View Full Version : My Thracioth map walk-thru (Photoshop)

05-18-2007, 11:21 PM
I love tutorials.

I love reading them because I learn new skills, and I love writing them because I learn how much I don't know. (Plus, they help crutch my horrible memory.)

So, being in an adventurous mood, I'm going to go out on a limb by posting a work in process of a new map...just for fun. I'll describe my steps, posting as I go.

I hope this helps some of you at least a tad with your own mapping endeavors, and I selfishly hope my fumbling about likewise helps me improve my cartography. You can help me in that, too, if you will: please please please let me know if you have comments, suggestions, questions, or if you spot any errors! I can use all the help I can get.

One last comment: I'm making this as I go, and I'm a complete amateur, so I will make mistakes. In fact, the map may not turn out at all. I don't know. Let me apologize in advance for that. There are sweet, professional map makers here at The Guild; check out their websites (listed in the "Reference Material" (http://cartographersguild.com/forum/viewforum.php?f=27) threads) & email them if you want really good advice. I'm a noob. (And a knob.)

I'm using Photoshop CS2 for this map, because 1) I do not foresee the need for vector art, and 2) I like Photoshop for "quick work" such as this. (The GIMP, CorelDraw, etc. are each acceptable counterparts, but I'm afraid I don't know those programs.)

I'm also a PC user; Mac-kies usually only need to OPT-click, etc., otherwise I believe processes are the same.

I'm also assuming at least a very minor level of Photoshop proficiency; if you don't know how to create new layers, select using the marquee tool, or switch tools, then you may get a tad lost. (Do some on-line tutorials, perhaps, to get your feet wet first.)

On we go...

05-18-2007, 11:31 PM

I start by opening a new file in Photoshop. Since I have no end product in mind, size doesn't really matter much, so I'll just choose 8.5" x 11" (2200 x 1650 px), and a 200 pixel/inch resolution.

Now I create a new layer called "Sketch" and there, with any brush (set at 25% flow), I just start sketching some ideas. I have a Wacom drawing tablet, so this is pretty easy, although a mouse woks too--as does a hand sketch later scanned in.

I think I'll make a fantasy map. (*sketch sketch sketch*) As I go I see I've made an island/continent with mountains that somehow appear in the shape of a dragon's tail. Neat! I'll use that. (*sketch sketch sketch*) In fact, just for fun, what if I made this an artistic map with an artistic dragon drawn next to it? (*sketch sketch sketch*) Okay, what if the dragon is more of a serpent/"wyrm" that is holding a frame of the map. Now that's neat! Much like medieval maps with angels holding the world...although not as holy.

(NOTE: If this dragon distracts you, and you're thinking "I don't want a frame around my map!"--Just ignore that part of the following tutorial. The actual mapmaking process will stand alone, too.)

Attached is my first sketch of "Thracioth," including the frame & the dragon. I think I'll name the dragon "Rob," after all my friends of that moniker on this site.

05-18-2007, 11:43 PM

Next I like to at least get a vague idea of my color scheme. I could skip this part, but since I'm lousy at color-coordination (you guys should see the way I dress, for pity's sake!) I want to play around a bit now when it is still just "play."

I create a new layer called "sketch colors" and choose out some light colors to throw next to one another to see if they are friendly and will play nice. I erase a lot here & don't even try to be neat; this is just for later reference. (see image below).

One thing I personally do is find two to three colors that will dominate all others; in this case it will be green (dragon/sea), brown (land), and gold (frame). Most every color on the map will be derivatives of these three.

Once I feel fairly confident with the general color scheme, I also add a "sketch background color" layer & play with background colors. I'm not sure how much I like the darker brown, but it works well enough for now. (The image I attached of this also includes my desktop, just in case anyone wants to see that, too.)

SAVE YOUR WORK! Save often, & every once in awhile save under a different file name. (Voice of experience here! Save so often you feel ashamed for being this cowardly!)

05-19-2007, 11:49 PM

I'll start the map by hiding the two color layers I created (background & color sketch), and then turning the opacity of my Sketch layer down to about 20% so as not to distract my work.

I could make the land in many ways, the most useful being creating & saving a "path", which gives maximum flexibility later on; but using the vector tools in Photoshop is tricky & I want this tutorial to be completely straightforward, so for I'll go plain-Jane here The method below was how I made my first maps in PS, and it was easy, and it worked just fine.

Create a new layer on top of all others called "Land." In that layer, using the base color I chose for the land, I outline the islands with a medium sized brush (around 5px), & then color them in. (See image below).

Next I use the magic wand to select anywhere on the colored landmasses; the "marching ants" should appear around the islands. Leave them marching for a minute.

I now create a new layer on top called "Land Outlines", & I choose black as the foreground color. Then in that layer I Edit>Stroke, choosing about 4 px. wide, centered, 100% opacity, & normal blending. BAM! The islands are outlined. Nice, eh? (see image below)

But let's add one more fun detail: fancy-schmancy water lines. While my ants are still a-marching from my last action, I create a new layer called "Water Lines", then Select>Modify>Expand about 4 px. The ants should now surround the islands. Now I Edit>Stroke just as before, but this time at 1 px.

I do this Expand / Stroke action again and again, each time expanding more. When all done, I Select>Deselect (or, Ctrl-D), which "turns off" the ants.

But I think I'll go just one step further: in both the Land Outlines and the Water Lines layers, I Filter>Distort>Ripple at about 115 - 125%. Why? Mainly because I like the variations in the line widths this gives. You don't need to do it at all. A downside is that it may require some touch-up of the land &/or the lines themselves, though; but worth it, I think! (see image below)

Note that there are plenty of other options to create line variations; another nice one is to select the "Dissolve" layer style (from the pull-down menu just under the "Layers" tab), which gives a cool "fuzzy" look.

05-20-2007, 04:26 PM
I hesitate to interrupt your train of posts with a reply, but I just wanted to say that I'm really looking forward to seeing how this goes.

Your efforts are tireless, Don!



05-20-2007, 10:01 PM
I hesitate to interrupt your train of posts with a reply, but I just wanted to say that I'm really looking forward to seeing how this goes.

No, no, no interruption at all. I want my fellow Guildies' input! Let me know what you like/don't like/would like to see. I'm just making this up as I go along! :)

Thanks for the compliment, though, Ravs. I really appreciate it.

05-20-2007, 10:14 PM

Next let's add the water. Were I just creating a "standard" map, without any sort of fancy-schmancy frame (or if I were intending to just add a simple frame later in the process), I would just select a color & fill with the paintbucket tool. But my map frame has that curved top, so I want to select that area to fill first.

The first attachment, below, shows an instructional image. It's easy:
1. With the Elliptical Marquee Tool, I drew an ellipse with a top half matching my frame's arc.
2. Then I clicked the "add to selection" option
3. Finally, I switched to the Rectangular Marquee Tool & drew out the straight edges of the frame. After I was done, the entire frame was selected as a solid area. (Cue the "Oooooohhs!")

Leaving the ants marching around the selected area, I create a "Water Base Color" layer below the Land layer; then I used the paintbucket tool to fill the selection with my dominant water color.

Before deselcting the ants, I created a new layer on top called "Map Frame" & Edit>Stroke the selection in black, with a 5 px. line. This is for later use.

Then I Select>Deselect to get rid of the ants. (see image below)

05-20-2007, 11:11 PM

The base water color is nice but bland. I want to add some eye-interest.

First I create a new layer directly above the Water Base Color layer called something like "Add Water Color 1". (I could just draw my colors right onto my Base Water Color, but I like the option to adjust, fade, play, or even delete things; a new layer is the easiest way to do that.)

In my new layer I use a wide, fuzzy-edged brush to draw around the islands. I choose a blue-green that is lighter than my base color, but coordinating with it.

(Advice: I'm poor at color coordination, so I usually use the PS color swatch when I can, for then I can use all colors in the same columns [see image below]. Either that or I ask my wife, who has a much more artistic eye than I!)

I draw quickly & rather sloppily, making wide arcs around the islands. (Plus a few marks outside the area, just for variety.)

Next I create a new layer ("Add Water Color 2") & do the same, except with a lighter color & with a smaller brush.

I do it one more time with my brightest blue & only thin lines around the island borders. (see image below)

I then Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur each of these layers at about 10px.

I save my file again since I'm going to do a "destructive" technique, meaning the last few steps will go bye-bye, & what if I want to go back?

Now starting at my top Add Water Color Layer I Layer>Merge Down (or Ctrl-E) each of these layers until all are merged into Base Water Color.

Then I Filter>Artistic>Sponge the Water Base Color. I play with the settings in that filter, until I like what I see (Brush Size 10, Definition 2, Smoothness 12). I then reapplied the sponge 3 times. (see image below)

05-21-2007, 10:50 PM

I want to create color variations for the land now much as I did for the water, but with one difference: the land colorations must also carry some suggestion of elevation as well, so I have to be slightly more careful. That being said, I still need not be overly careful, for as with the water the colorization is mainly for artistic purposes.

I create a new layer between the Land & Land Outlines layers; I name it "Land Color Adds1" and choose my darkest brown from the swatches. I will then paint the area for the mountains with a wide, fuzzy brush. (I moved up my Sketch layer to help me remember where the mountains could go, too.)

Then my new "Land Color Adds2" layer contains the next lighter color, representing hills; "Land Color Adds3" contains various color variations for no other purpose than variation, which I variously slap around.

Just as with the water, I Layer>Merge Down each Color Add layer into the actual Land layer, then Filter>Artistic>Sponge about 5-6 times (my settings: Brush Size 0, Definition 2, Smoothness 15).

Attached is my result.

05-22-2007, 12:04 AM

I just created the base colors for our mountains & hills; now I will draw them in. The look I'm favoring here is a "hand-drawn" style, and it's pretty straightforward.

First, I create a "Mountains" layer above my Land layer. Then, starting at the bottom of the map & working up, I draw in the mountain ranges with a thin, black brush. Yes, I do this exactly like 5th graders draw their mountains: upside-down Vees!--although every one is unique in some way: either shallower, steeper, or double-peaked, etc. (See image below.) I'm liking the mountains for these islands--maybe this island is some kind of dragon-lair haven, matching the theme of Rob the Dragon in the frame; I think I'll make Thracioth a mountainpalooza!

When all mountains are down, I go back and add detail lines. I do this by hand in a slightly thinner & lighter brush than before. Scribbling & dashing is all that's really required here. You could even add a few details like volcanoes, plateaus, and chasms. (see image below)

Finally, let's make those mountains stand out a little. I create a new layer named "Mountain Colors" just below my Mountains layer. Then, with a medium-sized, fuzzy brush set at about 35% opacity, I do three things:

1. Trace the outside of each mountain "vee" with a medium-dark brown; this makes each mountain "pop out" from the others.
2. Color the right side of each mountain peak with a dark brown, to simulate shadows
3. Highlight the left side of each peak with a whitish-brown to simulate the sunlight's reflection.

Below is the image of that process completed.

I also Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur the Mountain Colors layer at only about 1 px, just to soften it a pinch.

05-23-2007, 11:29 AM

This step is really easy because it is "mountains lite": I'm going to create a new layer called "Hills", then draw on hills just as I did the mountains, except more hill-like. Then I added some shading to the right-sides & with the same bright brown I used for the mountains, I dabbed that on. Note I did not create a new layer for the color, since there's so little of it.

This took a whole of 5 minutes. Screenshot below!

05-23-2007, 12:35 PM

There are many ways to add lakes & rivers to my map, all of them acceptable. I will paint them on top of the land in a new "Lakes & Rivers" layer. First I use a bright blue so they stand out & are easier to visualize. (see image below)

Remember (& forgive me if this seems condescending): Rivers flow from high ground or springs to the sea, not the other way around.

When all are drawn, I choose the Magic Wand tool, click anywhere on my blue, and the entire system of lakes & rivers is selected. I will keep this area selected for the next few steps.

From my Swatches I first select a light blue that corresponds with my oceans, then I use the Paint Bucket tool to fill the area.

Next I choose a slightly darker blue and quickly dab & draw around the lakes & rivers with a fuzzy brush at 50% fill. I do this again with a darker color, too.

Next I Filter>Artistic>Sponge the water, playing with the settings to somewhat match the sponging of my oceans. I repeat the sponge two more times.

Finally, I create a new layer above my Lakes & Rivers layer called "River Outlines"; then in that layer I Edit>Stroke the selection with a 2 px. black line. Now all my rivers & lakes are outlined.

I can Select>Deselect (Ctrl-D) now.

Hmm, I see two things I don't like:
1) the black outlines appear very harsh, so I will Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur the River Outline layer at about .4px, just to take the edge off.

2) some of my rivers do not connect with the sea as well as I'd like, so in the River Outlines layer I clean them up with the eraser & a couple dabs of river color.

Below is the final image result!

05-23-2007, 06:59 PM

Forest time--one of my favorites! First I will--yep, you guessed it--create a new layer called (surprise surprise!) "Forests".

Basically I'm following the same sequence I followed with both the water & the land. In this way, my entire map will flow. So, choosing a light green hue that coordinates with the rest of my map (a really tough job for me!), I use a sharp-edged brush to color in my forests.

Next, on a new layer called "Forest Colors" I randomly mark up the forests with a couple darker colors, using a soft brush & a very low fill (about 15%). Then I merge the Forest Color layer down into my Forests layer, and apply the Filter>Artistic>Sponge about 3 or four times. The first image below is my end result.

Now, although like the mountains I could draw on the forest details by hand, I will instead save time by creating a pattern for them. It'll still require some hand-drawing, but not nearly as much.

So first I create a new Photoshop document (300px square & 300 px/inch) & make a new layer above the white background. Then, using a soft 5px brush, I draw squiggly tree outlines in the center, never touching the edges. (see image below) As you can see, I also add a few thinner "leaf squiggles" inside the trees. DO NOT TOUCH THE EDGES, though.

When the center is filled with trees, I apply Filter>Other>Offset. The settings don't matter much, as long as "Wrap Around" is clicked. As you see, the image shifts, leaving me new areas to fill with trees. I keep Offsetting until I have nowhere else to fill.

Finally, I need to define this as a pattern, so I go to Edit>Define Pattern, give this a name (TreeFill, or something), and it's ready. I close this little document (you can save it if you want to) & go back to my Thracioth map.

Back in my map I Magic Wand tool select the forests by clicking anywhere in the green. Then I create a new layer above it called "Forest Details."

With that new layer slected, and with the ants marching around my forests, I click the "new fill or adjustment layer" button at the bottom of my layers screen (it looks like a half black-half white circle), and I choose Pattern. The screen will pop up that allows me to select the forest pattern I just created, plus to adjust the scale (mine is at 30%). Click OK & voila! I get chills every time!

I now Select>Deselect my forests. I also decided to set the blending mode of that Forest Details level to "color burn", because I like the orange-ish edges, but this is not required.

Finally I need to play with the edges, since my fill is imperfect there. I could stroke these, but it looks too smooth for my tastes, so I will go in by hand & draw the edges with my squiggle lines, then hand touch-up with green. Below is my final version.

EDIT, June 11, 2007: The above system for tree fill works great, but had I the chance to redo, I would instead create an entire fill layer / layer mask for my forest pattern, then "paint" them in. While essentially the same result, it does offer more flexibility. (For a wonderful video tutorial on this system, watch Butch Curry's video tutorial "Fantasy Cartography with Adobe Photoshop 3" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1m4pDmxvnPU))

05-23-2007, 11:25 PM

Just for fun I'll throw in some desert/dune details. On another layer ("Deserts") I draw with a light yellow, then again on top with a slightyl darker color. Then I Filter>Gaussian Blur at about 1px; then Filter>Artistic>Film Grain & play with the settings. When all is said & done, I play with the opacity of the Desert layer to taste.

Now would be a great time to save the file under a new name.

Because I'm liking the idea of Thoracia being a dragon-home, I'm going to have it be sparsely populated. Perhaps these hearty cities are strongholds who dare defy the dragons to reap the riches herein--or perhaps they only recently have agreements with the dragons. Or, maybe they have recently driven the dragons into the mountains, so civilization is just now flourishing... I can figure that out later.

I create a layer for "Cities" & choose a gold color for my sharp brush. Then I simply "dab" circles around. (I could use the marquee tool to make a perfect circle, then copy it all over, but I'm liking the imperfections of the map; they give character).

After I have dabbed all my circles, I Magic Wand tool one, and when all are chosen I Edit>Stroke them with a 1px black line. Finally I Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur these at around .5 to take off the hard edge.

Now I will add some text. The font I'm using is a GNU called "Isabella" (from dafont.com (http://www.dafont.com/theme.php?cat=401&page=3).
I use 11 pt. size, plus the same color as my city dots. For names..well, I looked for inspiration close at hand.

Once all names are how & where I like them, I select all text layers (Photoshop makes a new text layer each time you type) by Ctrl-clicking each. Then I Layer>Rasterize>Text, which turns the text into "drawings". Note that this means I can no longer edit these as text, so I double check my spelling! I rename this layer, which now sits just above my "Cities" layer, calling it "Text."

Finally, I click the "add layer style" button (it looks like an "F") at the bottom of the layers window & apply three styles to the Text layer: Drop Shadow, Inner Shadow, & Outer Glow. I played with the settings until the text seemed soft, raised above the map slightly, crispy, and golden. I do, simultaneously, try to make sure the effects do not distract from the hand-painted look of the map, though.

05-24-2007, 09:37 AM
Awesome so far! Looking forward to more :)

-Rob A>

05-25-2007, 12:59 AM
Enjoying the place names ;)

05-25-2007, 11:04 AM
:lol: Yes, well done.

05-28-2007, 12:16 AM
Great series. I love step-by-step walkthroughs.

And how cool to have a mountain named after me! :D

05-29-2007, 11:30 PM

The final stages of this project are superfluous: the map is complete & I could easily print it as is, or perhaps place it on the standard worn parchment.

But if you recall, for some reason that even I cannot now comprehend, I decided to frame the map & place a dragon close by. Why a dragon (aka "Rob") would be standing by a framed map of Thoracioth I don't know. Why do you have to be so critical, people? Work with me here...

The steps below basically speak for themselves: I created a new document (using my original sketch as the pattern), then drew in the final dragon. The frame I created in the exact same manner I used way back in step two or so: select & stroke, then repeat.

Coloring is in stages, and there are no bells or whistles here: I went completely by hand, first coloring the frame & Rob with simple colors (notice I decided, after making the dragon green, to change it to darker brown.) Afterwards I bent back, filled in details, then added shadows (using "darken" blending mode) & highlights (using a "color dodge" blending mode). For every single step I created a new level.

Since this step is not "mapping" per se but simple Photoshop use, I'll not tutorial step by step through this, but please feel free to shoot me a question if I can help. Like I said, this is pretty simple & straightforward.

05-30-2007, 12:01 AM

Next I copy-paste my completed map from before, placing it below every layer save my background white.

Next, to give the frame a bit of depth, I add "drop shadow" layer styles to my map frame layers, playing with the settings to taste. (I also needed to go back & add the shadow for the dragon's tail by hand.)

The text for the frame itself I wrote in using the standard text tool, using the "create warped text" button to get the arc. For the carved-into-the-frame look, I followed an on-line tutorial (it's basically just an inner shadow on a darkened text outline). I added the little happy little flourishes for fun.

And finally, I did not like the plain brown background I'd originally planned, so I created a plain gray background, then stacked up two brown layers, each with Filter>Render>Clouds; I then played with their opacities.

Were I to continue with this map, it may be neat to instead of clouds create a background that's a blurred, ginormous map of the entire world or something. I can also think of plenty of fun things to do to the map frame, such as more carving fretwork, iron wrought decorations, etc. The map itself could also be textured, worn & frayed, etc. I could spend a looong time "playing with this map, and I'm a notorious fiddler; but I'll stop since this was for fun, not for use.

And that's it, folks! I would love your input, advice, and improvements. Thanks, and I hope this at least gives you an idea &/or inspiration. Take care!

05-30-2007, 05:00 AM
Brilliant stuff, Don - I see your fine art skills are pretty hot too!


05-30-2007, 12:14 PM
*sigh* It's stuff like this that makes me want to just give up... :cry:

Simply beautiful! Rob completely took the map to another level. Well done a raucous golf clap for you! :lol:

05-31-2007, 05:43 PM
Crumbs! In my usual gormless way I hadn't noticed that the placenames were so meaningful - Ravston - I like it!!

Thank you for the immortality!


06-04-2007, 12:03 AM
In the interest of full disclosure, I posted the finished map over at EN World's nice forums, and I received the comments below, some of which I thought were quite helpful, others not so much so. I'm paraphrasing them here in case anyone uses the "walk-thru", so they can improve their own results. If I ever decide to go back & play with this image, I may incorporate some of these myself! Enjoy!

1. The map is too small. This was the #1 criticism. Most everyone wanted it to dominate the "image"
2. The dragon needs to be shrunk (perhaps even turned into the compass on the map itself, placed in a corner, or perched on top)
3. The dragon needs more color variations, put in with a small brush.
4. Some of the map is too fuzzy & needs to be traced over (I think they may mean the water lines)
5. The cloud render in the background is too much/too easy/etc.; someone suggested parchment instead
6. The text is not clear/not easy to read; the font is fine, but it needs sharpening

06-18-2008, 12:57 PM
In the interest of full disclosure, I posted the finished map over at EN World's nice forums, and I received the comments below, some of which I thought were quite helpful, others not so much so. I'm paraphrasing them here in case anyone uses the "walk-thru", so they can improve their own results. If I ever decide to go back & play with this image, I may incorporate some of these myself! Enjoy!

1. The map is too small. This was the #1 criticism. Most everyone wanted it to dominate the "image"
2. The dragon needs to be shrunk (perhaps even turned into the compass on the map itself, placed in a corner, or perched on top)
3. The dragon needs more color variations, put in with a small brush.
4. Some of the map is too fuzzy & needs to be traced over (I think they may mean the water lines)
5. The cloud render in the background is too much/too easy/etc.; someone suggested parchment instead
6. The text is not clear/not easy to read; the font is fine, but it needs sharpening

1. I love this. As a "painting" type effect, this fits in very well.
2. No
3. nah. The only thing I would like to see changed on the dragon is a few head horns (yea, I am one of those types) and outstretched wings. "Perhaps" scales.
4. Posh...
5. I can see that. Or perhaps a canvas background filter.
6. Yea, I see that also.

Superb work.


06-19-2008, 02:50 AM
This is absolutely amazing, and the mountains/hills/cliffs... They're so... Good... Can't comprehend how you did them so well. Great tutorial, hopefully I can make it work with GIMP too.

06-20-2008, 01:29 PM
Hey Don,

I enjoyed the tutorial.

I want to especially thank you for posting the negative comments as well. Its so subjective that there are no 'wrong' viewpoints. It really helps one look at the process when you preserve critical comments as well as the glowing detail.

Thats classy. Thanks.


btw. I recommend users follow the Deviant Art links in Pyranadon's Sig