View Full Version : [Award Winner] Mapping with Paint.NET

07-16-2008, 07:39 PM
Hello fellow cartographers. :D

Noticing a distinct lack of material for Paint.NET (from now on called "PDN") - and being dared by RPMiller :P - I decided to put together a short tutorial on how to create a map with PDN in a few simple steps.

First, this is what the final map is going to look like:
http://img255.imageshack.us/img255/8302/mapfinalyt1.th.jpg (http://img255.imageshack.us/my.php?image=mapfinalyt1.jpg)

And now I'll tell you how to do it.

This tutorial is split into 4 posts:

Post 1 - Basics, Tools of the Trade, Basic Layout, Getting Started
Post 2 - Outlines, Landmasses
Post 3 - Water bodies, Forests, Mountains
Post 4 - Glaciers, Finalizing, Aging (optional)

So, let's get it going!


Undo is your friend. Don't be afraid to experiment a bit. You cannot ruin your map by doing something "wrong". For as long as you didn't close PDN you can always hit the Undo button. You only need to remember that Undo is used globally for each picture and not on a layer base. That means that you could end up undoing a lot of stuff just to revoke a single operation on a specific layer.
Layers are your best friend. I cannot repeat it enough: use layers. Use layers for everything. I use one layer for water bodies, one layer for the outlines, one layer for land masses, one layer for forests, one layer for mountains, one layer for text. Just make sure you're always checking which layer is currently selected (the one that is highlighted blue in the layer selection box) before doing something. That will save you a lot of time wondering why the heck your Blur or Render effect did nothing to the image. ;)
Save early, save often. While PDN is extremely stable (so far I haven't had it crash on me once), always make sure you have a copy of your stuff. Nothing sucks more than have 3 hours of mapping ruined by a power shortage or blue screen. This advice basically applies to everything you do at a computer, but I'm just repeating it to be on the safe side.
Experiment. While you get a good result if you follow my tutorial, sometimes you can tweak some settings around to see how it works out. Don't follow my instructions blindly. Get creative. ;)
Check your settings. If something doesn't seem to work, always check the tool's settings. If a selection tool does something odd, check the Selection Mode settings or the Tolerance. If something seems to not have any effect, check if you're working on the correct layer (yes, it IS that important :P ), or if you try to apply a certain effect to a transparent or white area. If something doesn't show up, check if there's another layer on top of it, hiding it from your view.

In this tutorial I'll often referr to certain tools, effects, or actions. Here's a list with the ones I'll use and where to find them.

Magic Wand (Tools box)
Add New Layer (Layers box)
Ink Sketch (Effects -> Artistic menu)
Gaussian Blur (Effects -> Blurs menu)
Sharpen (Effects -> Photo menu)
Add Noise (Effects -> Noise menu)
Motion Blur (Effects -> Blurs menu)
Fragment (Effects -> Blurs menu)
Lasso Select (Tools box)
Paintbrush (Tools box)
Frosted Glass (Effects -> Distort menu)

For a quick and simple start on your map, get TerraJ (http://terraj.sourceforge.net/). This Java application can create really good looking layouts and shapes quickly with the "Terrain Generator", and allows for using different projections.
http://img156.imageshack.us/img156/1493/tgmainum7.th.jpg (http://img156.imageshack.us/my.php?image=tgmainum7.jpg)

Necessary for the following steps is that you check the box "Draw the edges of coastlines in black" in the Options tab.
http://img255.imageshack.us/img255/3273/tgoptionskr6.th.jpg (http://img255.imageshack.us/my.php?image=tgoptionskr6.jpg)

Just play around with the settings a bit (especially the seed) until you get a layout which you like and which fits your needs. For this tutorial, I'm using a square projection map. Save the image as a .PNG file.

Load the base map you just generated into PDN.
http://img255.imageshack.us/img255/7620/step0lr2.th.jpg (http://img255.imageshack.us/my.php?image=step0lr2.jpg)

To get rid of the black borders above and below the map, select the Magic Wand and set the Selection Mode to "Add (union)" and the Flood Mode to "Contiguous". Then click once in both black borders, hit CTRL-I to invert the selection and press the "Crop to Selection" button.

After you're done it should look like this.
http://img255.imageshack.us/img255/4127/step1xp0.th.jpg (http://img255.imageshack.us/my.php?image=step1xp0.jpg)

07-16-2008, 07:40 PM
Click "Duplicate Layer" in the Layers box to create a copy of the "Background" layer and rename it to something like "Outlines".

Now apply the Ink Sketch effect to the layer. Set both Ink Outline and Coloring to "0". Your map should now look like this.
http://img156.imageshack.us/img156/7231/step2ns1.th.jpg (http://img156.imageshack.us/my.php?image=step2ns1.jpg)

Now take the Magic Wand again, but set the Tolerance setting to something around "25". Click into an area that was water in the original map. If you get something like this
http://img156.imageshack.us/img156/5714/step2apa0.th.jpg (http://img156.imageshack.us/my.php?image=step2apa0.jpg)
your outline has a leak somewhere.

A quick and dirty fix to this problem is using a Gaussian Blur. Set the Radius to "1". After the blur, try the Magic Wand again. Your outline now shouldn't have any leaks and your selection should look like this.
http://img253.imageshack.us/img253/8199/step2bdh6.th.jpg (http://img253.imageshack.us/my.php?image=step2bdh6.jpg)

Another way would be to manually correct any leaks by using the Pencil tool.

Select the Magic Wand again, but now set the "Flood Mode" to Global. Click on any white area and hit Delete. This will remove all white regions and only leave the black outlines. Click the checkbox next to the "Background" layer in the Layers box and you should see something like this.
http://img253.imageshack.us/img253/460/step2clb4.th.jpg (http://img253.imageshack.us/my.php?image=step2clb4.jpg)

Finally, apply a Sharpen effect to your "Outlines" layer to pronounce the lines and remove some of the blurring. After that, you should have this:
http://img244.imageshack.us/img244/2481/step2dbh7.th.jpg (http://img244.imageshack.us/my.php?image=step2dbh7.jpg)

The "Background" layer is no longer required. You can either delete it or simply hide it from showing (and keep it for comparison or future reference) by unchecking the checkbox next to it in the Layers box.

Create a new layer and rename it to "Land" or something similar.

Now highlight the "Outlines" layer and use the Magic Wand to select any water areas. You may have to adjust the Tolerance setting until it works for you. Also, don't forget to select any lagoons and lakes, too. Then hit CTRL-I to invert that selection to get all landmasses. Your selection should look like this now.
http://img244.imageshack.us/img244/8425/step3ux3.th.jpg (http://img244.imageshack.us/my.php?image=step3ux3.jpg)

Highlight the "Land" layer. Use the Colors box to select a fitting color (click the "More >>" button to get a detailed selection). I'm using #F4A460 for this tutorial. Now just hit Backspace to fill the selected area with your color. Use the "Move Layer" buttons in the Layers box to make sure your "Outlines" layer is the top most and you should now see something like this.
http://img244.imageshack.us/img244/676/step3auu4.th.jpg (http://img244.imageshack.us/my.php?image=step3auu4.jpg)

Go to the Colors box again, swap colors, and select a new primary color that goes well with your now-secondary color. For this tutorial, I'm using #00FF7F. Use the Magic Wand on "Global" mode to select all your landmasses on the "Land" layer. Now apply a Clouds render effect to your selection. Use the default settings and leave Blend Mode on "Normal". Repeat the Clouds render, but change the Blend Mode to "Multiply" for the second run. Your map should not look similar to this.
http://img244.imageshack.us/img244/9239/step3bli5.th.jpg (http://img244.imageshack.us/my.php?image=step3bli5.jpg)

Next you need to apply some Noise to your landmasses. I'm using Intensity "33", Color Saturation "0", and Coverage "25". Following this, apply a Motion Blur with the default settings. And after that, use the Ink Sketch effect with Ink Outline "60" and Coloring "100". Your map now looks like this.
http://img253.imageshack.us/img253/1030/step3ctz7.th.jpg (http://img253.imageshack.us/my.php?image=step3ctz7.jpg)

07-16-2008, 07:40 PM
Create a new layer and rename it to "Water" or something like that. Put it below your "Land" layer.

Highlight the "Land" layer, use the Magic Wand on "Global" mode to select all water regions. Now switch to your "Water" layer, select a good water-y color (I'm using #0026FF) and hit Backspace to fill your water bodies. Next, switch colors and select a darker color to go with your primary color (make sure the lighter color is primary and the darker color is secondary). Now, apply a Clouds render to your selection, using Scale "1000", Roughness "1", and Blend Mode "Normal". This should make your map look like this (only the "Water" layer visible).
http://img253.imageshack.us/img253/3449/step4nc9.th.jpg (http://img253.imageshack.us/my.php?image=step4nc9.jpg)

Your next step is using the Fragment effect with Fragment Count "3", Distance "3", and Rotiation "45". After that, add some Noise (I'm using Intensity "50", Color Saturation "0", and Coverage "50"). Finally, use Gaussian Blur with Radius "1". Now, with all layers visible, your map should be something like this.
http://img253.imageshack.us/img253/6296/step4ahg7.th.jpg (http://img253.imageshack.us/my.php?image=step4ahg7.jpg)

Create a new layer and rename it to "Forests" or something like that. Put it between your "Land" and "Outlines" layer.

Switch to the "Land" layer, and use the Magic Wand on "Global" mode to select all landmasses (by this time you probably would have to select all water bodies and then invert the selection with CTRL-I). Now switch to Lasso Select, change the Selection Mode to "Substract", and cut out every piece of land you wish not to be covered by forest. Switch to your "Forest" layer, select a forest-y color (I went with #228B22) and hit backspace to fill the color in. You should now have something like this (only "Forest" layer visible).
http://img156.imageshack.us/img156/6988/step5fq9.th.jpg (http://img156.imageshack.us/my.php?image=step5fq9.jpg)

Next, add Noise (Intensity "100", Color Saturation "50", Coverage "50"), apply a Fragment effect (Fragment Count "3", Distance "3", Rotiation "60"), and finally do an Ink Sketch (Outline "40", Coloration "100"). This will get you something like this (all layers visible again).
http://img253.imageshack.us/img253/6665/step5ajj1.th.jpg (http://img253.imageshack.us/my.php?image=step5ajj1.jpg)

This section of my tutorial is based on this tutorial (http://zompist.com/howto2.htm) for drawing fantasy maps with mountains. I had to adopt it to work with PDN, but the basic idea is the same. Anyway, let's go on...

You guessed it, didn't you? Create a new layer and rename it to something like "Mountains". Put this layer either above or below your "Forest" layer (you can later switch the position if you like it better one way or the other).

Use the Lasso Select to select an area where you want a mountain to be. Switch to Paintbrush and leave the brush width at "2". Use black as your primary color. Now draw your mountains main ridges. Then change the brush width to "1" and draw some secondary ridges. You should now have something like this (only the "Mountains" layer visible with the current area selected).
http://img156.imageshack.us/img156/8482/step6ts4.th.jpg (http://img156.imageshack.us/my.php?image=step6ts4.jpg)

After doing that, increase the brush width to "3" (or even larger, dependent on the scale of your mountain) and switch to a dark grey-ish color (I used #404040). Paint the shadow areas of your mountain with the brush. Be careful not to completely draw over the black ridges. If you do, just hit Undo and try again. Then select a light grey-ish color (I went with #808080) and paint the other side of your mountains. You don't have to completely fill the space, some white specks and spots are completely fine. Now your mountain should look like this (same visibility as above).
http://img156.imageshack.us/img156/6922/step6avk9.th.jpg (http://img156.imageshack.us/my.php?image=step6avk9.jpg)

Having done that, change the brush width back to 1 and paint some strokes of light grey in the dark areas and some strokes of dark grey in the light areas to simulate smaller ridges and valleys. If you have finished this, carefully paint some black accents on the dark grey lines and some white accents on the light grey lines. Your mountain is almost done and should look like this (same visibility as above).
http://img253.imageshack.us/img253/9890/step6bvg5.th.jpg (http://img253.imageshack.us/my.php?image=step6bvg5.jpg)

Now, as a final step, use Gaussian Blur with Radius "2" on your selection and after that apply Ink Sketch with Ink Outline "25" and Coloration "25". Now your mountain's pretty much done and should look like this (all layers visible again).
http://img253.imageshack.us/img253/5391/step6cth2.th.jpg (http://img253.imageshack.us/my.php?image=step6cth2.jpg)

As an optional step, you can apply a Clouds render to your mountains to randomize the shading. Select the light grey as primary color and the dark grey as secondary color. Then do the render with default settings for Scale and Roughness, and Blend Mode "Overlay". Just hit Reseed until you like the shading. You've just completed your first mountain mountain (all layers visible).
http://img253.imageshack.us/img253/4660/step6dfc7.th.jpg (http://img253.imageshack.us/my.php?image=step6dfc7.jpg)

Repeat the process for any additional mountains.
http://img156.imageshack.us/img156/1923/step6euw1.th.jpg (http://img156.imageshack.us/my.php?image=step6euw1.jpg)

07-16-2008, 07:41 PM
Same procedure... create a new layer and rename it to something like "Glaciers"

Start by selecting the regions you want to be packed with ice with the Lasso Select. Make sure the left and right borders are roughly at the same point, because generally they would connect with each other on a real world. Select white and a very light grey-ish color (I used #C0C0C0) as primary/secondary colors and do a Clouds render on the selected areas on the "Glaciers" layer, using Scale "1000", Roughness "1", and Blend Mode "Normal". Repeat the render, but this time change the Blend Mode to "Darken". Now your map should look like this (all layers visible).
http://img253.imageshack.us/img253/4562/step7ee1.th.jpg (http://img253.imageshack.us/my.php?image=step7ee1.jpg)

The ice regions look quite rough and unrealistic, right? We can change that by using the Frosted Glass effect on it. Use Maximum Scatter Radius "3", Minimum Scatter Radius "0", and Smoothness "8" to get a good result. Then apply the Ink Sketch effect using the maximum values for Ink Outline and Coloring.

And finally, our world got itself some ice. :D
http://img253.imageshack.us/img253/1603/step7asw6.th.jpg (http://img253.imageshack.us/my.php?image=step7asw6.jpg)

Now's the moment to turn on visiblity for all layers (except the "Background" layer) and check for any inconsistencies. Some lagoons and lakes may appear white due to the Gaussian Blur applied to the water texture, or the "Outlines" layer may have some white spots due to the Gaussian Blur we used to make sure it doesn't have any leaks.

At this stage you can simple correct all those irregularities. Unwanted whitespots are best simply deleted from the appropriate layer. Empty lagoons or lakes are easily filled when you select them with the Magic Wand on the "Outlines" layer, switch to the "Water" layer, and recreate some water for them using the steps presented above. Also, if you don't like the white border for the shores, you can just create a new layer but it at the bottom (just make sure it's above the "Background" layer if you kept it) and fill it with any color you like (although some light blue-ish color works best).

After you've polished your map a bit, it should be pretty much flawless. If you want, you can also already enter some text for your world (just make sure you do that on an extra layer ;) ).
http://img253.imageshack.us/img253/2299/step8wb2.th.jpg (http://img253.imageshack.us/my.php?image=step8wb2.jpg)

If you want your map to look aged and used, you can follow this tutorial (http://paintdotnet.forumer.com/viewtopic.php?f=15&t=3831&sid=15f1053bd02bcf8b84afe2f01ed286a1).

Depending on your settings you may get something like this.
http://img253.imageshack.us/img253/4896/step9lh1.th.jpg (http://img253.imageshack.us/my.php?image=step9lh1.jpg)

I hope you liked this tutorial. :)

Now I'm up for some comments.

Regards, Ra-Tiel.

07-16-2008, 08:29 PM
Thanks for the tutorial Ra-Tiel. Hopefully, if anyone else tries Paint.Net, at least your tut will give them a good start.

One thing I would suggest (is PDN supports it) is to try to soften the hard lines at the edges of your mountains. One thing I can think of is to create one or more gradients with the underlying grass on the outside and the mountain color on the inside. Then add your mountain layer colors on top for a more seamless transition with no lines. I expect PDN can do this, so give that a try.

Also, in case you did not know, you can attach images directly inline. You can post up to 4 mg or so jpg images and of course, the higher the resolution, the better....

Have some rep...


07-16-2008, 08:32 PM
First off , thanks for the tutorial.

Anyone who puts in the effort to make a tutorial deserves thanks. I think it is entirely an accident of timing and work software that has kept me from making more of Paint.net.

I'll take a look at this in more detail later.


07-16-2008, 10:44 PM
Thanks people. :D

@jfrazierjr: Iirc, there are some plugins that do something along these lines. Haven't gotten into messing with plugins much so far, but I'll dig a bit deeper if I can find something useful. However, you can't completely avoid the lines as they are a result of the Ink Sketch effect.

Regarding the images, yes, I found out that one could attach images directly. However, it would only let me upload 5 images per post, which would have spread out the tutorial even more. I was already a bit miffed that I couldn't fit all (iirc) 15782 characters in one post (and that smilies counted against the "10 images per post" limit). :P And my DSL384 connection isn't actually helping me with uploading larger images either. ;)

@Sigurd: From your comment I take it that you're also using PDN? Do you have any recommendations regarding plugins or tutorials? I'm always looking to get better at using PDN.

And I'm glad you liked the tutorial. Any suggestions and comments are welcome. :D

Regards, Ra-Tiel.

09-04-2008, 10:25 PM
I tried to use the Gimp to make maps but the interface made me very :x and :mrgreen:, so I gave Paint.net a shot.

Here is my result, I'm pretty happy with it.


09-04-2008, 10:44 PM
I tried to use the Gimp to make maps but the interface made me very :x and :mrgreen:, so I gave Paint.net a shot.

Here is my result, I'm pretty happy with it.


Welcome to the Guild Thegreenman!

I would suggest giving GIMP another shot. There are somethings you just can't do in Paint.Net (at least not out of the box as far as I have found) that are build into GIMP. I just can't see some things that I can do easily in GIMP as being possible at all in PDN.

If your main issue with the interface is the seperate windows, then switch now and get used to the GIMP tools as the next version of GIMP is supposed to go to some type of single window interface from what I understand. Also, there are plenty of tutorials and helpful hands here to help you out with GIMP if you want.

09-05-2008, 10:56 AM
Thanks JFjr,

You are probably right about Gimp, I may give it another go, but the windows frustrate me. I've tried gimpshop but it's very unstable. If I'm reading a tute while I'm mapping its a real pita dealing with all the windows. If I had a second monitor it would be no prob.

04-16-2009, 12:53 PM
Paint.NET has undergone some updates since this tut was first posted, and new features make PDN even more fun for mapping. I've gone ahead and posted one of my own favored techniques in its own thread; hope you all can get some use out of it.

01-25-2014, 07:39 PM
I know this is an oooooooooold post, but I am doing a worldbuilding project for my forums and I have developed a few of my own techniques and this article was a great help. Not only did you add to my techniques, I was able to build upon yours and develop new ones.

06-28-2014, 07:25 PM
Is there a way to recover the images that do not show up anymore?