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Thread: What size files (pixels) does everyone work in? I need help picking mine...

  1. #1

    Help What size files (pixels) does everyone work in? I need help picking mine...

    Hi all,
    I need some more help on working with scale and the size of my documents (looking at making a new map with more accurate scaling).


    The current map that I have been working on over the last year or so (on and off) has been at a fairly distant scale (more than one continent in the entire document):
    Click image for larger version. 

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    If you view the attached image, you will notice that entire forests are represented by one to two inches when viewed in Print size. (Note: yes I know everything isn't exactly to scale, and yes I know geographically rivers, etc, aren't properly placed... This was the first map I ever did - ever - and prior to research).
    The text itself is actually rather pixelated when you zoom in to 100% (well pretty much everything is pixelated at 100%), and is completely unreadable when Photoshop is set to View Print Size. I am using Macbook Pro 15.4" laptop with screen resolution 1680x1050 (which makes my screen ppi 128.65 - set in Photoshop).

    Now the problem I have is at this scale its really hard for me to depict where cities, towns are - let alone smaller places like hamets and farms. As the map will be based upon my novels set in the world of Ervirath, this is a big problem as many of the scenes occur in smaller "locations".

    I started doing some calculations, which also cause some issues. I decided I'd break down my map to focus on individual continents. My point of scale I was going to work off of was the size of individual tree's in my forests. The attached image below is an example of what my forests look like:
    Click image for larger version. 

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    Going with the basic estimate that a standard tree has a canopy width of 20 feet, I have scaled my trees in size to determine how many pixels would represent a single Kilometer or Mile. There are 3280 ft in 1 KM, and 2.6KM is equal to 1 Mile.

    If I scale the tree canopy to 30% (100% being massive - note the 30% is more for my reference and not needed for the maths), a single tree has a pixel length of 10px. So 10px is equal to 20ft. Therefore 1KM is 1640px and 1 Mile is 4264px!

    10 to 12 miles is about the maximum extent of 'a good day's walk', two or three miles is the extent of a daily commute (you don't want to tire yourself out before you get to the fields) (according to Elfwood). Just to represent an equivalent area in a map for one days worth of travel the map would be approximately 42 000px wide! Obviously this isn't appropriate (my computer couldn't handle a file that big for sure).

    If I scale the tree's down to 5% (approximate size of trees in my original map), then 2px is equivalent to 20 feet. That means 1px is equal to 10 feet > 328pixels is equal to 1KM or 853pixels is 1 Mile. Then a day's worth of travel would be 8500 pixels. My computer can handle files at that size... but again my problem of the map being too distant....

    My other map I did rescale the image pixels (keeping resolution as its due for print at 300 ppi) from 9000 to 15,000. This made the print size much more acceptable, but the scaling also made everything "blurry".

    I should point out:
    • I use Photoshop CS6.
    • I have a Macbook Pro 15.4" with 2.66 GHZ Intel Core i7 with 8GB 1067MHz DDR3 Ram.
    • I do have access to a desktop (rough specs is 2 graphics cards, 16 gig ram) - just not as regularly as my laptop. It's a lot more powerful however.
    • I plan to print my map (so need 300dpi) as a large poster over 1 meter by 1 meter in size - depending on map was thinking the size of the actual study wall even.

    I have come to the opinion that I don't think I can portray the entire document with high levels of details. Ideally I would like to portray my land with details down to the houses themselves. I don't particularly want to break up my map into multiple documents (tiling it so to say). This can get quite unmanageable fairly fast.

    If you can't help me with suggestions for my problem (above), then could you perhaps mention what size documents that you have worked with in the past please so I can get some ideas.


  2. #2
    Guild Adept atpollard's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2011


    1 mile = 5280 feet
    at 1 pixel = 1'; 1 tree = 20 pixels; 1 mile =5280 pixels; 4 mile diameter village = 21,120 pixels; 10 mile walk = 52,800 pixels; 100 mile region= 528,000 pixels
    at 1 pixel = 10'; 1 tree = 2 pixels; 1 mile =528 pixels; 4 mile diameter village = 2120 pixels; 10 mile walk = 5280 pixels; 100 mile region= 52,800 pixels
    at 1 pixel = 100'; 5 trees = 1 pixels; 1 mile =53 pixels; 4 mile diameter village = 212 pixels; 10 mile walk = 528 pixels; 100 mile region= 5,280 pixels
    A 1x1 meter drawing at 300 DPI = 11,700 x 11,700 pixels

    So a map that shows trees and individual buildings will need to fall in the 1 pixel = 1' to 10' range ... limiting the map area to a single village or town.
    A map at 1 pixel = 100' will reduce a 1 mile across village or town to about 53 pixels across and a 1 meter map area of about 20 days (200 miles) to walk across.

    Depending on your needs, I might suggest an overall map at 1 pixel = 100' (about 100 miles or 10 days walk) with smaller inset maps along the sides, top, bottom or all of the above with individual villages (trees and houses) at 1 pixel = 1 foot to 1 pixel = 3 feet. Obviously, the smaller your overall map area, the larger the village maps can be.

    I typically work at up to 7200 x 10800 pixels for finished drawings (24" x 36" Architectural sheets at 300 DPI) ... less a 150 pixel white border to keep the plotter happy.
    I strongly advise checking with your intended print shop about what sheet sizes they can handle, that and your budget will set a total size for your image.
    Last edited by atpollard; 05-28-2012 at 12:52 AM.

  3. #3


    Wow @atpollard, I can't believe I didn't ever consider inset maps around the edges! That's absolutely perfect for my needs! Thank you so much for the idea. I am happy breaking towns into separate map files to provide higher details.
    As I am moving country I have no opportunity to check with any print shop, I figured the best I can do is search around when ready to print and try to adapt to the chosen store's methods. Budget won't really be a problem, as I have been writing for the last 10+ years it is a serious hobby of mine, and thus I am willing to spend money on something that I've invested so much time in (thinking of max $1000 depending upon what's produced - quality, size, etc).
    As far as my research has gone, I've since then determined that the image needs to be in 300dpi. In your experience is there any other factors that I will need to consider/implement into my Photoshop document?

  4. #4


    I've done a bit more research, and thought that perhaps my notes might help others... A tree canopy will range generally from 2m to 20m, varying depending upon the species. This does not include gigantic species such as giant red wood forests. That means most tree canopies can range from 6 feet to 65 feet. Keep in mind that it isn't uncommon for a tree canopy to fall outside of that range (these measurements are from today's society with trees typically found in and around suburbia), and can quite potentially grow larger over a longer period of time if left unhindered.
    Building off of @atpollard's little "table", and assuming that a standard tree (having had chance to grow unhindered) is 60 feet:
    1 mile = 5280 feet
    at 1 pixel = 1 foot; 1 tree = 60 pixels; 1 mile =5280 pixels; 4 mile diameter village = 21,120 pixels; 10 mile walk = 52,800 pixels; 100 mile region= 528,000 pixels
    at 1 pixel = 10 feet; 1 tree = 6 pixels; 1 mile =528 pixels; 4 mile diameter village = 2120 pixels; 10 mile walk = 5280 pixels; 100 mile region= 52,800 pixels
    at 1 pixel = 60 feet; 1 tree = 1 pixel; 1 mile = 87 pixels; 4 mile diameter village = 350 pixels; 10 mile walk = 870 pixels; 100 mile region = 8700 pixels
    at 1 pixel = 100'; 2 trees = 1 pixels; 1 mile =53 pixels; 4 mile diameter village = 212 pixels; 10 mile walk = 528 pixels; 100 mile region= 5,280 pixels

    Either way, if you are doing a complete contient type map, it will practically impossible to get trees (assuming you can see each canopy) to match the scale of the rest of the map.
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  5. #5
    Guild Adept Seraphine_Harmonium's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2011
    Poughkeepsie, NY USA


    I rarely make maps at the "entire world" scale. Most of my maps have been of a continent at the largest, and a castle at the smallest, with regions about the size of a country being about average. My average map is done at 1600 x 1400 pixels. Enough to blow up and show detail, but still be able to at least get an idea of most things when viewed in a smaller size.

    If you are working on a continent scale or larger, you just won't be able to reliably have superb detail about everything. At least without an incredibly massive file size. You won't see individual trees at scale. You can see forests, and you can give them a somewhat abstracted texture that represents "there are a lot of trees here" but you won't get individuals. You won't want to try to label every town. Probably just capitols and important ports. Things like that.

  6. #6
    Guild Member Facebook Connected wisemoon's Avatar
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    May 2010
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    I would suggest looking at Earth maps for reference. If you look at Google Maps, for instance, or a shot from low orbit, the continent of the USA has very little detail. Only the very largest rivers show up at that scale, and lakes the size of the Great Lakes. Forests are smears of green. Mountains might have some relief/bumpiness (I haven't looked at one of these in awhile) but in general, a map that size done to scale has very little detail.

    Now, for a fantasy map of a continent, the general convention has been to provide more detail than a real-world photographic or atlas-style map. But I would still keep in mind that a large-scale, continental map is going to have a lot less detail than a regional, country, or area map would have.

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