View Full Version : Where is a good place to start when mapping a world?

06-22-2014, 06:43 PM
I've never done a map before, I joined this site hoping to gain insight and tips on how to do it.

I'm looking to do it with pencil and paper rather than digitally. Mainly because I don't have any means to digitally draw. Nor do I have photoshop.

Anyway, where do you start? I've tried multiple times, but I just couldn't really get it down right. What I did was start with a shape, then build from there. But that wasn't working. So is there some technique or steps you need to take in order to get it right?

06-22-2014, 08:06 PM
Well for any tutorial go to the tutorials forum and search there for various tuts on hand-drawn maps. However, have you considered downloading GIMP or Inkscape? GIMP is a free software that is very much like Photoshop, whereas Inkscape is free software like Illustrator. Welcome to the Guild, Fisheypixels!


06-22-2014, 11:50 PM
That would make sense. Why I didn't think of that, I've no idea. I have GIMP. But the only thing is I don't have a tablet. I can't do any artistic anything with a mouse. I can chekc out Inkscape though!

Thanks man! Much appreciated!

06-23-2014, 12:42 AM
In answer to your larger question, where you begin depends on your needs for the map. Broadly, there are two typical design strategies:
Top-down, in which you begin with the largest systems you anticipate dealing with and then design each lower level until you get down to where your data of interest would be.
And bottom-up, in which you start with a small area and design it to meet your needs, then start looking at what's around that area, and so forth until you reach the largest area you intend to deal with.

For the former, you might begin at the global level, by determining things like tectonics and using that to drive where you place continents and mountains and so forth. Or you might start at the continental level, or sub-continent level, if whatever story you're telling will take place entirely within a small number of nations. Just make sure you design slightly bigger than you need because you'll want a bit of extra context for whatever happens.

For the latter, it's common to start with a town or city, or maybe a province, then build up the rest as needed. This has the disadvantage of sometimes leading to implausible situations since the design is less deliberate.

Obviously, most designs are a sort of hybrid of the two philosophies. Now, at what point is your design breaking down? You said you're starting from a shape, so that leads me to think you're maybe starting at the continental scale. Have you determined how large your shape is? Compared it to real-world areas that you'd like it to be similar to? Reference is the best tool for getting believable features, though do be aware that truth is indeed stranger than fiction because truth doesn't have to justify itself as much.

06-23-2014, 09:21 AM
I have GIMP. But the only thing is I don't have a tablet. I can't do any artistic anything with a mouse.

There are tools and techniques for map creation that don't require drawing anything, or using any other kind of manual artistic skill for that matter. Coastlines, for example, can be randomly generated. Many map elements can be added from premade icon/brush sets. Labels can be entered as text input in just about any image manipulation software. You should be able to find some useful information on this kind of mapping in the Software Discussion (http://www.cartographersguild.com/software-discussion/) and Tutorials/How-To (http://www.cartographersguild.com/tutorials-how/) boards of this forum.

06-23-2014, 10:12 AM
That would make sense. Why I didn't think of that, I've no idea. I have GIMP. But the only thing is I don't have a tablet. I can't do any artistic anything with a mouse. I can chekc out Inkscape though!

Thanks man! Much appreciated!

Believe it or not, all of my digital maps are created with a mouse. I have a tablet, but don't care for it, since it doesn't draw as fast as I do. I find it frustrating to use. While drawing with a mouse might be equivalent to drawing with a brick instead of a pencil, I've been doing it for years, so its not an impossible task. I even do professional commissions doing it this way. Although I prefer to use Xara Photo & Graphic Designer 9, a vector drawing application, it is very similar to Inkscape, though has many additional features I rely on that Inkscape does not. However, Xara is not free (not expensive either, but not free).

I wrote an article (http://www.gmsmagazine.com/authors-2/the-cartographers-table-which-mapping-software-is-best-for-you) a while back posted in G*M*S magazine blog that might help you decide which software is best for you.

06-23-2014, 01:44 PM
By saying I could start from higher level to lower level, do you mean size? or sea level?

That was my plan, make a world map. I hadn't even thought of using tectonic plates. I'm at a stand still on story and making cultures because personally, I need a physical representation of land and landscape in order to do all that. So from there I can base cultures on the landscape. For example, a culture that worships mountains isn't going to live in marshy flatlands. And that effects story, and where the characters travel.

I've tried starting with shape, and then from there making smaller shapes of islands, etc. So yes, continental scale. I have been using world maps for scale and reference.

06-23-2014, 01:48 PM
I do know a website that randomly generates worlds and world maps for you, but I prefer to do it on my own. I use that site for ideas for shapes and reference to coastlines.

donjon; Fantasy World Generator (http://donjon.bin.sh/fantasy/world/)

I'll keep that in mind. I've yet to really play around with GIMP. Thanks man!

06-23-2014, 01:51 PM
Ah. My biggest catch is money. I can't pay to commission a map, nor can I afford a tablet. So I'm stuck with pencil and paper, or mouse and GIMP or Inkscape.

That is amazing though! I don't really use a mouse in general, I just use my laptop's little cursor screen.

06-24-2014, 09:20 AM
Pencil and paper is awesome! It was the method of choice for cartographers for quite some time too ;) My starting point is typically color. I imagine where the colors will be to make the map pleasing to the eye, and design the continents and features around that. If I'm making a black/white map, that obviously doesn't work, and then I unfortunately start with the shapes, so I can't give any good advice there…