Creating a Fantasy Map: A Step-by-Step Tutorial

Updated on October 3, 2019
Frost Birch profile image

I've been drawing maps for D&D since first playing the game in '78. Playing online requires digital maps, so I taught myself using GIMP.

Terran: The Western Edge


Creating a Custom Fantasy Map

In this tutorial we will be making a custom map as opposed to a random map build. The map I chose for this tutorial is a close-up portion of the world map for my campaign.

As it is a close-up of an existing map, we'll have to custom draw the coastline so we match that of the original. Trying to match an existing map is full of custom details that we overlook when making a random map. This makes custom maps a wee bit more complicated.

We are going to be working in GIMP 2.8 (GIMP 2.10.12) but the techniques can be used on other software programs like Photoshop. GIMP is an open source program so it is free to download and use as an individual user. Don't forget to read the licence agreement before using.


Step One: Let There Be Land

  • Create a New Image File with a Transparent background. 900x900 pixels with an X&Y resolution of 600 dpi. File New will bring up a create new image box where you choose the settings.
  • I choose the transparent background at the beginning so every new layer I make later on have transparency automatically available.
  • Click white as your foreground color and click on the paint bucket and fill the page with white. Select a solid paintbrush of 2-3 pixel size and select black as the foreground color.
  • Draw your coastline and islands. Fill the Land with black and the Water white.
  • Make two duplicate layers label one Land and the other Water.
  • Now you can delete the land on the Water layer and the water on the Land layer.

That's it for step one. You should have 3 layers; Land, Water and Background.


Step Two: Creating Land

  • Click on the Land layer and select the area either by choosing the land by color or inverting the transparent color selection.
  • Now Filters Render Clouds Difference Clouds... ( Filters Render Noise Difference_Clouds...) In the resulting Solid Noise box select Detail at 15 and X and Y size at 3. This should add texture to the land
  • Next I clicked on the Gradient tool and selected Golden from the presets. Then under Colors Map Gradient Map and fill the land with colors. It was a little bright so I clicked on Colors Brightness-Contrast... Set Brightness at -75 and Contrast at -25.

Now that is it for the land layer for now.


Step Three: Raising the Mountains

  • The next step is to raise your mountains. You must get the contours of the land before you can draw your rivers and lakes so add a new layer and put it above the Land layer. Label it Mountains. With a solid edge fine tipped brush paint your ridgeline and draw in your mountains.
  • Add another new layer above Mountains and label it Light and Dark. In this layer you can shade the contours of the land and color the mountains.


Step Four: Let the Rivers Run

  • After creating some contours to the land you can add the rivers. Drag the Water Layer to the top of the layer stack and grab a fine tipped paintbrush. Depending on the scale, make your brush as wide as it takes to be correct. In the example my brush was set at three pixels.
  • Following the contours of the land, draw your rivers in from mountains to the sea. Make the rivers wind lazy like on the flat areas and run straighter in the steeper areas. Put your lakes in where the contours are flat.
  • Now turn off the other layers and select the transparent areas of the Water layer. Invert that selection and while on each of the land layers cut the water out so the rivers and lakes will show through.


Step Five: Adding a Bevel

  • With the inverted Water selection still active, work on the Land layer with some filters.
  • Filters Decor Add Bevel... Uncheck work on Copy and keep Bump Layer. Set the thickness to 20 This will bevel the edges of the land and make the water look like in has sunk into the land. Unfortunately it also bevels the outside edge of the map so after everything is finished you can crop that part of the map off for the finishing touch.


Step Six: Adding Vegetation

  • Adding vegetation is the last step. Add a new layer and stamp some trees and grasses on the lowland areas. Swamps at the deltas and use a large smoke brush to add a wash of green over the area.
  • Finally add one last layer; the Text layer. To it add towns, roads, and text to the map and you are done.

Finished Map


Please take the time to leave a comment. It's the only way I know you've been here and know that your comments mean alot to me or any writer. It's your chance to ask questions or give kudos or just say hi I made it all the way through the article.

Comments Are Requested.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Akeel1701 profile image


      14 months ago

      How do you get the Solid Noise dialogue from the Difference Clouds? I'm using Photoshop CS6

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      Great tutorial, will be trying it out later today. Thanks for taking the time to make it.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      thanks it was useful

    • Frost Birch profile imageAUTHOR

      Frost Birch 

      2 years ago from Canada

      Thanks for the comment. It's nice to be appreciated.

    • profile image

      Good work... 

      2 years ago

      Great technique and appreciate ur effort in writing blog.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)