A Little Collection of Digital Mapmaking Resources

by Diane Duane

If you follow me on Twitter, you probably know that for the past couple of months I’ve been working (on and off) on the business of updating old legacy pen-and-ink maps made for the Middle Kingdoms universe. (The initial Twitter thread discussing this is here.)  For a while now I’ve really needed versions of these that are better suited for reproduction online, and in the ebook editions of the older works (and the new ones) we’ve been bringing out at the Ebooks Direct store.

That said: I’ve been in the (more or less usual) situation of knowing the general look I want to achieve, but not being any too sure how to achieve it. This has meant a lot of rummaging around online seeking resources that will help me get where I’m hoping to go.

It seemed like a good idea to gather together a list of ones I’ve found helpful, and ones that might be useful for other people who have the same kind of work in mind but might have different stylistic goals. My own maps are intended to be relatively modern in design, but other people possibly want to take more traditional or ornamental approaches. So some guides to resources aimed at producing those results will appear here too.

Please note that this list is still lacking some video tutorials that I have to go dredging through my browsing history to add in.


For map creation from scratch (specifically fantasy-map creation, but this would work for others too):
  • Worldspinner — This resource is oriented mostly toward the kind of maps used in fantasy gaming, but they support a number of mapping styles inside that graphic genre. Their gallery page will give you a sense of the types available. (They also have heraldry design tools, should you be in need of something like that.)
  • Inkarnate — A wide variety of mapping styles, again pointed at the D&D or tabletop gamer. Free and paid plans.
  • Campaign Cartographer 3: I’ve heard good things about this but haven’t used it.
  • Medieval Fantasy City Generator by watabou — This is interesting, as this can be a kind of fiddly part of the work. The creator says: “This application generates a random medieval city layout of a requested size. The generation method is rather arbitrary, the goal is to produce a nice looking map, not an accurate model of a city. Maybe in the future I’ll use its code as a basis for some game or maybe not.” …I plan to give this a whirl at a later date as city maps will be useful for some of the upcoming Middle Kingdoms work.
  • Azgaar’s Fantasy Map Generator — Load the page and it creates you a random, simply-drawn fantasy map with country names. Load it again and it creates you another. Rinse & repeat. Fun and simple.
  • Roll For Fantasy — A whole batch of online generators / creators are bundled at this site. Not useful for what I have in mind, but other people may find tools here that they can use.
  • Wonderdraft — Just came across this one, haven’t really had time to explore it.
  • Contours at Axismaps: Need some contours for something? Why not lift them from real terrain? This app uses Google Maps data and strips it down to the bare contours. (The link leads to a contour-rich sample terrain at Leukerbad in Switzerland. Put in your preferred city or area name in the box in the upper right-hand corner and see what you get.) …Here Andy Woodruff, who wrote the app, talks about the generalities of deriving contour data from Google Maps and goes on to more detail about the production of maps using the in-browser tool.
  • Vancano’s Map Generator: This is a Photoshop tool containing a number of custom actions devised by the author. But Nate also has a series of tutorials that will walk you through the same process that the Photoshop process automates. I found some useful hints in his tutorials that turned out to be extremely worthwhile — even though I was using them in ways different from the ones he was suggesting. (See also his list of mapping resources.)
  • Here (at codepen.io) is a seamless heightmap generator by Danie Clawson.
  • At Old Guy Gaming, Mike Summers discusses how he does realistic coastiines
  • The World of Amberghast: 3 map styles, 6 renders of fantasy-style maps. NB that the PSD file is not included.
  • PlanetPixelEmporium.com: “Planet texture maps, drawing and rendering galleries, 3D objects, and tutorials”.
  • Visible Earth: a NASA-based source for Earth mapping and visualization. A high-quality cloud map derived from Blue Marble data is here.
For projecting a whole map of a fantasy world onto a globe:

You can of course do this in Photoshop (3D > mesh from layer > Sphere), but lots of people don’t have that, don’t want it, or would prefer an online solution. This one isn’t too bad:

MapToGlobe.com — Put in your rectangular map (and bumpmap / heightmap if you have one), go through the options (lighting, axial tilt and so forth), and then turn the program loose. It will also create spinning-globe animations for you.


3D mapping resources:
  • World Machine — 3d terrain sculpting. This looks powerful and useful but I didn’t get into using it as it seemed unnecessarily complex for what I was / am doing at the moment. I may return to it at a later date.
  • 3D Map Generator: This is a Photoshop plugin that looks quite handy… just not so much for me at this point. After initial investigation it struck me as quite good for creating maps from scratch, but not so good for updating older ones / working from previously established terrain models.
  • I did purchase it anyway (since I knew I’d be doing some scratch mapping later), and found the learning curve sufficiently steep that I didn’t care to start the upward slog at that point (being still very new to Photoshop itself). I’ll be coming back to it at some later date. If you’re good with Photoshop, though, you may well find that your mileage is significantly different from mine. 🙂 (They also have an online 3D mapper; registration [so that you can try it out and snapshot your results] is free, but to make 3D maps that you can keep and export to other apps, you must purchase map tokens that allow you varying numbers of finished objects.) …Their video tutorials are here.
  • Terrain.Party: Will generate 3D terrain for anyplace in the world and let you download it as a PNG.
  • World Creator — I didn’t have time to get to grips with this when I first noticed it a couple of months ago. Looks like it could be very useful in terms of incorporation of generated terrains and landscapes into Terragen: must look into this further.
  • GIS Geography — Just beginning to explore this resource…


General-interest sites with useful info:
  • Fantastic Maps — Jonathan Roberts is a professional mapper creating (among other things) fantasy maps for traditionally-published novels. There are some really useful posts on this site.
  • Maps-for-free.com has a tremendously detailed and scaleable world map; its creator Hans Braxmeier says, “The vision of Maps-For-Free is to offer relief maps and other layers which can easily be integrated into existing google map projects”.
  • Digital Elevation Data — For the mapper working with DEM, this is something of a clearing-house for where to dig up online data that can be lifted for other purposes.


Some tutorials:


Forums and other similar resources:



Photoshop mapping tools (brushes, etc)

Map / landmass brushes by JoshWorlds — Free and incredibly effective: I’ve been using these a lot. Josh has a couple of tutorials in using these: Tutorial part 1, part 2



Assorted tools or resources harder to classify

MapTools.com — Plotting tools, map rulers adjusted for scale…

More to follow…


You may also like

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt out if you wish. Accept Read More