I'll go ahead and chime in as well. I agree wholeheartedly that the third hits the nail on the head.
Here is what I got and now you know the basic techniques used to get here, so if anyone has any idea how to get the mountains to look dramatically taller please do, but it is a point now that i can accepting the look i do have..
PS did i make the settlement text two big and could have dropped down a couple sizes and still be readable or am I being pick and not start over...
I actually think the size of the labels is good ... but the colors blend in a little, making them difficult to read. Maybe a little highlight behind them?
I have a 1px black stroke around the text, white made the text visible, but really made it look like the text was floating. Was their a certain colour that's difficult to read? maybe I can just adjust the base text colour to something more clear.
Anyone know what i can do in GIMP to "bevel" the rivers down so they don't look like their floating?
To bevel the rivers, I think you can just apply a bump map of itself to the layer containing them.
The 1px black makes it possible to read them, it's just still hard. I think it needs more than a pixel. You could put a white glow behind the text, or a black shadow; either would separate the color of the label from the color of its surroundings by more than a pixel and make it (in my humble opinion) easier to read.
Edit: Just occurred to me that you were concerned about labels floating. IMO, labels are supposed to float (pretty much the only thing that should), so that's not a problem
Ah, good point. Well I suppose we'll have to wait for Lath to get back on and let us know
Actually your both right! The Regional labels I want to blend in a bit (Mountain ranges, Seas, Nations, and maybe Forests) but the settlement lables need to be smaller text to fit them all in so they need to be clear. I used the wrong word earlier by "floating" as I like the clean "float" of vector (inkscape/illustrator) labeling, i just haven't learned those programs yet, so sticking with Gimp for now. The white Outline made the text look like they where "stamped on", too separated from the rest of the map with white since i have tried to keep the colours rich in the map. I think i will try some of the techniques you mentioned like thickening the outline... maybe a Grey outline hmm... thanks for the help guys!
to clarify: the white looked like a "hole" in the map like there was something missing (that's what I meant by stamped on or floating, the text appears to "erase" the map below around it) but i think that's just me (and the lack of flat white on the map)