Mapping Tutorial: Layers

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Mapping Tutorial: Layers

Postby Thorf » Sun May 03, 2009 3:09 pm

Introduction

I often think that the original TSR hex maps must have been done using multiple sheets of transparent paper, because they seem to have an internal logic as to what symbols appear on top of what. There are also lots of cases of elements being misaligned.

As it happens, this is precisely how maps are made in the computer, whether you use Photoshop, Illustrator, or another program altogether. In this short tutorial I will introduce the concept of layers, and outline the system I have devised for my maps.

Image
All the layers used to make an overland hex map.

Map Layers

I have come up with an eight-layer system for making hex maps.

Image

  1. Labels - all text, map labels, compass roses, scale markers and borders go on this layer, on top of everything else.
  2. Borders - country and dominion borders go on this layer, so that they overlay the hex grid.
  3. Hex Grid - the home of the grid overlay which forms the basis of the map. The grey hex grid is set to "multiply" transparency at 75% opacity so that it merges nicely into the colours underneath.
  4. Roads/Settlements - roads, trails and shipping trails, as well as settlements, battlefields, and other terrain feature icons are placed here to prevent them from being obscured by coasts and rivers.
  5. Coasts/Plateaus - all the coasts and lakes along with plateaus and other non-symbol terrain features go on this layer. Masking map tiles are also sometimes placed here when drawing plateaus.
  6. Rivers - all rivers and other such line-based water features go on this layer.
  7. Map - this layer is for all the basic hexes that make up the bulk of any map.
  8. Guide - the bottom layer, usually empty in my map PDFs. This is where I place scans and other source images which I want to trace.

That's basically it. If you make sure the elements are on the right layers, everything should fall into place nicely.

There are some exceptions to these rules. For example, on some maps where a border crosses a hex tile, we want to make sure that the settlement icon on that tile doesn't get obscured by the border, so we put the settlement icon on the Labels layer. Similarly, markers for rapids and waterfalls usually go on the Roads/Settlements layer, but can be placed on the Labels layer if necessary.

Working with Layers

The most important technique for working with layers is turning them on and off. A good example of this is aligning a guide image to your map: by turning off all layers except Guide and Hex Grid, it becomes reasonably easy to resize any guide images to the same proportions as the map. And of course it's usually best to leave the Map layer turned off while tracing from the Guide layer to any layer above.

Finally, I have found that it's best to draw replica maps from the top layer down to the bottom. Sticking to this order makes it easier to see where you are, and leaves the potentially memory-hogging map tiles to last. If you do encounter memory problems, it's always possible to export/copy and paste a layer to another document, work on it there, then import/copy and paste it back in. This is especially easy in Illustrator if you tick the "Paste remembers layers" option in the Layers panel options and then use CTRL F or CTRL B to paste in front or paste behind (these latter functions paste objects to the exact position they were copied or cut from - even if you paste them into another image).

In Conclusion

That's all I can think of for now. I hope some of you find it useful (or just interesting).

If you have any questions about this topic, please feel free to ask in this thread. I'm sure there are various aspects of working with layers that I haven't thought to mention.

I will update this first post periodically with new info as it comes up.
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Re: [Mapping Tutorial] Layers

Postby Chimpman » Mon May 04, 2009 2:47 am

Thorf, I haven't even read the post but I have to say that the images are beautiful. Ok, now I'm going to actually read it. I'm sure it is as informative as it is pretty to look at ;)

Edit: This is very helpful Thorf. I do things in a very similar way using Photoshop Elements (probably in great part thanks to your PDFs). One area I'm having some difficulty with however is the Roads/Settlements layer. Adding in the settlements is fine, but how do you draw the roads? Are they all by hand? The thing I'm getting stuck on is drawing trails (the ones with dotted lines). Does Illustrator have a special tool for doing this, or does it just take a very steady hand (and more patience than Job)?
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Re: [Mapping Tutorial] Layers

Postby Thorf » Mon May 04, 2009 5:59 am

Chimpman wrote:Thorf, I haven't even read the post but I have to say that the images are beautiful. Ok, now I'm going to actually read it. I'm sure it is as informative as it is pretty to look at ;)


I had an idea for what I wanted to make, and then it was just a matter of finding something to illustrate it with - hence this post! ;) I'm quite happy with the end result, although it doesn't look quite as clear as I would have liked. I think it might work even better with an even smaller map.

Edit: This is very helpful Thorf. I do things in a very similar way using Photoshop Elements (probably in great part thanks to your PDFs). One area I'm having some difficulty with however is the Roads/Settlements layer. Adding in the settlements is fine, but how do you draw the roads? Are they all by hand? The thing I'm getting stuck on is drawing trails (the ones with dotted lines). Does Illustrator have a special tool for doing this, or does it just take a very steady hand (and more patience than Job)?


Yes, the roads are indeed hand-drawn - as are the rivers, coasts, plateaus, and trails. The trails make use of Illustrator's stroke panel to create dashed lines; you can choose the length of each dash and each space, and make all sorts of dashed lines with the greatest of ease. I'm not sure if it would be possible to duplicate this in Photoshop Elements... Perhaps it could be done using a brush of some kind...?

Incidentally, I use a graphic tablet to do all of these lines. It's much easier than using the mouse. You can get good tablets pretty cheaply these days.
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Re: [Mapping Tutorial] Layers

Postby Chimpman » Mon May 04, 2009 6:10 am

Ahh, ok, Illistrator has some kind of stroke tool... that's what I was wondering. Yeah I picked up a tablet several years ago (and still use it). It's not so much drawing by hand that is the hard part for me (for which the tablet is immortal sent ;) ) but getting the dashes/dots in the trail to be set at a uniform distance.

Edit: Heh, you learn something every day. There is a spacing option that I can set for the brush that allows me to do this. Normally it is set to 25% (which I suppose allows for some overlap and gives the appearance of a uniform brush stroke). Once I take it past 50% the spacing between each brush footprint is noticeable. This is pretty cool. :)
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Re: [Mapping Tutorial] Layers

Postby Hugin » Mon May 04, 2009 2:50 pm

Very cool tutorial, Thorf! Thanks!
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Re: [Mapping Tutorial] Layers

Postby Gecko » Thu May 07, 2009 7:56 am

Thorf wrote:[*]Guide - the bottom layer, usually empty in my map PDFs. This is where I place scans and other source images which I want to trace.


I'd been wondering why I never noticed anything change when I turned off the guide layer, now I know, excellent.

by the way, Fantastic illustration graphic for explaining the layers. :mrgreen:
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Re: [Mapping Tutorial] Layers

Postby Chimpman » Thu May 07, 2009 3:53 pm

I've noticed something in the way I draw maps - when drawing roads and trails and such I will often just turn off extraneous layers (such as the hex layer) and then draw freehand. The problem is that when I turn the hex layer back on, many times the grid will obscure the paths I've drawn. A couple of questions:

1) Do you take pains to draw roads and trails and such so that they fall near the center of hexes (and bisect grid lines)?

2) What is the ratio of road thickness to hex grid line thickness? I wonder if the roads I'm drawing are too thin...
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Re: Mapping Tutorial: Layers

Postby Morfie » Sat Jan 18, 2014 8:30 am

*bump*

I have just got Illustrator CC 17 to try out with a 30 day trial period. I am considering subscribing to the Creative Cloud if I can figure it out. I have never used this program or anything similar (GIMP, Inkscape) so I am struggling..

The mappingcs2.zip file helps immensely.. but how do you extend the hex grid to make bigger maps? (Edit: Figured this out) or do you join separately created pictures together?

You also suggest doing it top down, but my preference is to start with the hex grid and map (3 & 7) as my guide layer (8) will not necessarily already be a hex map. Hopefully modern computers (This is 2 years old) won't have the same memory issues as 2009.. time will tell.

I have so many questions..
Last edited by Morfie on Tue Jan 21, 2014 10:42 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Mapping Tutorial: Layers

Postby Morfie » Mon Jan 20, 2014 9:30 am

Now resize the guide to match the hex grid. You may need to adjust the angle of the guide by rotating it in tenths of a degree until it's straight.


*sigh* I cannot get any guide lined up properly.. it matches in one hex, but then it goes out in another..

Thought I'd start with the old B&W pics.. I guess I need a very high res scan to do this properly :(
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Re: Mapping Tutorial: Layers

Postby Morfie » Tue Jan 21, 2014 10:42 am

This ..
A good example of this is aligning a guide image to your map: by turning off all layers except Guide and Hex Grid, it becomes reasonably easy to resize any guide images to the same proportions as the map.

This I cannot sort out for the life of me, it's even harder to line it up if the hexes on the guide are a different size, or the line width of those hexes is different.. ;(
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Re: [Mapping Tutorial] Layers

Postby Thorf » Thu Apr 03, 2014 2:19 am

Chimpman wrote:1) Do you take pains to draw roads and trails and such so that they fall near the center of hexes (and bisect grid lines)?


Yes indeed. In general, I have roads entering and leaving each hex at the centre of a side. They don't have to pass through the centre, but usually come close to it. The reason for this is basically ease of measurement: just count the number of hexes to find the length of the road.

Having said this, not all of Mystara's maps did this, and even when they did, there were often exceptions with certain roads.

On his Alphatia maps, Bruce made roads and trails fit neatly into the hex grid, but had shipping lanes much more freeform. This is something I changed on my versions of his maps, to make the shipping lanes fit with other Mystara maps, but in truth I do think the more freeform shipping lanes look nicer on the map, and better capture the less fixed nature of the paths they depict.

2) What is the ratio of road thickness to hex grid line thickness? I wonder if the roads I'm drawing are too thin...


My hex grid is 1 point, roads are 2.5 point, and trails are 1.5 point, if that helps.
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