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Creating Mountains for Fantasy Maps in GIMP 2.8

Updated on April 11, 2017
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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 2.8.

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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

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Tell Me What Troubles You Have Using GIMP to Map.

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