View Full Version : [Award Winner] Photoshop Mapping with Chuck

03-17-2009, 08:07 AM
Here’s my tutorial for how to make a map in the style of this: http://www.cartographersguild.com/showthread.php?t=4753

Special thanks must be said for jezelf, from whose tutorials I borrow frequently and liberally.

Before you start, I suggest you download these brushes and such that I’ve attached here and a good parchment texture, (http://www.andreas.blicher.info/images/reikland_paper.jpg), and you will most certainly want Wilbur for a likely unnecessary step that adds a bit of realism for those not so well-versed in geology, such as me.

First off, open a new file in Photoshop. Let’s say, a 2500 x 2500. Duplicate the background and run a difference clouds filter (or, alternatively, not make a new layer and run clouds, doesn’t make any difference; see step1 below).

Then we’ll add a threshold layer via the little icon at the bottom-right (see step2).

Go ahead and keep the standard 128. Now we can use the burn tool on the clouds layer to make a good continent shape. Burn will cause the black to expand, while holding Alt down while using the burn tool to make it retreat. For now, let’s assume the black is land. So we’ll screw around with the burn for a while and make a fair shape (see step3).

03-17-2009, 08:12 AM
Part 2

Now that we’ve got a good shape, now’s a good time to merge the threshold and cloud layers together. Then we’ll make a new cloud layer and another threshold layer above the continent. Merge the new layers together. Now we’ll use the lasso tool to select interesting-looking bits. Cut those out (hotkey Ctrl+X; see step4).

Hide the threshold/cloud layer (now dubbed Threshloud, a 14th-level Photoshop layer) and paste the little land-bit above the continent. Set the layer to multiply and move it about until you find a nice place for it, and go ahead and merge it with the continent (otherwise your layers will add up to epic levels in a short amount of time). Repeat over and over and over again until you have a bangin’ black and white map (see step5). Sometimes it’s a good idea to Gaussian blur your map by 1 pixel and threshold it again to get rid of awkward little fuzz around the coast.

Now, we begin the forewarned optional step. I use this step to make geologically realistic river systems, though, as previously stated, this is an optional step that can be skipped if you are confident of your river-making skills. This step is nearly exclusively borrowed from this tutorial: http://www.jezelf.co.uk/tutorials_map05.htm.

First, duplicate your map and invert the colors. Now the land is white (see step6).

Duplicate that and run a poster edges filter with the settings as high as they will go on the top layer. Duplicate that and run an accented edges filter on the top layer (see step7).

Gaussian blur that layer at about 7.5 pixels and put the opacity at 65%. On the layer under that, Gaussian blur it at 5 pixels, and drop the opacity to 50% (see step8).

03-17-2009, 08:15 AM
Part 3

Now, make a brand new layer on top of everything, fill with white, and difference clouds the hell out of that sucker. Jezelf suggests 30 times, and that is not a bad number, though of course you can use more or less as desired (see step9).

Now change that layer’s blending to difference (see step10).

Duplicate your original inverted layer and move the duplicate to the top, and set its blending to color burn. Now make a new layer, and use a soft black brush on a low opacity to darken areas that you think shouldn’t be mountainous. The whiter the area is, the higher the elevation will be (see step11).

Now, duplicate visible by selecting the canvas (Ctrl+A) with Ctrl+Shift+C. Open up the channels tab beside the layers tab and make a new alpha layer (basically just like making a standard layer) and paste the picture into the alpha layer. Go back to the layers tab, make a new layer, fill with white, and run a lighting effects filter on that, using settings somewhere around here (notice I haven’t moved from jezelf’s majestic tutorial’s settings; see step12).

Put this layer on overlay, and you should get something like this (see step13).

Now, save this map as a .PNG, something like heightmap.png or whatever. Prettypinkpanties.png if you really want. It’s up to you, and I won’t question your filename preferences.

03-17-2009, 08:19 AM
Part 4

Now open up Wilbur and open your .PNG file (see step14). Now we’ll begin stealing liberally from this tutorial (http://www.ridgecrest.ca.us/~jslayton/FunWithWilburVol1/index.html) so kindly provided by Wilbur for us simple-minded plebeians.

Fill basins (Ctrl+B) and suddenly your water is green, low-lying land (see step15).

Now run Filter > Mathematical > Span with Low at 1000 and High at 2000. Run a percentage noise filter at 5%, and your map is suddenly very bumpy, which is absolutely necessary. Believe me. I’ve learned this from experience. Fill basins again (thank God for hotkeys, eh?).

Now, go to Texture > Other Maps > River Flow with these settings (see riverstep). Now go to Texture > Transfer > Texture to Height on Grayscale Combine. Now you can go ahead and save your heightmap and load that sucker back into Photoshop. Place it over your original black and white map and set the blending to Screen. Merge the two layers together.

Now the real work begins.

03-17-2009, 08:27 AM
Part 5

Use the magic wand tool to select the land, go to Select > Similar to select all that black crap, and make a new layer above everything else. Now pick a green color, preferably not too bright or saturated, and fill the selection with it. Deselect it and you have yourself some land, matey. Make a new layer under that and fill it with a blue, and behold the azure fields (see step24). You could also put a layer style on the water, such as the one you downloaded at the beginning.

Now it’s time to whip out those mountain brushes you downloaded. Open up the mountain brushes and the mountain layer style. Apply the mountain layer style to a new layer. The brushes should appear in the Tool Presets area just under the History panel beside the zoom settings (see step25).

Now, before you go mountain-happy, select the land by Ctrl+clicking on the little thumbnail for the land layer, that way you only brush on the land and not over the rivers or ocean. Now brush some mountains roughly where the heightmap suggested. For particularly high mountains you can brush over it a couple of times. Once you have most the mountains on there, make a new layer with the same layer style and brush some smaller mountains on there for some added detail (see step26). You could also use the provided layer style for snow and brush some snowy peaks on those mountains.

The map doesn’t seem to pop out a whole lot yet, so Ctrl+select the land layer’s thumbnail and make a new layer. Now, with black selected as foreground color, stroke this sucker again, outside, at about 2 pixels. Don’t deselect yet. Make a new layer again and now go to Select > Modify > Expand and go about 10 pixels or so. Stroke that sucker again. Repeat as desired. Then set this layer on overlay. Now you have a fancy coastline (see step27).


Now’s where you have some choices to make based on your map. Now is the step where you should customize the terrain, such as making desert, tundra, forests, etc. (Note: Any brushing of details onto the land should be done whilst the land has been selected, so that you are not brushing over rivers) For desert, you could just make a layer of pale yellow and brush with a soft brush where you think it should go. For tundra, perhaps a grayish color, or a white for some severe permafrost. Steppes could be a yellow or brown, perhaps. For forests, you could use this little trick: Use the provided layer style and brush a forest with a soft brush. Now, make a new layer above the forest, select both, and merge them together. This makes the layer style become the layer, and allows you to change the forest’s blending to darken, which will get rid of the somewhat bothersome white inbetween the trees. It is also suggested that you Ctrl+select the mountains’ thumbnails and delete the forests from those areas. This will make sure that the forests cover a small amount of the mountains without covering the most treacherous crags. Now you could select the forest area and on a new layer underneath that fill with black, set to overlay and 10% opacity, and nudge a bit so that you have a nice shadow for your forest (see step28).

03-17-2009, 08:31 AM
Part 6

Now that your terrain is good, you can label places on the map, use dots to denote cities, and even make roads by using a brush with settings like these (see step29 and step30).

Now we begin to make things really spiffy. Pull out that parchment you downloaded, fit it to the size of you map, and set it on multiply. If you put everything in your map that you’ve worked on so far inside a group, you can select the outside of the parchment and use a layer mask on the group to mask out what is outside the paper.

Other touch-ups include things like burnt edges, which would just be a new layer stroked inside the parchment selection with about 100 pixels, Gaussian blurred, and set on multiply. You could also add blood or ink splatters, play with levels, or whatever you can think of.

I have attached what I ended up with by the end of my tutorial-writing. I hope I helped someone with this tutorial, even just one person.

03-17-2009, 09:09 AM
Wow. Thanks for the tutorial. Definitely like the look of this - I just nned to get photoshop to do this.

Steel General
03-17-2009, 09:14 AM
Seems like a really well-done tutorial - nice job!
Have to give it a whirl one of these days.

@Historyhead - If you use GIMP much of this should be translatable.

03-17-2009, 11:34 AM
Hello, Chuck.

You've provided a great tutorial. I am sure that many people are going to benefit from following it. Thaks for sharing it!


I have attached a PDF copy of the "Photoshop Mapping with Chuck" tutorial to this post for y'all's use. (Look at that! A Southern double contraction!)





Steel General
03-17-2009, 12:16 PM
Thanks Vandy, was considering doing that myself.

03-17-2009, 02:06 PM
thanks vandy!
And Chuck for this awesome tut!

03-17-2009, 02:43 PM
That is an incredibly good tutorial (enjoy some tasty rep). I am definitely going to be trying this out.

03-17-2009, 03:59 PM
The latest version of wilbur seems to now have a river tracing feature...


setting it to a solid background with white rivers, then Texture > Transfer > Texture to height will let you save out a B/W png file that you can use to mask/cut out rivers.

-Rob A>

03-17-2009, 05:18 PM
Vandy, thanks for merging that together for me...and everyone else, of course.

The latest version of wilbur seems to now have a river tracing feature...


setting it to a solid background with white rivers, then Texture > Transfer > Texture to height will let you save out a B/W png file that you can use to mask/cut out rivers.

Is this so? Mayhaps I should check into this...

EDIT: Holy crap on a stick! This dumbs down everything I just did! Thanks for pointing that out. Well, now what? Do I go back and reedit the tutorial even though Vandy has been so kind as to compile it into a PDF?

03-17-2009, 07:26 PM
Hi, Chuck.

If you want to edit and repost your tutorial, please do so. I saved the source document as a Word file so it will be real easy to edit in your changes.



03-17-2009, 11:38 PM
The latest version of wilbur seems to now have a river tracing feature...

I'm trying to decide if it should sprout a variable-width river trace with antialiasing as well. Such a feature wouldn't be released until after this month's competition is over, of course...

03-18-2009, 04:33 AM
Great tutorial, overchuck!! I particularly like the controlled coastline creation method using the burn tool with the threshold layer. Repped and rated.

03-18-2009, 05:59 AM
Alright, tutorial has officially been revamped and dumbed down. Thanks for pointing that out RobA, I was spending so much time on those freakin rivers.

03-18-2009, 11:46 AM
Hi, Chuck.

I'm teaching a class today and tomorrow and am off on Friday. I'll get the PDF document of your tutorial updated as soon as I can, repost it and let everyone know when it is available.



Blaidd Drwg
03-18-2009, 02:11 PM
This is one awesome tut. I love this style of map :)

03-18-2009, 05:26 PM
Thanks, Blaidd!

Blaidd Drwg
04-20-2009, 02:01 AM
I'll definitely give this a try one of these days. :D

05-04-2009, 06:21 AM
Don't know if this is the right place to ask this question, but I think that since I'm following this tutorial, someone should know.

My map isn't coming up right when I try to brush in my mountains (I have made sure to follow everything exactly many times already). It looks odd, liquidized almost. Is this what it's supposed to look like (in the attachment) when I first use the brush... because it looks nothing like the PDF. Any ideas?

05-04-2009, 11:28 PM
Huh...not sure. Perhaps you need to use a smaller brush size? Anyone else have any ideas? That's really the only thing I can think of.

05-05-2009, 08:24 AM
It's the not size. I've already tried and tried again just to be safe. I think it's something else, but I can't figure it out. Anyone?

08-12-2009, 07:14 PM
I'm stuck on the stage where you bring the .png file back over into photoshop. What is it supposed to look like exactly because the .png file I ended up with looked like a black field with rivers all through it. Also what does 'original black and white' mean? The map that we started with at the very beginning of everything? The black and white after it was inverted? After the mountains were put in? The last map used in photoshop? I feel really dense here. Am I the only one having problems in this area? (probably.)

Edit: I got past that though I had to make something up since your step rather confused me. Now I'm stuck on this:

"The map doesn’t seem to pop out a whole lot yet, so Ctrl+select the land layer’s thumbnail and make a new layer. Now, with black selected as foreground color, stroke this sucker again, outside, at about 2 pixels. Don’t deselect yet. Make a new layer again and now go to Select > Modify > Expand and go about 10 pixels or so. Stroke that sucker again. Repeat as desired. Then set this layer on overlay. Now you have a fancy coastline (see step27)."

What does 'stroke' mean? Stroke with what and where? You say outside but... outside the selected area? I wouldn't think that was possible. This step would be over quickly if I just understood what stroke was... is it another filter. Let me go see.

10-05-2009, 07:27 AM
I have the same issue as the post above me. When I use wilbur I get a black field with rivers running through it. Not only that the rivers are running where the ocean is suppose to be not in the mountainous areas. I may be extremely thick headed or not following the steps correctly, but not sure which at this point.

10-05-2009, 08:07 AM
I don't know about the png file, not having followed the tutorial, but "stroke" is a function in Photoshop right next to "fill" which puts a line around the selection (outside, inside, or center) of x pixels. There is also a stroke layer property in Photoshop, which effects everything on a layer.

10-05-2009, 08:14 AM
What I am having issue with is bringing in the png from wilbur. My process looks nothing like it is suppose to. It is most likely that I am doing it completely wrong.

10-05-2009, 10:07 AM
Wilbur wasn't doing reasonable things with PNGs that have an alpha channel. Version 1.71 (today's release) should be better about this. Try it and see if your problem is resolved.

10-06-2009, 07:00 AM
For some reason when I download Wilbur it installs as 1.70, not sure if that is the correct version according to your post.

10-06-2009, 03:56 PM
Yes, it would help if I name the zip properly before uploading it, wouldn't it? Should be fixed now.

10-23-2009, 06:36 PM
Good idea on the use of procedural texture maps to speed the coloring process. I would like to point out however, that one may use Terragen, Bryce, 3D Studio, Maya, etc... ad nauseum, to accomplish the same goal with some measure of control using grayscale height maps painted in Photoshop if they were so inclined. I've toyed with making orthographic map projections of 3D terrains, but nothing comes close to a truly hand painted map. This would sure speed things up though and could yield some very cool results.

05-29-2010, 08:55 AM
Thanks very much for this helpful tutorial. Here's my first attempt.

I didn't quite follow the river technique. Are the cloud stroked white lines meant to be chopped into tiny pieces to trace the rivers? I tried to do the rivers with the Wilbur output and some levels, threshold and slight blur.

Instead of painting the terrain this time, I put a gradient color map over all the grayscale maps and blended it over the land areas.


01-12-2012, 08:20 PM
Hi There - a bit new, so I apologize if this a dumb question.

For some reason, when attempting to load the mountain style into CS5, it just doesn't appear to work. As in - it just does nothing. And further, I'm a little confused about what exactly is supposed to happen after you import the file from wilbur. It is almost as if all that wilbur did (which looked really cool) was create rivers and a sort of guessing game of where you should put mountains to have them look realistic. Condensed:

1. Is the mountain layer CS5 compatible?
2. What is wilbur actually doing? Because it doesn't seem like a heightmap, even though that's what it says it is.
3. Is there another tutorial like this I could look at?



02-13-2012, 11:09 AM
Thanks chuck fot the tutorial and Vandy forregrouping his tutorial in a pdf file! Thnaks!

07-30-2013, 09:25 AM
Really awesome and easy tutorial to follow!
I was very satisfied with my first attempt at this