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Thread: Best Method/Style for Rapid Map Sketching

  1. #1
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    Default Best Method/Style for Rapid Map Sketching

    Salutations,

    I'm going to be running a Fate Accelerated campaign via the Fantasy Grounds virtual tabletop. Fate doesn't need to use battlemaps, and since I'm running in Eberron, regional maps are done for me. However, I'm aware that I may sometimes want to be able to make small sketch maps of areas - a street, a village, whatever the point of interest is. I am trying to figure out what the best way of sketching such maps would be on the computer. If this were a tabletop game, I would use a nice gridded flipmat and some marker pens, and do a semi-decent job.

    What would be the most aesthetically pleasing tool or tools to use on the computer to create maps to the same end? (They don't need to be "live" - I can draw, then save, then drop into FG.) I have a graphics tablet for the purpose of inputting pen strokes. Could anyone recommend a good piece of software and/or tools/brushes within that software for rapid mapping of this sort? I'd be very happy with something that looked abstract (e.g. like pen strokes on parchment). I just want to avoid "mouse + MS Paint" syndrome!

    Many thanks for any help or assistance!

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    Guild Journeyer Gracious Donor rgcalsaverini's Avatar
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    Choosing a software is a very personal thing, different people feel more comfortable with different features. That said, I think that GIMP pretty much covers your needs: You have a great pen input system that will emulate real pen dynamics and easily meet the "pen strokes on parchment" feel, you can pre-setup a template to have a parchment texture + compass + frame to make the old map feel with very little effort and you can download pretty good mountain/forest/house brushes and make a pretty decent quick map.

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    While I agree that GIMP is a very powerful mapping tool, and it's free to download, its not the easiest program to learn and use - and certainly not the fastest mapping application you can have.

    I have written an article posted on *G*M*S magazine helping would-be cartographers select the best progam for their needs - HERE.

    Now I use Xara Photo & Graphic Designer 9, its not free ($89), and I am pretty much the only guy who uses Xara for my mapping needs. Ask anyone in the know who the fastest mapper is - here or anywhere, and that is me. Partly because I work at rocket speed to do any graphics, but also partly because Xara is such a fast, vector application to create maps with. I can't claim that everyone using Xara will make incredibly fast maps, but I know that the way the program works, it can certainly facilitate doing incredibly fast maps.

    GIMP is good, but by no means fast.

    You can click on my various badges beneath my avatar to point to some award-winning maps I've done. I am a professional fictional cartographer having done RPG map commissions for Paizo Publishing, for the Jade Regent Adventure Path (City of Kasai and Kasai gazetteer), Rite Publishing (all the maps for the Kaidan setting of Japanese horror), Iron Crown Enterprises, Conflict RPG and many other smaller publishers - I use Xara to create all my maps (illustrations, cover designs and page layout - and web design.)

    I have a dozen or so tutorials in this forum in which I create various things all done in Xara, though the techniques can apply to many different graphics applications.
    Last edited by Gamerprinter; 01-22-2014 at 03:01 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gamerprinter View Post
    While I agree that GIMP is a very powerful mapping tool, and it's free to download, its not the easiest program to learn and use - and certainly not the fastest mapping application you can have.
    GIMP is good, but by no means fast.
    I have to disagree with this. Since Von Stahlein seems to want some quick sketch working with a graphic tablet, I would say any raster software like GIMP or Photoshop can do the trick very fast ( no need to have a deep knowledge of the software besides a few basic understanding of layers, brushes and a few tools) without getting some bad quality maps.

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    Quote Originally Posted by - Max - View Post
    I have to disagree with this. Since Von Stahlein seems to want some quick sketch working with a graphic tablet, I would say any raster software like GIMP or Photoshop can do the trick very fast ( no need to have a deep knowledge of the software besides a few basic understanding of layers, brushes and a few tools) without getting some bad quality maps.
    Actually Xara Photo & Graphic Designer 9 is the best vector tool for using a graphics tablet, even better than Illustrator, I am told. In GIMP I've found some drawing tablet issues, whereas in Xara the tools are much more intuitive with features like Sketch mode so that lines drawn closely together don't automatically connect, enabling pressure recording is a simple on/off switch on the tool bar. Plus Xara will let you draw lines with shape, that is start at 8 point width (for example) and the end of the line is a single point, for drawing things like rivers this is a great tool. Xara definitely has one of the fastest to enable and easiest to use drawing tablet capability, than most other software applications I use. I have a Wacom Bamboo drawing tablet that I sometimes use. I know that the first time I hooked up the drawing tablet to my PC, I was drawing superb line work in Xara inside of 5 minutes, even having never before tried to use a tablet with it. You can adjust Xara to react to pressure sensitivity for either line thickness or transparency or both at the same time.

    Note: I technically use Xara Designer Pro 9 which is a larger (more expensive) drawing application with all the features of Xara Photo & Graphic Designer 9, but with page layout and web design capability. XDP9 won PC Pro magazines Software of the Year 2013 award.

    Its faster and easier than doing the same in GIMP, I know, I've tried it with both applications.
    Last edited by Gamerprinter; 01-22-2014 at 03:45 PM.
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    Now, now, you're *all* pretty.


    I haven't tried all the software listed here. In fact I've tried very little. But it would seem to me that the "best" software for fast maps would still depend on a myriad of things.

    1) First of all, what is "easier" for one person, might not be easier for another person. People learn differently.

    2) Cost is a factor. Or... rather, the factor is whether or not cost is a factor. Some people have budgets, some don't. Some people need to create tons of maps and some may only want one or two, over a period of years, as needed. Personally, I wouldn't pay for software I wasn't going to use much, if there was a free version out there somewhere.

    3) The quality of the maps needed.

    4) The STYLE of maps needed.

    and yes, 5) The tools you will be using with the software, be it a mouse, touchpad, or a tablet.


    I'm no expert, (not even a good amatuer ) but what I would suggest is to download a few of the *free* softwares out there.. like GIMP or Inkscape, and (if you can) the trial versions of some of the software that requires purchases.

    Try them out and see which ones you're comfortable with.

    Also, look at the WIP and finished maps threads here. It will give you an idea of what you can create with the different programs.

    Once you've done that, you'll have a clearer idea of what it is that you need.

    Best of Luck

    ~Jalyha

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    Yes, Xara is not free, so GIMP/Inkscape has one over on it there, however, in my experience if inexpensive software is powerful and easy to use, even more powerful and easy than free applications its worth a look. As far as that goes, try Xara for 30 days (free trial) and compare to using Inkscape and/or GIMP.

    I'm not getting overly excited, my last post was simply a response at the suggestion that a vector program is somehow not as easy to use a drawing tablet as raster applications, and there's really no truth to that whatsoever. Again, I've used a drawing tablet with GIMP, Photoshop, and Xara. Experience tells me which is faster and easier, and try the free trial download and learn the same yourself - don't take my word on it.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gamerprinter View Post
    I'm not getting overly excited, my last post was simply a response at the suggestion that a vector program is somehow not as easy to use a drawing tablet as raster applications, and there's really no truth..
    That wasn't really my point. I still think that Illustrator is a great software to work with. Well it's probably a matter of taste to prefer use one software or another, though most designers and illustrators tend to use photoshop and/or illustrator. There must be some reasons

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    The reason is that Adobe was one of the first professional graphics applications on the market, and like most other 800 lbs. gorillas, they've bought out competitors, used advertising dollars that smaller companies don't have to crush the exposure of smaller developers. Photoshop and Illustrator, and their other applications are definitely quality software, but there are many applications that compare well with Adobe, and tries to outdo Adobe where they don't put in efforts - like making programs that are easy to learn and use, something that many other software developers try to excel at. I've used Adobe Photoshop since 1994, however I was using a different vector app bought out be Corel, for about 7 years before that, so Adobe was not my first application. I purchased it primarily to be able to open customer PSD files, and little more. I also had the sister image editing software that accompanied the vector app mentioned above, so I was already doing raster work before ever getting photoshop.

    Also the Mac was the first platform the was idea for graphics applications, something that the PC couldn't do until Windows was available, then everything changed. When it was the Mac only, Adobe was one of the few developers that catered to graphics applications - there was no competition at the time.

    Again, my first post in this thread is a link to an article to help potential cartographers figure out which application is best for their needs - raster, vector, CAD, 3D, tile stamper. I give the in's and out's of each, and point to hand-drawing preferences in helping you decide which application works most like you do. We each work differently and different applications cater to each of our particular styles and methods.
    Last edited by Gamerprinter; 01-22-2014 at 04:40 PM.
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