In perusing the site, I noticed the vast majority of the "plum" maps employ Photoshop often with Illustrator. There were a few GIMP maps and only a couple CC3 maps. I take that to indicate that the pros use the high-end stuff, while most of us hobbyists map in less expensive formats. Is that pretty near the mark?
People that are really devoted to their hobbies will tend to invest more in tools so it's to be expected I guess...but I see plenty of amazing stuff with free or less-expensive tools. RobA is, I think, a Gimp master and Gandwarf makes some pretty awesome cities in CC3 with City Designer (hope I got those right) and there are many more here doing the same. Advanced tools help but Picasso could have done a masterpiece in Photoshop CS4 or with an inkpen on a cocktail napkin...so they're not everything.
I did my first few maps that I've posted here with GIMP. It works fine, and I think that you're right in assuming that the more "experienced" people tend to use PS.
I switched to PS because what I saw done with PS on this site seemed to have more potential. But also because I had serious stability issues with GIMP, like it crashing whenever I did text-to-path, and the fact that it actually takes GIMP a considerable amount of time to apply various filters whereas PS does it instantly.
On a more controversial note, it might also have something to do with whether people are willing to spend what is really a ludicrous sum of cash on PS, or if they are able to acquire it "somewhere else".
In Denmark, where I live, the average price for PS CS4, retail, is ~1200 US dollars...
So did I actually fork out that dough? Take a guess.
The only actual professionals around here have gray names...professional in that they make maps for a living - the rest of us are hobbyists or wannabe pros. Others get student discounts, some have small businesses that they get it for, and others go in through the backdoor...arr matey. The bottom line is knowing how to use what ya got. I can draw but I can't make a pencil sing like others can...we're all good at something and it's all about practice and desire.
If the radiance of a thousand suns was to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the Mighty One...I am become Death, the Shatterer of worlds.
-J. Robert Oppenheimer (father of the atom bomb) alluding to The Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 11, Verse 32)
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I started out with Gimp but switched to photoshop for pro work as my maps are now >30 MPixels and I've found that PS handles large filesizes that gimp just chokes on. Otherwise, Gimp does most of the stuff that PS does and for smaller jobs Gimp does very well indeed.
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I think there is a general preference for maps that are not only good informational guides but also have high art value too. In this respect the programs that make maps alone usually are tailored to getting the informational bit in quick. The high art side needs a good skill in art and cannot be substituted through some kind of app wizardry. Sometimes all the 'Old School' maps which are limited to two color or very limited color are perfectly adequate for running an RPG game but rarely do they generate the amount of oohhs and Aaahs required to get onto the choice pages.
You should make a map to do the job its designed to do. Some people here actually don't like the high art and find it off putting to the job of specifying what is where.
I have a gray name but I don't make my living off of maps but I do write an app so I am a bit of a pro fraud. But most of the gray names might sell some maps on the side but very few indeed make a living off of making maps exclusively. For those who live off that income I don't think most of them do use PS. For the ones I can think of, they use real ink or GIS type apps. For the most part I think the ones doing most of the on the side map income are using the apps that they use for whatever main job they do.
Saying all of that I still think PS and Illustrator are the most powerful paint / vector packages around. But of all the abilities of them I suspect that all of the features that are used here to make the maps Gimp and Inkscape has too. Like Torstan says I expect its just in memory management and stability that is what drives people to use the big gun big price tag apps.