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Thread: Working with a LARGE map

  1. #1

    Question Working with a LARGE map

    I've been working, on-and-off, on a massive map for an existing fantasy setting. By combining every printed map (blown up to the largest scale published) and then drawing over them on separate layers I have created a great composite map. I plan to take the terrain layers and make a height map and then blend in the terrain textures to produce the final map.

    This thing is BIG. Over 40,000 pixels wide. Photoshop requires that it be saved as a .psb Large File Format file, instead of the normal .psd. After reducing it in scale, it would print out as 8 feet wide and 4 1/2 feet tall on a vinyl banner.

    Progress so far:
    Coasts are drawn.
    Land/Sea alpha mask is created.
    Mountain, Rough/Tall Hills, and Hills are each blacked out in separate layers to work as masks.
    Forest, Deserts, Marsh/Swamp and areas of Grasslands in the wastes are also separately blacked out.
    Rivers are drawn as decreasing [double 9pt lines, 9pt, 6pt, 3pt lines] on a single layer.

    I have worked out a technique in which I set the range for Clouds/Difference Clouds by pinning the filter between the grayscale tones at the thresholds I have selected for each hill/mountain type. I need to fine tune this still, so it produces shapes that more closely specify the terrain type. Right now, I'm thinking about putting in a texture map for each layer, at a low opacity, that shapes this noise. What I want to avoid doing is drawing each set of ridgelines for every mountain range, across an entire continent. Ugh.

    My hope is that I can make a master height field to pass to Wilbur so I can get a nice erode going over the weekend. And then use this better height field to shade the flora-terrain textures, which would then could either become a displacement layer or a light highlighting layer, or something.

    Obviously I'm never going to be able to show a WIP for a 400MB grayscale TIFF, but I may post portions in the future.

    What I'm looking for at this point is suggestions on how to progress. Either feedback on the process I suggest above, or people pointing out other techniques I might try for improved appearance.

  2. #2
    Professional Artist mmmmmpig's Avatar
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    Dec 2007
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    what is the final dpi for the final large format size? you can significantly reduce the amount pixels.

    As I figured it, at 8ft long for you to have 40,000 pixels wide it would have to be a depth of 400+ dpi.

    At 300 dpi with 96 inches you reduce that to less than 29000 pixels wide.

    That being said the human eye can only really percieve around 96 dpi, so if you halved the dpi to 150 the size reduces further to a respectable 14400, which is much more manageable.

    Even at 200 dpi you would be at a more manageable 19200 pixels by 10800

    Just thinking about computation time and the like. As far as particular methods and such, you sound like you have a solid methodology that you want to follow.

    Could you do some areas of interest and post those? I am very interested in seeing parts of this behemoth
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  3. #3
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    No specific advice, just a reply to say I, too, am interested to see more of it.

    And to say I feel your pain (assuming you're feeling any) wrt working on such a large map. I've been working on a map not nearly this size (it's only about 7200 by 3600 px or so), and it brings my humble laptop to it's knees...
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  4. #4

    Post 400 dpi is unnecessary for the most part

    As a professional graphic designer and large format digital printer I can tell you that 400 dpi is completely unnecessary as far as maps are concerned. While many large format printers print at 720 dpi and greater, high resolution is a factor only regarding clean lines and very small text.

    For photographic work, including maps, 200 dpi is ideal for printing. I have printed large format CC3 files, that included hundreds of very tiny labels for villages and such, in the size of 8 point letters. For really small text 300 dpi is preferred. But unless you plan to use very small labels, you don't even require 300 dpi for your map.

    I'd say stick with 200 dpi in your map design, you'll have much more freedom in your cartography if you use a doable resolution. Throw the 400 dpi out the window, it offers you little benefit for the expense of working with an unnecessarily huge file.

    Believe me, I am a professional fantasy map printer, I know what I'm talking about. I'm the exclusive printer/distributor for a number of small RPG publishers. Go for 200 ppi...

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  5. #5
    Administrator Redrobes's Avatar
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    Theres a few of us working with very large maps here. I am part of the middle earth DEM team which is known as Me-DEM. The user 'Monks' has drawn (3D sculpted) large sections of ME at a pretty large scale so that we have a number of tiles. We have a 10x10 set like this here where each one is 2K pix square so thats 20K square. We have that set as 80x80 x 256x256 and plan to boost them so that each are 2K again so that would be 163000 pix square which is very large indeed. Maybe more than we can cope with but thats the plan anyway.

    There is 'Anna' also on this site who is doing similar for Grayhawk campaign setting. I dont know how far she has got to now but theres quite a bit of that done now too.

    'Handsome Rob' has a globe which he is mapping with a more of an Atlas style to be made into a book or globe or something like that. That set is very nicely done too.

    In all these cases the map makers have tiled their maps. MeDem and I believe Anna's are square / rectangular, but HandsomeRobs are done on a global projection so come out curved.

    My advice is not to try to do all the map in one piece and cause PS or whatever to headache. It will only need to be in one single raster for the final print run and I expect that you dont actually want to print all 8 feet of it anyway.

    Both MeDem and Annas map use height maps though she is using Bryce and we use a variety of tools, many of which have been custom made to handle large images. I also write ViewingDale which is a map viewer capable of viewing large tiled maps. It easily handles Blue Marble for example which is 52000x26000 but I have a 150000 square set which I have used on it too. You might find it interesting as it places many maps of different scales all together at their native resolution so that you can zoom into them down to whatever is the largest scale map. There are some videos of that here.

    Would be interesting to know what campaign setting you are trying to compile into a large map. Any WIP pics ? If you had a downloadable PNG or JPG file of it then I could put up a thumbnail and a movie of it zooming about over it.

  6. #6


    I'm already working in 150 DPI. (Not that this matters, since I gave pixel dimensions in the original post). The current dimensions are 150 DPI, 17 feet wide, too many tall. The print dimensions, for which I'll reduce the image size when it is time to move out of grayscale, are about 8'x4.5'.

    The only reason that the project grew to this size is so that the full size image can be broken down into sub regional maps, likely with greater detail since the working map is going to be reduced in size prior to actual texturing.

    But, I do want to get the height field map set to this larger resolution and matched well to any "tile", so it seems that pounding out this thing in one pass will be valuable for potential future use. As soon as that gets done the entire thing gets rescaled down to 150DPI with a 54" vertical dimension. This is the DPI and maximum height for printing on a vinyl banner.

    You see, I do want to print the whole thing out!.

    The only pain on working on this file has been loading and saving. It takes 15 minutes. Although I know that the erosion pass on Wilbur is going to take a while. But that should be a one-time issue; and I can leave the computer grinding through that and do something else for the weekend.

    The setting is Glorantha, the original setting for Runequest. They are also a bit sticky about posting fan-material online without a license and a handful of disclaimers, trademark statements and redirection links. I don't have the fan-material license yet, which limits my ability to post sub-images.

    Of course, an unlabeled map from an uncommon area is unlikely to be usable or trigger liability problems. So we'll see.

  7. #7


    I also wanted to add that working in grayscale is much less taxing on the computer. Even for massive file sizes.

  8. #8
    Community Leader Facebook Connected Ascension's Avatar
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    Here's my 2 bits...I am always doing full scale earth-size maps at 25,000 X 12,500 pixels. My PC really can't handle that amount of info so what I do is do up my initial height fields then chop it up into smaller bits of 5,000 X 2,500. These smaller chunks can then be worked and posted up for getting feedback. One vital thing of importance is to write down your steps so that you don't forget the process from one map to the next 'cuz sometimes it takes a few weeks before you can get back to mapping.

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  9. #9
    Administrator Redrobes's Avatar
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    Well Grantor, you seem pretty set on doing it all in one image. I agree that the dpi doesn't matter, until you print it or send it to a device that has physical dimentions to it then dpi is irrelevant.

    My expectation is that your going to find that trying to get exactly the right amount of erosion or whatever other process with whatever app you use will take a long time and probably need to be repeated with many attempts before you get it the way you want it. That's a lot of waiting.

    IMO, go for tiles and use a script to repeat the procedure over many tiles after you got one working right.

    I understand about the licensing issues. There have been cases where if you create original artwork based on a map then it might be valid to post it but if your using scans of existing art then it wouldn't. Its a thin line which does bother me a lot which is why I am happy to help out in our CWBP - the cartographers guild community world building project of which all the maps here are CC licenced.

    Obviously there is more general interest in maps like Runequest, Greyhawk and Middle Earth so you get more traction with them.

    Of all the things you need to build a really big map you need a lot of determination to complete it and a tolerance for technical pain.

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