My apologies if this is a very large file, but I've tried to include lots of graphical information on it. The map compass is cheap, but is based on a key element in the RP for which this map was created. Overall, this shows the primary kingdoms that my group has visited and was created to save our GM from trying to scratch out a map by hand every session as the scratch paper inevitably was always lost between sessions. I like some elements of it, like the way some of the colors and textures pop (forests particularly), and dislike other areas (the desert is supposed to be red, but always seemed overwhelming in that color) because they're not quite as I envisioned etc. The whirlpools are a lazy toss-in at last minute because I couldn't make them look good. The volcanoes kicked my *** when it came time to make them look distinct from the mountains, which is why they are all exploding on the map. The mountains are all drawn individually by hand, as are all the outlines, shadows, etc. Basically, only the textures were created in any stamp-like way and I'm okay with that overall. I'm okay with black dots for towns, etc. In the future I may include more representational things for larger cities/capitals, but for now it's not a priority. The small map that shows the kingdom boundaries was a toss-in, also, when I remembered it last minute.
My primary technique is simply layering - layers for outlines, layers for solid color fill, layers for textures, layers for color effects, layers for place names, etc. This particular map is approximately 90 layers, which is probably too many for most people but I find that I don't mind that much because I save the working file separately from the final flattened JPEG.
What I'd like to know is what tips can everyone give me for making a better map? What techniques can I employ to make things somewhat more realistic? I'm feeling partial to the somewhat cartoonish feel of this map, but would like to edge a little closer to realistic in texture and line-work. I don't feel the swamp areas come remotely close to representing real swamp and are hardly recognizable as such. What could I do to make them more accurate?