World Building Part 6: Map Making


Today’s blog is going to be a little different. I’m going to present map making in the form of a tutorial with pictures. We’re going to turn my rough sketch used for reference while writing my novel into an aesthetic map for the audience to enjoy.


DB:C is considered a high fantasy and I made a map to correspond with it. This map will be featured at the beginning of both the print and ebook formats of the novel. I personally feel that you can’t have a high fantasy, or epic, without a map. This is intended for anyone who is moderately fluent with graphics programs, but not a professional. If you’re totally new to graphics programs at the bottom of the blog I’ll have a list of recommendations you can use for cheap or free. In the meantime, I used PaintTool Sai. I purchased it for $60 several years ago from the site linked and it is originally a Japanese software but the link is in English. I won’t go into detailed mechanics as I intend for this tutorial to be usable by any graphics program and as mentioned above, I’ll link to free options at the end of the blog. Also, please keep in mind the places and images are copyright to myself and are not meant for reproduction, but as a learning tool. Discover your own art style and the feeling you want to instill in your novel before the first words of your story are presented to your reader. What I’m talking about today is a map intended for your audience. Hopefully you’ve already established a map for your own records, but in the event that you don’t there’s no time like the present. Let’s get started.

Step 1: Determine Your Environment

As I mentioned in WBP1: Basics, I use the ripple effect for my world building in the beginning. I ripple outward from the start of the story and connect the pieces from there. First, before you begin your first draft of your map, determine the environment. What is the geography of the area? Does it rain a lot? Is it in a high altitude? A forest or a desert? Ripple your map outward from the locations your story takes place in and eventually they will connect. Before you begin to draw out your rough draft take a few moments to think of where your character lives. Another tip is to look at real maps! If you’re making a map for a fantasy book especially, look at old world maps for inspiration and ideas. Keep in mind however that real maps have far more detail than needed for a fictional world. You want your map to tiptoe between easy to read and realistic.

Step 2: The Rough Sketch

Yay! Now to begin! This is the first hands on step. Whether you want to doodle in a graphics program (like I did) or start with a piece of computer paper and a pencil, the first rough sketch is important. After completing this step you need to cement things into place (not to say you can’t change your mind later, but remember if you do you have to change everything else around it). So take your time and try to think of our own planet as an example. Rivers run from mountains towards oceans. Deserts wouldn’t have too many lakes or forests. Things that are common sense and even some that aren’t should be apparent. An area that gets a lot of rain would probably be farmland and would have more rivers and lakes. Forests and specific trees grow in differing environs. You wouldn’t have tropical flora growing in the north where it’s colder, or pines (not impossible, but unlikely!) growing in the heat of the equator. The specs I used for my map are 1600 x 2400 pixels with a 300 pixel per inch resolution. It makes for a large image, but remember when making images for your book (whether it’s the cover or a map) bigger is better. You can always scale down and maintain quality, but you cannot scale up. The picture quality suffers and gets blurry.


Copyright Mishka Williams 2016

Great! So now we have our first rough sketch. Before moving on to the next step, be sure that everything is where you want it. It’s easiest to move things around now more than later. Since this is a very early version of my map, you’ll notice that changes take place as we progress. Look at those lovely mountains and trees! 😀 If you didn’t do your rough sketch in a graphics program, fear not! You can simply scan in your paper sketch and follow the same process.

Step 3: Resize & Layout

So, originally my continent was a little wider, but in order to fit the dimensions of a page (whether electronic or paper) I needed to change the dimensions a bit. In addition to that, my world map is much larger, but since this book takes place primarily in the Draak Empire and the small country of Tuplil, I had no reason to overwhelm readers with a large map. Tuplil is across the channel from the imperial isle so I cut out Tuplil from its original resting place and positioned it in the corner. This is in mimic of how maps depict the continental U.S. with Alaska and Hawaii. I placed Tuplil on a new layer.


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In fact, big tip: always use a new layer for each additional aspect of your map. This will save you so much heartache later on if you decide to completely wipe out something and start over without having to do it with the entire thing. If you don’t like those mountains, just take off your mountain layer. Much easier than erasing that portion of the map and redoing everything around it. Also, be sure to label your layers clearly (if your graphics program allows). It’s not a necessity but it simplifies and speeds up the process when you’re working and be sure you’re working on the correct layer!

Step 4: Borders

New layer! I played around with the brushes and their settings until I was able to find one with an inky consistency. Then on my new layer I traced the border with the brush. Don’t worry about smooth or fluid lines, real maps and borders are usually uneven and shaky. Also, keep in mind that old maps were done by hand and will have little imperfections. Don’t make things too smooth or too perfect.


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My borders are done! Now lets take away the bottom layer of the original rough draft to see how it looks.


Copyright Mishka Williams 2016

Those are some solid looking borders. Throughout the time you make your map, be sure to show/hide your original drawing as needed. For those who are new to graphic art, most programs have a “layer” box where you can choose the opacity (how solid it is) or select/deselect a hide option. Google is your friend! If you’re just starting with graphic art, google “how to hide/show layer in *insert graphic program name here*”. A great source of tutorials for graphic art programs is DeviantArt.

Our next step is adding in the borders along the outer edges of our map as well as the border to separate Tuplil from the Draak Empire so we know they are two separate places. For this step, just use a simple solid brush in black and follow along the outer edge of your map. In some programs there is also an “add border” option to help. Be wary when using add border because some of them will make your picture larger to add the borders. To add the border around Tuplil I simply used a “line tool” in PaintTool Sai. Most programs have such tools.


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Step 5: Basic Coloring

For a while I couldn’t decide if I wanted my map black and white like the classics or to go for color to take advantage of today’s technology. In the end I decided to color my map to have the option and to greyscale it later if I wanted. Something to keep in mind while looking at examples of old maps is that their color is very muted. So for the next step I colored in my most basic water and land colors to help differentiate between them. To do this I made new layers below my border layers and used the bucket tool.


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Water is now your bottom layer (except for your original rough draft you use for reference). Next the land!


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Yay! The map is starting to come together and look more…mappy? XD

Step 6: Water Borders

Upon studying examples of old maps I found that most have ripples coming off from the land masses. I created a new layer and chose three different colors of blue and/or purple. For each color I followed along the border (also on a layer beneath the continent but above the water color so it doesn’t show up over my land mass) with the blues expanding out for each subsequent color like below.


Copyright Mishka Williams 2016

Next I added what I called “water lines” around the border which were also a technique I found in old maps and incorporated. These are simple lines going horizontally along the ripples of water. I combined the two and created a sort of shadow and added depth to the picture. The color didn’t matter to me because in the end I was going to play with the hue and saturation if not just greyscale it.


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Step 7: Landmarks

Next, I hid the layers of color and kept the border (and for some reason the ripples) and brought up my original map. I made lines where the landmarks and cities were on my map. Then I took a moment to decide what sort of landmarks I wanted on my map. I thought of having dots and their accompanying sizes represent the cities and towns, but decided to go for the old world look and instead used miniature cityscapes for character.


Copyright Mishka Williams 2016

After I determined the locations, I then filled in the rest of the cityscapes. I incorporated characteristics of the cities and towns into the miniatures as I think a real cartographer might do.  I also darkened their color keeping in mind they needed to stand out against muted colors.


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Next it’s time to color and shade your landmarks. First I colored them in with a flat color. Then I picked a direction light would come from and gave them some simple shading with a soft brush in muted colors.


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Step 8: Mountains

Of course, if your map doesn’t have mountains, feel free to skip to the next step! First I brought back up my rough draft to reference the placement of my mountains. I also kept in mind the mythology and origin of the mountains as well. I started with simple bumps that looked similar to the mountains of old maps. Remember, it’s okay if it isn’t perfect. You want your map to look nice, but still hand drawn (which I suppose it is!).


Copyright Mishka Williams 2016

I then colored in the mountains using a rough brush that might look similar to ink as a base color. In fact it was a similar brush I used to outline my borders but a little softer and larger. Upon closer examination, I found old maps used very simple shading for mountains as well and applied the same technique. Also, remember to work in layers! I have applied new layers for the mountain outlines, coloring, as well as the shading.


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Step 9: Inland Water

Next I once again referenced my original sketch and used the same brush for the outlining of the continent in a blue shade and softened. I followed along and used the same shaky hand technique because natural rivers aren’t smooth. I also followed along for lakes and decided to do the swamp with them. The swamp was challenging. To get a feel for the swamp I used more greens and greys rather than blue to indicate the water was muddy and stagnant. It’s a dismal place and I needed it to be reflected in the map. Then I added the trees to reflect the dead forest that resides in the swamp. It’s a desolate area. For the swamp I used a large brush and softened as I added layers of green and grey over each other to achieve the look I wanted.


Copyright Mishka Williams 2016

Step 10: The Forest

To be honest, figuring out the trees was the hardest part for me. This tutorial isn’t meant for you to copy and follow my style, but to give direction and focus to your own map. Play with the aspects of it and do what makes you happy and looks good for your story. I went between simple circular trees, to pine trees, and finally settled on a thick foliage of trees.


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I used a large brush with dark green and dotted the leaves on first before adding in the trunks. Be sure to add in various sizes and opacity for the illusion of depth. I was also sure to use my eraser on a low opacity to clear up the rivers hidden beneath the foliage.


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Step 11: Details

Yay! I have finished the major geography and landmarks of my map. Before we move on to adding names there are a few details to take care of. There’s a lot of blank space in my water. I put in some simple waves randomly throughout the map.


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Next, I added some small tufts of grass to the plains.


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Better! Now, lets put this together with the basic coloring.

basic color

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Now the background colors look a little flat compared to the rest of the map. So I took a large, and I do mean large, brush and dotted darker hues of blue and green in the background to add depth. I did these over the basic color layers and beneath everything else to fit between.


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Step 12: Hue & Saturation

Now we have our complete color map. You’re welcome to leave it in more vibrant colors. Heck, if you want it in pink and black be my guest! Otherwise, if you’re wanting to keep in with the old world theme such as myself, we need to mute the colors. This is where you turn down your hue and saturation. This effect can vary from program to program, but the great thing about doing this on the computer is nothing is permanent. You can go back and forth as you please until you find what suits you. This is the coloration I’ve settled on.


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There is also always the option to greycale, or remove color completely, where you would turn the saturation all the way down in your program. Some software have a “greyscale” option you can click to do the work for you.


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Step 13: Names

Yay! Naming time! PaintTool Sai doesn’t have a text option, so I switched over to because of its amazing selection of text special effects (and it’s free!). Since I’ve decided to leave my map greyscale for the ebook and paperback (also, grey takes up less file space), I’m doing the text in black and white. I got a hold of my cover designer and used the same font on my cover for the map.


(Alperin) Copyright Mishka Williams 2016

Until Next Time…

Hope you enjoyed that tutorial. As I said above, keep in mind this is meant for those who are intermediate in the use of graphic software and programs. It’s a basic guide and steps to get you on your way to map making as I myself had a hard time finding any such tutorial for those who are not professionals. Will this be as good as a professional’s? No, not mine at least, but we do the best we can with the budget and resources we have.

Recommended Programs

PaintTool Sai ($60) (Free)
Gimp (Free)
Adobe Photoshop (more money than I want to pay)
MS Paint (Free and comes with most versions of windows)
Paint Shop Pro 7 (really old and free)

More From Mishka’s World Building Series

World Building Part 1: Basics
World Building Part 2: Religion
World Building Part 3: Nation Creation
World Building Part 4: Government
World Building Part 5: Calendar

Added 4/18/2016 World Building Part 7: Culture


Added 06/13/2016 World Building Part 8: Floor Plans & Architecture

Added 10/24/2016 World Building Part 9: Creatures

Added 11/21/2016 World Building Part 10: Science!

Added 12/12/2016 World Building Part 11: Medicine

Added 01/09/2016 World Building Part 12: Names

Character Sheets


Just a small side note I secretly hope no one sees. I’ve started doing podcasts of my previous blog posts for any who are interested and on the go. Also a note of copyright (that I do want you to see). All of the images above are copyright © Mishka Williams 2016.