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Creating Mountains for Fantasy Maps in GIMP 2.8 (2.10.12)

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.


Mountains are a Pain

When I was first learning to use GIMP to make fantasy maps, I used filters to warp and texture the land, which created a random, textured map that I used as a base and worked from there. It was all well and good when creating random maps, but if one wanted to make a custom map with specific features in specific places, the random method would not work.

The steps you go through to make a random map and a custom map are the same at first so I will gloss over the beginning and you can see how I do specifics in other articles I have written.

  • Create a layer for Land and a layer for Water.
  • Work on copies of these two layers.
  • Build layer on layer so you can edit one without changing others.
  • Use layers to create different versions of maps. (ex. Players map vs. DM map)

Setting a Base

To make mountains where you want them, you start with a solid base and then add layers of colors from dark to light. Dark being lowest elevations and light being highest.

  • Start with a transparent layer.
  • Fill in the land portion with a color. I use deep grey ( b3b2b2 )
  • Lay in the base of the mountains with a soft brush ( bdc8b8 )
  • Add more layers for a higher altitude. Each one lighter in shade the higher you go.
  • With a thinner line, draw the crest of the mountain ( e4eae4 )
  • Use a Gaussian Blur filter on the area with a blur radius at 15.
  • Top off the crest with white with the narrowest brush . ( ffffff )
  • Use Gaussian Blur again but with a 15 blur radius.
  • Now use Filters- Distorts-Emboss... Play with settings until you like the result.

Note: Vary the thickness of the lines you draw with each color to add a variance to the contours of the resulting land mass.


Coloring Your Mountains

The next step in creating your fantasy map mountains is to add shading and color.

  • Add a new transparent layer.
  • Use a soft brush setting sized to match your mountains.
  • Start with an off white color and about a 50% Opacity brush setting.
  • Shade the lighter side of your mountains.
  • Use a smaller brush and full white color to add snow to the tops of your highest mountains.
  • With the same soft brush and 50 % Opacity you can add greens and tans to the lower levels where greenery would be... or a sandy beach.

Underwater Mountains

Raising mountains under water is the same as on land.

  • Light colors are higher so make the areas closer to land, lighter.
  • Map the islands like they ar mountain tops.
  • Deep water is darker.
  • Make three layers one for texture, one solid blue and one white. Blue is the middle layer, texture is on top.

Finished Map

Created with GIMP 2.10.12

Created with GIMP 2.10.12