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Thread: Tips on Drawing Good Roads

  1. #1

    Post Tips on Drawing Good Roads

    Hey, in a lot of the tutorials on this site people add roads to their cities but they don't talk very much about how to do it. I mean they talk about thinking about where you are placing them geographically and based on what the city is like but they don't actually seem to discuss how to DRAW them on somewhere so they don't look bad.

    So any tips on how to actually draw good roads after you make a decent natural-land background?

    ED: To be clear, I'm talking about drawing good looking URBAN roads.
    Last edited by SSJPabs; 08-16-2010 at 12:56 AM.

  2. #2
    Community Leader Facebook Connected Ascension's Avatar
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    Well for roads I don't use the tablet - a tablet uses the pressure sensitivity so the roads can change widths. I want my roads to be the same width all the way through so I use the mouse. Then I just make some squiggles, nothing too tricky there. If you're doing something like a road map atlas style then use a pencil instead of a brush or, better yet, a vector program. You don't want your roads to be too straight because that doesn't look natural, the roads will follow up and down hills and along rivers so just some squiggles is fine. So I start moving the mouse and make a squiggle then move along kind of smoothly for a little bit then add another squiggle and so on...a mix of smooth curves and squiggles. The color of the road depends on the colors of the map, it has to blend in without being too obnoxious (except for road map atlas style, in which case you want them to stand out as much as possible). I generally make my roads a tan or low-opacity yellowish or a soft brown. Paved roads would, of course, be the color of what I think the surrounding rocks are so a gray or terra cotta or brown, etc. Scale also factors into how much squiggle you put in, continent or regional style will have a lot of squiggles while cities and battlemaps will be more smooth curves and straight lines. If you want to get all artsy-fartsy about it then you could try to have your roads be decorative and supply some sort of function other than travel. I talking about art class 101 things like contrast, shape, focal point, etc. I just sort of make things up as I go without worrying about those things, though. I just try to make them blend in and look natural.
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  3. #3


    Good suggestions but I guess I should clarify. I meant roads in a city. I don't have trouble putting roads down in the countryside, but I can never make city roads look good. Probably because I am from the midwest and all we have for city streets are grids.

  4. #4
    Community Leader NeonKnight's Avatar
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    For City maps, I always do a pencil/paper sketch. Rough out the area the city should be in. Find/place a good central origin point ( a castle, market square, major temple etc), and then just radiate some 'spokes' out from there. Then much like a spider web, draw in cross streets, and then alleys from there.

    Remember also, a realistic fantasy city will never be rows/streets of individual houses buildings, but clusters of joined buildings (look at Google Earth satelite views of the old parts of any European city to see what I mean). Almost every block with have a central courtyard they enclose for gardens/privys, etc. These clusters will then start to form alleys as buildings build against each other.

    Also, major thoroughfares will form from city gates strait towards the central point in your cities, as well as along the shores of any lakes, rivers, and coastal portions.

    A large collection of my old (20+ years) pen-n-paper city maps can be found here:
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  5. #5


    I'll very lightly place my intended roads in pencil, really to help me properly place buildings in the city. The goal in my hand-drawn maps regarding roads is that they are simply the negative space between rows of buildings. In the end, I don't draw the roads at all, they are only negative space. If you draw in 'sidewalk' areas, unless its a modern city layout the framing of the road actually destroys the realism, so I never put outlines to a road to define them. That hurts the look. By putting in some lawn and other texture where there are no roads, what is road becomes obvious.

    Now when a hand-drawn map is at encounter scale or some fairly zoomed in scale, I'll hand-draw the cobblestones at a certain (larger) for road area, and smaller cobblestones in alleys, courtyards - yet at the same time I do not draw the outline of the road. At closer scale the road is defined as negative space between buildings and cobblestone textures of the road itself. Again the road becomes obvious.

    As an aside for country roads, recently I've been focusing on creating a pair wagon tracks with grass and mud between the tracks, so I don't create modern graded gravel roads - to me that's way too modern looking, to the point that all roads are wagon tracks and not roads as are more commonly found in maps. Any country road that looks like a gravel path 20 feet is completely unrealistic. Roads of that concept are less than 100 years old. I'm never openly critical of others maps who stick the wide road concept (which is most every cartographer), but it my mind those lose believeability in my eyes. (I know the thread is supposed to be about urban roads, I'd just thought I'd throw that in there.)

    Last edited by Gamerprinter; 08-15-2010 at 11:52 PM.
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  6. #6


    I guess there's two (overlapping) aspects to it, the first is the road pattern and the second is the style you use to draw the roads (black and white / colour etc).

    In terms of road patterns, the best way (as Neon alluded to) is to study maps of places like the one you wish to draw and try to look for underlying rules so you can get a similar pattern. Ask yourself why some roads are straight and others twisty. Look in particular at the density of the road network.

    In terms of style, think hard before you start about the relative size of the roads to the buildings. If you look at a street atlas, the roads are hugely oversized in scale so that they are clearer to see on the map, at the expense of space taken up by buildings. You need to judge how much clarity / emphasis you want to give your roads.
    Take a look at 'the creation and depiction of fantasy cities' link in my sig - it may give you some ideas.



  7. #7


    Quote Originally Posted by Ascension View Post
    Well for roads I don't use the tablet - a tablet uses the pressure sensitivity so the roads can change widths. I want my roads to be the same width all the way through so I use the mouse.
    You can turn off the pressure sensitivity on your brush. F5 to bring up the brushes palette, go to the Shape Dynamics, and set Size Jitter to "Off."
    Bryan Ray, visual effects artist

  8. #8
    Community Leader Facebook Connected Steel General's Avatar
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    I usually take a look at city maps for inspiration or in some cases I even trace the roadways of an existing map.
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