Today, a quick tour of one of the hidden gems of Photoshop - especially for building and structure mapping: The Grid.
Photoshop has a grid built in. You can reveal it by pressing cmd/ctrl + ' Chances are that the default grid won't be quite what you're after so here's some steps for making the grid work for you.
1. Customise the scale
I tend to work on projects with a 1 inch scale. Customize the grid by going to Preferences -> Grids, Guides and Slices. Set the Gridline every xxx pixels to every 100px for a 100dpi image, or every 300 pixels a 300dpi image (or just change the units in the dropdown and set it to have a gridline every inch).
I also set the grid to have 10 subdivisions. This is useful if you need more fine grained control over your grid squares. You should now have something like 1. in the image.
2. Use your grid!
Yes, it's really that easy. I create a new layer and fill it with black (or TSR blue, or whatever other starting colour you want to begin with for your walls). Then cut out rooms using the select tool and delete to remove the contents of the selection. Here I'm running the walls along the primary gridline. It looks fine, but the problem is that all walls have to be at least 5' thick. That's not ideal.
3. Smarter Walls
In this version you can see why I use 10 subdivisions in the grid. I make every wall start 1/10 of a grid square inside the major line. This way, when I want to place internal walls, they are only 2/10 of a grid wide. This gives enough room to place door icons as well. And if I'm going to use a map in a vtt later, I can run the Fog of War down the major grid lines and the players will still always be able to see the walls.
The snap-to-grid behaviour is great, but you can toggle it using shift+cmd/ctrl+; So that will let you freehand, but still have the grid visible. Handy for drawing natural caverns.
It entirely depends on how the map will be used. If the map is for print, then you want it to be 300dpi. A US letter sized map will then be 3300 by 2550px. If instead this is for digital use, then I tend to stick to 100px for a grid square. This means a 2000px square map is 20 squares to a side. That's a decent size for an enounter with some movement in it, but probably a bit small for a dungeon. I tend to work at 4000px by 4000px for dungeon maps to give me a bit more room.
Today I'm covering how to create your own icons. This is a longer tutorial than normal and will cover some new Photoshop techniques, specifically using the pen tool, and more on layer blend modes. There's also a video on the blog version (How to Draw Icons – and a Free Ship! | Fantastic Maps) to help illustrate the steps in more detail. This was inspired through creating the icon pack that comes with the Iconic Island map pack.
I may have bitten off a bit more than the CG format will allow me to chew, but you can always check out the blog version.
1. Create a Rough Sketch
To start with, we need a rough sketch of the icon. Here I've used a nice big brush and not worried too much about getting everything precisely right. The key here is to create a shape that still reads well at a small scale, so try to avoid introducing any fine detail - this is the reason for using a large brush at this stage.
2. Using the Pen Tool
Icons are meant to be viewed at small scales. For this to work you want very clean edges on the outline. This is where the pen tool comes in. The pen tool allows you to create a vector outline in Photoshop which is incredibly handy. At this stage I drop the opacity of the sketch down to 10-20% and switch to the pen tool (P). To start, click on a corner - you'll see a single anchor point appear. To add a straight line segment to the path click the next corner - you'll see a straight line appear between the two points. The real power comes in the curves though. To add a curved segment, you want to add an anchor point to the center of the curve. Spot where you think that is, then click and drag at that point. Dragging puls out two handles on the anchor point and controls the curvature of the line. If there's a corner coming up next in your shape, just click and you'll see the curve complete. If there's another section of curve (like the multiple curves on the flags), click and drag on the middle of the next curve.
In the image above, you can see that I added a curved path to the hull by finding the middle of the curve, and clicking and dragging so that the handles form a tangent to the curve.
3. Finish Outlining the Shape
It'll take a little time - especially with a complex shape like this one - but take a little time carefully using the pen tool to outline your shape. Here I've created a number of paths - one for the outside (when you come all the way round, just click the very first anchor point to have the path join up) - and a number of paths inside. This is all done on the same paths layer.
You can see that I've made some changes to the sketch layer as I've gone along, and I'm not outlining the ripples.
4. Change the Path to a Selection
The next step is to change the path to a selection. To do this, open up the Paths Dialog (under Window->Paths if it's not already open). Find the path (it should just be called Work Path). Then look at the buttons at the bottom of the dialog and find the Load Path as Selection button. Click that and you'll see the path turn into a selection. Notice above that the internal paths cut out of the selection automatically.
5. Fill the Selection
Okay, that's the hard part done. Now we can go back to the layers dialog, add a new layer, and fill the layer with black (option + delete, or Edit->Fill...). Notice that the shape is very crisp - that's the result of using the path tool. I've hand drawn the ripples in at this stage.
6. Add Some Colour
A black image is fine, but we want slightly more interesting icons than that, so we'll use some layer effects to add visual interest. First off, a texture. Here I add a new layer above the black shape, and right click the layer and select Create Clipping Mask. This means that whatever I do on this layer will only show up where they layer below is opaque. In this case I've filled the layer with a basic parchment texture. The clipping mask relationship shows up as a little arrow beside the layer. You can stack multiple layers like this.
7. Adding Some More Effects
Next I create a new layer. This layer I set to colour burn and use a grey-ish red. This adds an almost dried bloodstain feel to the icon. I add a layer effect to this layer of inner shadow - with distance set to zero and a large spread. Initially you won't see anything, but then you have to make sure to mask the layer to the shape of the icon. To do this, select the base icon layer, right click -> Select Pixels. Then select the colour burn layer, and click the layer mask icon (rectangle with a white circle in it). The mask will be the selection, and suddenly your inner shadow will work!
Don't worry if that sounds really mysterious - you can see the process in the video. It's not as complicated as it sounds. I've also duplicated my base icon layer and set the blend mode to colour at low opacity, to grey out the layer a little. You could just as easily use a hue/saturation layer for that.
The icon's now done. To finish up, turn off all the background layers, so that your icon's on a transparent background. Then grab a selection that includes all of the icon and copy-merged (command + shift + c). Open a new document - it'll default to the right size - and paste in the icon. Voila! Save it as a .png and you have a lovely icon.
The joy of the layer styles is that you can add new icons easily, and they'll have exactly the same style. This helps to keep a consistent look and feel to your icon sets.
Check out the blog for a few more details, and the promised free ship icon: How to Draw Icons – and a Free Ship! | Fantastic Maps
Here's the video version too:
How To Create Icons - YouTube
This tip is a quick one. Isometric maps are fun, and can have a large impact. The side on view gives the option for more detail and a more illustrative style.
Rivers can break or make an isometric map. On a top down map, a rivers travel in all directions. On an isometric map they should travel further left to right, than up and down. If a river travels straight up and down on an isometric map it’ll look out of place. In the map above I’ve pulled the curves of the rivers further out when they travel left and right. This helps sell the idea that you’re looking down on the map from an angle. This, combined with the same trick on the coasts, can sell the perspective and foreshortening that the isometric map requires.
Thanks Torstan, This does help a lot. I do have a question about these sort of drawings...Do you use heavier line weights to indicate, and give emphasis to, closer features intentionally or is that just the way this sketch turned out? I am looking specifically at the coast and mountains
Art Critic = Someone with the Eye of an Artist, Words of a Bard, and the Talent of a Rock.
Please take my critiques as someone who Wishes he had the Talent
It's just the way the sketch turned out. I tend to use blue-shifting and saturation to give some depth to a map if I want to do that. It's certainly a good thing to do though, if you want to push the sense of depth.
It's been a while since I have been here, due to various reasons, and I have a question for you torstan.
How did you do the buildings in this tutorial on your blog: City Design Walkthrough | Fantastic Maps
It's the one of the things that I struggle with to get right, and it seems to keep me away from doing any mapping.
Those were done with the pen tool - if you don't click and drag it lays in a straight line. In this case a number of clicks will give you a shape with straight sides. Many clicks will give you lots and lots of buildings. The advantage of doing this as paths is that it's vector and therefore easily editable down the line if you want to move things around.
The smaller buildings were done by using a rectangular brush, setting the spacing to around 200% and adding size and roundness jitter. Also set the orientation to 'direction' so that they follow your en strokes. This lets you draw in small rectangular buildings really quickly. I'm not able to provide much more detail right now, but does that help? I've got a houses tutorial in the works, and I'll make sure to bump up the priority a little.
Thanks torstan, that helps a lot.
Hopefully when time permits I will start posting maps again