At the end of September, I put up online a map (see below) I had created for my WIP fantasy series Graceborn. I was touched by everyone’s enthusiasm for my map, and I received a LOAD of questions about how I made it! So here it is—the post I promised on how to make a map like mine.
First off, a preliminary note: the program I used is called GIMP (more details below). This post is not a step-by-step guide on how to use GIMP, because there are WAY better sources of information out there on that. I have included one such video tutorial in this post, which I relied upon heavily while creating my map, and you might find useful. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this, and I’d love to hear from you if you make your own fantasy maps!!
Step 1 – Sketch your map by hand
I highly recommend sketching your map by hand before you try and work with any digital program. It’s quick and easy and gives you something to work towards in the next stages of the process. An outline of the land mass(es) is a good place to start, and it’s a good idea to note down key topographical features too! For example…
Step 2 – Install GIMP and learn the basics
GIMP is a free and open-source raster graphics editor which you can download from here. Once you have installed the program, familiarise yourself with it. It has a few similarities with Photoshop, but has its own quirks as well. I won’t go into detail on how to use GIMP here, but there are plenty of online tutorials available. When it comes to creating a map, I highly recommend watching the following video. This is what I used as a guide when making my own map.
Step 3 – Draw the outline
Firstly, insert your hand-drawn sketch as a layer in a new GIMP file. Next, create another layer and draw the outline of your map (see below). Since I’m impatient and couldn’t find a better way to draw fractal lines the way I wanted, I just shook my hand a little as I traced my outline to give my coast a jagged appearance. Make sure there are no gaps in your lines, or the shapes won’t fill properly when it comes to the next step.
Step 4 – Delineate land and water
Now, there are a number of ways this can be done, but the process I used is the one outlined in the video in Step 2. It involves the use of a parchment picture for texture; the picture I used is this one here from Pixabay. I created two separate layers from this parchment picture, which I then recoloured to form the “land” and “water” features (see below). For more detailed information on how to do this, watch the video in Step 2.
Step 5 – Add topographical features
Topographical features can be added using what are known as “brushes”. In my version of GIMP, these are found in the top right corner. There are only limited brushes built in to the program, so you’ll need to download new sets from the internet. GIMP brushes have a .gbr file extension, but Photoshop brushes .abr are compatible with GIMP without conversion. Learn more about that here. One of the best places to look is on DeviantArt, though there are plenty of other places out there. For my map (below), I used brushes from this set here to create the mountains, forest and ocean waves, and this set here to create the hills and marsh area. I advise adding the topographical features in a new layer so you can edit them without messing up anything else!
Step 6 – Add cities and nation boundaries
Next comes the addition of the human elements. You may or may not require nation boundaries on your map, but chances are you’ll need cities or towns. It’s completely up to you how you do this, although again I advise adding these in a new layer just to keep it all separate. I used dotted lines to mark the nation boundaries, circles with a star inside them to mark capital cities and diamonds to mark towns (see below). Note, the symbols I used for my cities and towns are not in-built, so I sourced them from other brushes online.
Step 7 – Add text labels
To be honest, I had a really hard time creating text labels in GIMP. I don’t know whether it’s just because I wasn’t familiar with the program at the time or whether it wasn’t actually capable of doing what I wanted. In the end, I actually exported the image of my map and put it into Microsoft Word so I could create the text labels in there. If you figure it out in GIMP—let me know! The font I used in my map (see below) is called Dalelands, which you can download here. It was also in Microsoft Word that I added a border for my map.
Step 8 – Play around!
Last but not least, play around and have some fun! If you’re happy with your map after Step 7, then good for you, but there are plenty of other things you can do if you want to keep working on it. For example, I was trying to understand my world’s climate and regional weather patterns better, so I generated this “climate map” pictured below. It essentially involved creating a new layer, drawing climate zones, colouring them in different colours (e.g. light blue = boreal, green = temperate, orange = desert) and changing the transparency so the topography can still be seen underneath!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and are feeling enthusiastic about making your own fantasy map. I’ll admit, making maps has always been a little obsession of mine, and I LOVE looking at the maps in the books I read. But I find that map-making is also a very useful exercise in understanding the world in which your fantasy WIP is set. And it’s FUN!! I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, and please feel free to share your own maps and/or map-making methods!!
Do you create maps for your fantasy WIPs? What program(s) do you use? Post a link in the comments and I’ll check yours out!!