com/reference-material/12373-positioning-names-maps.html#post133175) on positioning labels? Lots of goodness there.

The saturated colors are a style statement, a bold one. Since there's plenty you want labelled on this, perhaps you should experiment with a less saturated or lighter palette, to let the labels show up better? If your focus is the land, using less saturation on the sea makes it recede from notice a bit.

If the lighter water just means shallows, it looks mighty uniform. Take a look at Earth's continental shelves - they vary from zero width to hundreds of miles across. If it's just a device to set off the otherwise similar-value land and sea, consider a coastline stroke instead, and/or lightening either land or sea.

Is this for paper publication or an eBook? If paper, you may want to create a simpler B&W version for print, relegating the colored one to supplemental material in your online presence. Bonus material to give readers a reason to come to a website, shall we say. If for an eBook you can get away with a lot that can't be economically printed... but it's still support material for the story. I presume you want readers to be able to see where events take place, and to be able to locate places that characters themselves never visit, bu only speak of? If so, the legibility may matter more than the style. If your purpose is to set forth your world's aesthetic, to imply a period - then the look could matter as much as the content. Almost :-).

Christopher Powell
09-03-2013, 08:19 PM
Yes, I found that later in the day after I started this thread. I have not waded through the entire text yet but it is very helpful so far.

That was my big worry with the heavy saturation. I didn't start out to make it that way but when I stumbled upon that I liked it and decided to go all out with it. If I had found this site earlier in the design process I probably would have a completely different looking map right now lol. But I've put enough time into this one and I actually really like the look of it.

I like your idea of desaturating it just a little bit so I'll experiment with that. I might have a few new versions to post for critique tonight or tomorrow.

I definitely need to create a B&W version though for eventual print, but I still want the full color for digital.

Midgardsormr
09-05-2013, 05:10 PM
Most of the time, I lobby for desaturation and increased contrast, but I think your palette on this one is gorgeous. I love the vibrant colors on the land. I do agree, though, that the water is overpowering and could probably be dialed back quite a bit. Even so, I'm rather glad you didn't come here first. Sometimes the groupthink sets in, and everything starts looking the same. Especially for the few months after Ascension posts a new tutorial!

Christopher Powell
09-14-2013, 04:25 PM
Thanks for the kind words, Midgardsormr! I like the look of it, but I am a bit biased, so it is always nice to hear that others like it too.

Still working on adding text, but, I have a different update.

Found a nice tutorial about making forests and I didn't really like the forest I had created, so I thought I'd give it a whirl.

Here are two slightly different versions of my new forest:
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Thoughts? Which do you like better, the lighter or darker version?

Any suggestions on improving it/making it mesh more?

Also, yes, it is supposed to be red. It is a forest composed entirely of red trees.

You can't really tell but I've dialed the ocean back a bit as well. I think it looks much better to thanks for everyone on that advice.

Zuni
09-14-2013, 10:35 PM
I love how the sand crinkles around the river! How did you do that?

Midgardsormr
09-15-2013, 12:32 PM
I prefer the darker color, but I'm not wild about the texture. I think it clashes with the painted style around it. The solution might be as simple as blurring it a bit to match the softness of the surrounding hills.

Christopher Powell
09-30-2013, 02:39 AM
Finally, an update!

So, something really terrible happened and my computer crashed in the middle of working on the map. The file was completely lost. Somewhat luckily, I had some previous versions that I had kept around but they were very outdated, so I had to do a lot of copy and pasting and reworking to basically get back to were I was when I last left you.

Anyway, I've added some forests, and I'm fairly happy with them, but I'm having trouble with a forest in the South-West known as the Frostwood. Given it's name, I kinda want to make it look like it is kind of covered in snow. Unfortunately I've only succeeded in making it look like it is covered in fog or some sort of haze.

Here it is without the fog:
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And here it is with the fog:
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Any suggestions?


I love how the sand crinkles around the river! How did you do that?
I'm not very good with tutorials, but this is how I taught myself how to make it. (It's supposed to be a canyon, so, if you couldn't tell that maybe I need to rework it)

I copied a section of the Grand Canyon from Google maps (make sure to select the terrain option). Then I pasted it into it's own layer in Gimp. Underneath that layer I created a layer with the texture I was using for deserts.

Then, I desaturated the grand Canyon layer. Then, I set the layer's opacity to what looked good to me (I don't remember what level it was). I erased everything that I didn't want from the Grand Canyon layer, then I grabbed the airbrush tool, set it to black, and basically just tried to copy what was already there. After doing this for a while I managed to create some things that looked reasonably like canyons, and that is what you see on my map.

Hope that helps!