Post 1:Introduction

First off, let me say that it was Pyrandon’s city map tutorial that inspired me to write up this one, so I will steal his format . I have been working on a variety of techniques to make (what I consider to be) “nice looking” maps using GIMP, and felt they are polished enough now so that anyone can follow along and do the same.

I intend to publish this tutorial serially, in the How-To forum at the Cartographer’s Guild web site, and hope to coalesce it into a single pdf for download when complete.

In case you are not aware, GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a raster graphic editor. It is free software available under the GNU General Public License and can be downloaded from for a number of computer systems, including Windows and Linux.

This tutorial has been developed with GIMP version 2.4, and may refer to features not available in older versions. Additionally, the menu structures have been shuffled about as of this version. There are some super new features that make upgrading worth it (in my opinion).

Most of these techniques will also have equivalents in Photoshop, PaintShop Pro, and other raster editors. The key features that will be used are Layers, Layer Blending Modes, Layer Masks, Blue and Noise (cloud) filters, Gradient Mapping, and Bump Mapping. Additionally, some of the more advanced techniques will involve Channels and Paths.

How well do I have to know GIMP?
Don’t worry, as everything will be explained fairly methodically, with a lot of screen grabs to show what is meant. Hopefully, full menu paths (like Color->Auto->Normalize) will be provided all the time, though there may be the occasional miss for the more common commands.

What type of map?
The result of this tutorial will produce a map similar (but not exactly the same as some techniques have changed) to this:
Click image for larger version. 

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This type of map is good for representing larger overland areas where details like mountain ranges, rivers, lakes, roads and forests would be discernible. The techniques explored here will not work well for whole world maps or local maps.

What do I need to begin?
1) Well, GIMP (of course).
2) Hopefully an idea for a map. Ideally this will be a rough sketch showing the general shape of the land, with locations like mountains, forests and possibly cities marked out. It is best not to be too detailed at this point, as the techniques used will auto-magically provide a lot of the details for you. If you have NO idea or concern of one, a few options for completely random map generation will also be thrown in, for good measure.
3) A colour scheme. This is the thing that will really give the map its characteristic appearance. For this example, I will be using the same colour than Pyrandon used in his city tutorial. A GIMP palette has been put together with these colours, and will be attached for download.