Tag Archives: design

Making 18th Century Coastlines for Fantasy Maps

Tutorial: Creating 18th Century Coastlines for Fantasy Maps

Lately, after releasing my last few map sets, I’ve had people ask me how I achieve the coastal hatching in my sample maps. It’s been a process. Since the release of Widman in February, I’ve been trying to create a believable machine-produced reproduction of the classic hatched shoreline typically seen on 17th and 18th-century maps.

Examples of 17th & 18th Century Costal Hatching
Left to Right: Pieter van der Aa’s 1714 “La Floride,” Merian’s 1660 “Galliae Nova et Accurata descriptio Vulgo Royaume De France,” Vrients’ 1608 “Indiae Orientalis”

I don’t think I was close with Widman, and while the effect I achieved was interesting, I didn’t start to figure it out until the release of Aubers in March. Before then, I saw plenty of suggestions, but they tended to be complicated affairs. Rolling up your sleeves and doing it by hand absolutely works, but is of course, time-consuming and it takes practice. Digital brushes are often the most common idea, but they tend to be slow, and after a while, the pattern repetition is clearly discernible. For the hatching to look right, you need randomness. Thankfully, there are a few tools that when used right can produce a random hatching effect rather quickly.

For this tutorial, I’ll be using Adobe Photoshop CC on my Macbook Pro running macOS Mojave, but I am sure similar functions exist in other image software. Nothing I am using in this tutorial will be cutting-edge technology. I’d recommend you have some experience using Photoshop, Gimp, or whatever tool you choose—this approach sits somewhere between Beginner Level and Intermediate.


Step 1 – Download 18th Century Coastlines

This all begins with a simple pattern of horizontal lines. Personally, I tend to skew toward odd numbers for pattern-based work. All the patterns in 18th Century Coastlines are 1px wide by 49px high, and each individual line is generally 2-3px thick.

You can make your own, but I figured I could get you halfway there and just distribute the patterns I use. Just click the button below to download my 18th Century Coastlines pattern set. There are ten patterns in all (and I include them as brushes as well) with various weights and distributions. Unzip the file. Double click on the PAT file, and it will automatically install.

DOWNLOAD 18TH CENTURY COASTLINES

As with my brushes, this pattern and brush set is free for any use. As of July 2019, I now distribute my sets with a Creative Common, No Rights Reserved License (CC0), which means you can freely use this and any of my brushes in commercial work and distribute adaptations. (Details on this decision here.) No attribution is required. Easy peasy!

Okay, with that out of the way, let’s make a coastline!


Step 2 – Define your border

There are many ways to do this. Choose what works best for you. (If you need a good guide on how to create realistic coastlines, check out Mike Summers’ tutorial.)

I tend to keep my coastline border and the landmass as separate opaque layers. That way, I can select them with a single click. Once you have your coastline selected, create a new layer for your edging. Then use Select > Modify > Expand to increase the depth of the edge.

18th Century Coastlines - Step 2
Making the selection for the coastline hatching.

In my example, I used 11px, but you can use any size you want or select it by hand. The selection you make will be where your coastline hatching will appear. Be sure not to miss selecting any lakes or rivers. Historically it was common to apply the same hatching to inland waterways. (There are, of course, exceptions to that rule, in particular regarding rivers.)


Step 3 – Fill the selection with the pattern

Now we want to fill our selection with our pattern of horizontal lines. Select a pattern from my set or use the one you created in Step 1.

Now choose the Fill Bucket from the Tool Bar. Change the mode in the dropdown from Foreground to Pattern—it’s located in the horizontal Options bar at the top of the screen. Then click on your selection to fill it with your pattern.

You’ll now have a layer filled with your pattern. It should look something like this:

18th Century Coastlines - Step 3
One a new layer, fill your selection with your choice of pattern

A Note: If you’re trying to reproduce a historical style map, be sure your hatching emerges from a lined border like I have in my sample map. That said, I could see this same effect applied to more modern designs, and it could work really well with colored solutions adding a subtle textured effect. Do what works best for you.


Step 4 – Wave time

With the pattern applied, it’s time to push it. (Ah, push it, push it real good.) First, Right-click on the coastline layer in your Layers Palette, then click on Convert to Smart Object. This will allow for non-destructive editing and if you don’t like the look of something you’ll be able to go back and tweak settings on the fly to get the look you want.

Now we’ll use the Filter > Distort > Wave tool to makes these lines to look more hand created. The key is to keep the wavelength and amplitude very low—were going to stretch those horizontal lines randomly. Using Wave in this manner will rough up those edges.

My base settings are as follows:

  • Number of Generators: 22
  • Wavelength Min: 1
  • Wavelength Max: 2
  • Amplitude Min: 2
  • Amplitude Max: 3
  • Horizontal: 100% 
  • Vertical: 1%

Once you adjust your settings to your liking click Okay.

18th Century Coastlines - Step 5
Use the Wave Filter to distort your pattern and give it a more hand-drawn look

Wa-la! We’re getting close now.

There are a few adjustments you can make to tweak the look. Below is a graphic I prepared with each of the patterns included in my base set. Each step down is an increase in the generator number. Simple rule of thumb: more generators equals more randomness.

Coastline Samples

Bonus Experiment: You can also add randomness by increasing the Amplitude Max. For example, use the settings above but change the Amplitude Max to 15. It’s an interesting effect that adds a distinct style to your coastlines.


Step 5 – Noise

Finally, we’ll add some imperfections to make these lines look inked. We do that with Filter > Noise > Add Noise… be sure to check Monochromatic checkbox at the bottom of the panel. This will keep the noise black and white, which is useful for future blending. I tend to use Gaussian for my noise Distribution, but if you like the look of Uniform, you can use that instead.

The Amount you choose is up to you. Some of this will depend on your style. I think 7-8% is a good starting point—I went with 10% in my above example. The more Noise, the more pops and scratches you’ll see in the faux-etching. The tiny imperfections go a long way toward making these machine-made hatch marks feel a little more realistic. Once you have the Noise you like, click Okay.

18th Century Coastlines - Step 6
Add noise to mimic ink catching on the tooth of the paper

BOOM – You did it!

That’s it.

Congratulations! You now have a happy and healthy 18th Century-esque coastline. If you used Smart Objects, you’ll be able to make nuanced adjustments really easily. Now that you have this down, there’s a lot of things you can do to make your coastlines distinctly yours. In the past, I’ve also applied layer masks to further grunge up my hatch marks. Do what suits your project the best.

Hopefully, you found this tutorial easy to follow, and you were able to achieve the look you wanted. Let me know if I need to clarify anything. I’ve tried a bunch of experiments to get here, and this solution came the closest, worked the quickest, and caused the least amount of pain. It’s also endlessly futzable, which is fun.

This style of coastal edging works great with any of my free fantasy cartography brush sets. I find that it helps the finished piece feel more realistic, and it give the maps an antique quality. Details like this can enhance a reader’s or player’s experience with a fantasy map, so it’s worth taking the time to get the edging right.

You can download and learn more about my brushes over on Free Stuff page. I currently have ten sets available with more on the way. As with 18th Century Coastlines, these are also distributed with a CC0 license. No attribution required!


💸 Supporting This Work

If you found this helpful and want to support my work, instead of a donation, consider buying one of my speculative fiction novels. The first book—The Stars Were Right—is only $2.99 on eBook. I think you’ll dig it. You can find all my books in stores and online. Visit bellforgingcycle.com to learn more about the series. Tell your friends!

The Bell Forging Cycle


Dead Drop: Missives from the desk of K. M. AlexanderWant to stay in touch with me? Sign up for Dead Drop, my rare and elusive newsletter. Subscribers get news, previews, and notices on my books before anyone else delivered directly to their inbox. I work hard to make sure it’s not spammy and full of interesting and relevant information.  SIGN UP TODAY →

Harrewyn: A Free 18th Century Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Harrewyn: A Free 18th Century Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Topographical elements are often focal points in many historical and fantasy maps. Mountains and rivers, shorelines and steppes, swamps and rolling hills, it’s easy to see why topographers found and still find these elements important. They shape the world around us. They influence lore, legend, and ultimately culture. They challenge humanity.

Yet, in many parts of the world, these features are often nonexistent. Take Eugene Henry Fricx’s Cartes des Paysbas et des Frontieres de France—an incredibly detailed 18th Century atlas of northern France and Belgium that was first published in 1712, then improved upon over a period of twenty-one years before being republished in 1727. If you’ve been to that part of the world, you’ll understand immediately why those features aren’t present. Much of Northern France and Belgium is incredibly flat. I spent some time there earlier this year and while the countryside and farmlands (and beer) are beautiful, I can see how a cartographer would instead choose to focus on other details.

It’s with that introduction that I’m excited to share my latest brush set: Harrewyn. Named after the Dutch engraver Jacobus Harrewijn who may or may not have been dead when this atlas was finished in 1727. While a few landforms and flora symbols persist—hills, forests, and the occasional swamp—they’re not the focus. Instead, Harrewyn chose to emphasize towns and villages, cities and manor houses, farms and windmills, gallows and chapels. It’s a map focused on the developed over the natural.

Harrewyn Sampler

Most of these signs were extracted from a pair of corresponding plates take around the Lille and Menin regions (10-11). The result is a unique brush set with a style that I hadn’t seen before. The traditional influence is apparent, but Harrewyn has added his own flair and it makes these brushes unique. Perfect for a wide variety of projects.

I took some liberties in the organizing—the concepts of Chateaus, Castles, Villages, and Bastides are rough ones and historical documents aren’t clear. Legends weren’t common and usage can be difficult to decipher. (If you have any insight I might have missed, please let me know!) That said, like all of my sets my organization is merely a rough guide. In fantasy maps, anything goes—these signs and symbols represent whatever you want. It’s your project.

Harrewyn is an enormous set, inside you’ll find over 500 brushes, including:

  • 50 Farms
  • 25 Mansions
  • 25 Basic Hamlets
  • 3 Mixed Hamlets
  • 10 Chateaus
  • 60 Villages
  • 5 Mixed Villages
  • 5 Elevated Villages
  • 30 Castles
  • 3 Unique Castles
  • 22 Cities
  • 3 Mixed Cities
  • 15 Inns
  • 20 Chapels
  • 2 Unique Chapels
  • 4 Missions
  • 5 Abbeys
  • 3 Walled Abbeys
  • 5 Forts
  • 5 Redoubts
  • 30 Individual Trees
  • 50 Forests
  • 20 Swamps
  • 20 Hills
  • 4 Battlefield Markers
  • 10 Crosses
  • 20 Gallows
  • 3 Elevated Gallows
  • 25 Individual Windmills
  • 5 Groups of Windmills
  • 10 Elevated Windmills
  • 10 Watermills
  • 6 Unique Points of Interest
  • 3 Cartouches

(I told you it was a lot.) The button below links to a ZIP file that contains a Photoshop brush set (it’ll work in GIMP as well) as well as a set of transparent PNGs in case you’re using a program that doesn’t support Adobe brush files. I’ve separated them by type, Settlements, Flora & Landforms, and Points of Interest & Cartouches. They’re black, and they’ll look broken if viewed in Chrome, but trust me, they’re all there.


DOWNLOAD HARREWYN


As with all of my previous brush sets, Harrewyn is free for any use. As of July 2019, I now distribute my sets with a Creative Common, No Rights Reserved License (CC0), which means you can freely use this and any of my brushes in commercial work and distribute adaptations. (Details on this decision here.) No attribution is required. Easy peasy!

Enjoy Harrewyn. Feel free to show me what you created by sending me an email or finding me on Twitter. I love seeing how these brushes get used, and I’d be happy to share your work with my readers. Let me see what you make!


🌏 Harrewyn In Use

Want to see this brush set in use? I put together a sample map using Harrewyn and you can see a few variants below. Just click on any of the images below to view them larger.

Harrewyn in use (Black and White)     Harrewyn in use (Color)     Harrewyn in use (Decorated)


💸 Supporting This Work

If you like the Harrewyn brush set (or any of my free brushes, really) and want to support my work, instead of a donation, consider buying one of my speculative fiction novels. The first book—The Stars Were Right—is only $2.99 on eBook. I think you’ll dig it. You can find all my books in stores and online. Visit bellforgingcycle.com to learn more about the series. Tell your friends!

The Bell Forging Cycle


🗺 More Map Brushes

Harrewyn isn’t the only brush set I’ve released. You can find other free brush sets with a wide variety of styles over on my Free Stuff page. Every set is free, distributed under a CC0 license, and open for personal or commercial use. I’m sure you’ll be able to find something that works for your project.

Popple: A Free 18th Century Cartography Brush Set

This set has quickly become a favorite and it’s perfect for a wide variety of projects. The brushes are taken from 1746’s A Map of the British Empire in America by Henry Popple and it has a fresh style that does a fantastic job capturing the wildness of a frontier. Plus it has swamps! And we know swamps have become a necessity in fantasy cartography.

Donia: A Free 17th Century Settlement Brush Set

While not my most extensive set (a little over one hundred brushes) Donia boasts one of the more unique takes on settlements from the 17th century. If you’re looking for flora, I suggest checking out other sets, but if you want to pay attention to your maps cities, towns, castles, churches, towers, forts, even fountains then this is the right set for you.

Blaeu: A Free 17th Century Cartography Brush Set

Based on Joan Blaeu’s Terræ Sanctæ—a 17th-century tourist map of the Holy Land—this set includes a ton of unique and varied signs as well as a large portion of illustrative cartouches that can add a flair authenticity to any fantasy map. Elegant and nuanced, everything works within a system, but nearly every sign is unique.

Aubers: An 18th Century Cartography Brush Set

An 18th Century brush set based on a map from 1767 detailing the journey of François Pagès, a French naval officer, who accompanied the Spanish Governor of Texas on a lengthy exploration through Louisiana, Texas, and Mexico. A unique southwestern set with a few interesting deviations—including three volcanos!

L’Isle: An 18th Century Battlefield Brush Set

A departure from the norm, this set is based on the Plan Batalii map which was included in a special edition of The First Atlas of Russia in 1745. A detailed view of a battle during the Russo-Turkish War of 1735–1739. Canon! Units! Battles! Perfect to map out the combat scenarios in your fantasy stories.

Widman: A 17th Century Cartography Brush Set

A 17th Century brush set based on the work of Georgio Widman for Giovanni Giacomo de Rossi’s atlas published in 1692. A fantastic example of Cantelli da Vignola’s influence and a solid set for any fantastic map. This is the workhorse of antique map brush sets—perfect for nearly any setting.

Walser: An 18th Century Cartography Brush Set

An 18th Century brush set based on the work of Gabriel Walser with a focus on small farms and ruins and a solid set of mountain and hills. This is a great brush set to see how Vignola’s influence persisted across generations. It was etched over 80 years after the Widman set but you’ll find a few familiar symbols within.

Lumbia: A Sketchy Cartography Brush Set

A sketchy style brush set I drew myself that focuses on unique hills and mountains and personal customizability. My attempt at trying to channel the sort of map a barkeep would draw for a band of hearty adventurers. It includes extra-large brushes for extremely high-resolution maps.

Lehmann: A Hatchure Brush Set

Named after Austrian topographer Johann Georg Lehmann creator of the Lehmann hatching system in 1799, this is a path-focused brush set designed for Adobe Illustrator that attempts to captures the hand-drawn style unique 19th Century hachure-style mountains.


Dead Drop: Missives from the desk of K. M. AlexanderWant to stay in touch with me? Sign up for Dead Drop, my rare and elusive newsletter. Subscribers get news, previews, and notices on my books before anyone else delivered directly to their inbox. I work hard to make sure it’s not spammy and full of interesting and relevant information.  SIGN UP TODAY →

My Map Brushes Are Now CC0

Attribution Not Required

Starting today, all of my free brush sets will migrate from Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0) to a Creative Common, No Rights Reserved License (CC0). The sets themselves are using icons, signs, and symbols taken from maps that are hundreds of years old and largely in the public domain, the sets should be as well, and using my work shouldn’t require attribution.

I’m a big supporter of Creative Commons and the work they do, and as a professional designer for nearly twenty years, I’m a firm believer that artists should get credit. Licensing is an integral part of the design process but trying to credit someone can be tricky, in particular with CC BY 4.0 licenses and especially when using it on client work.

The CC BY 4.0 was a solid starting point, but I think I can do better. I want to see more writers, game masters, and game designers use my sets carte blanche—and while it’s neat to see my name in credits, I’m not making these sets for an ego boost. I should get out of the way and let the work you make shine through. It’ll be easier to use these without the attribution requirement and moving to a CC0 license will help facilitate that.

It’ll take a while for me to roll out an update to all my sets, as I need to update the README files and PNGs then reupload the new versions to my site. That’ll happen over the next few weeks. These versions won’t have any different content, they’ll just have updates to the license. So if you’re happy with the set, there will be no need to re-download the files. Going forward, don’t worry about crediting me.

So, the tl;dr version:

  • All my sets are now CC0. Including previously released sets.
  • Updates are coming soon.
  • Use these brushes for whatever.
  • You don’t have to credit me. Attribution isn’t required.

Good luck with all your projects. I look forward to seeing the amazing things you create.


💸 Supporting This Work

If you like my brush sets and want to support my work, instead of a donation, consider buying one of my pulpy weird-fiction novels. The first book—The Stars Were Right—is only $2.99 on eBook. Murder! Mystery! Monsters! You can find all my books in stores and online. Learn more about the series by visiting bellforgingcycle.com and tell your friends!


Dead Drop: Missives from the desk of K. M. AlexanderWant to stay in touch with me? Sign up for Dead Drop, my rare and elusive newsletter. Subscribers get news, previews, and notices on my books before anyone else delivered directly to their inbox. I work hard to make sure it’s not spammy and full of interesting and relevant information.  SIGN UP TODAY →

Popple: A Free 18th Century Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Popple: A Free 18th Century Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Throughout history, we can find examples of cartography used as aspirational propaganda. After all, land can be easily claimed on the map where it might be more challenging to hold in person. Countries can seem more significant with slight projection adjustments, and colonies can appear more populated and robust. 1746’s A Map of the British Empire in America by Henry Popple is the perfect example of this—laying out the intent of the British Empire and her colonies in the New World, rather than the realities of the time.

I love this map. It’s a deviation from standard styles of the 18th century that I haven’t seen before. It manages to capture the wildness of a new frontier (to European eyes at least) in ways that cartography of the old continent hadn’t done before. The map itself was huge—nearly eight feet square when assembled, and the level of detail wasn’t something I could just ignore. It’d be perfect for fantasy maps.

With that in mind, I am releasing Popple an enormous brush set with all of these beautiful details ready to be used in your fictional cartography. I think you’ll dig it.

Variety is what sold me. Each mountain and forest is one-of-a-kind, giving each area its own unique look. Plus it has wetlands! Swamps! Interestingly enough swamplands seem to be a rarity among historical maps—despite their near-ubiquitous presence in fantasy maps. (Guess we “blame” Tolkien for that?) One thing of note, it was challenging to determine what constitutes a town, or a city, or a farm. Since there was no key or legend, I made my best guesses based on my research. That said, you can use any of these signs however you like, my system is more to keep the brushes organized so you can find what you’re looking for when browsing.

Within Popple, you’ll discover over 400 brushes, including:

  • 20 Individual Habitations
  • 10 Double Habitations
  • 30 Grouped Habitations
  • 20 Small Towns
  • 3 Large Towns
  • 10 Small Cities
  • 30 Medium Cities
  • 15 Large Cities
  • 10 Huge Cities
  • 20 Missions
  • 20 Forts
  • 5 Border Forts (the sort you’d find along rivers)
  • 10 Tents
  • 6 Random Habitations
  • 30 Scrub Lands
  • 30 “Round” Forests
  • 30 “Tall” Forests
  • 30 Swamps
  • 40 Hills
  • 40 Mountains
  • 30 Mountain Ranges

The button below links to a ZIP file that contains a Photoshop brush set (it’ll work in GIMP as well) as well as a set of transparent PNGs in case you’re using a program that doesn’t support Adobe brush files. I’ve separated them by type, Settlements, Flora, Small Landforms, and Large Landforms. They’re black, and they’ll look broken if viewed in Chrome, but trust me, they’re all there.


DOWNLOAD POPPLE


As with all of my previous brush sets, Popple is free for any use. I distribute it with a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which means you can freely use it in commercial work and distribute adaptations. While attribution is technically a part of the license, I personally don’t give a damn. All I did was convert these into a modern brush format, Henry Popple and his crew did all the real work—so if you need to give someone credit, give it to them.

Enjoy Popple! Feel free to show me what you created by sending me an email or finding me on Twitter. I love seeing how these brushes get used, and I’d be happy to share your work with my readers.


🌏 Popple In Use

Want to see this brush set in use? I put together a sample map using Popple. Just click on any of the images below to view them larger.

Popple in use (Black and White)     Popple in use (Color)     Popple in use (Decorated)


💸 Supporting This Work

If you like the Popple brush set (or any of my free brushes, really) and want to support my work, instead of a donation, consider buying one of my weird speculative fiction novels. The first book—The Stars Were Right—is only $2.99 on eBook. You can find all my books in stores and online. Visit bellforgingcycle.com to learn more about the series. Tell your friends!

And what’s a pulpy urban fantasy novel without a map? When Old Broken Road, the second book in the series, launched I shared a map detailing the expanded world of the Territories, you can check it out here.


🗺 More Map Brushes

Popple isn’t the only brush set I’ve released. Below are links to other free brush sets with a wide variety of styles all free and all open for personal or commercial use, you should be able to find something that works for your project.

Donia: A Free 17th Century Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy MapsDonia: A Free 17th Century Settlement Brush Set

While not my most extensive set (a little over one hundred brushes) Donia boasts one of the more unique takes on settlements from the 17th century. If you’re looking for flora, I suggest checking out other sets, but if you want to pay attention to your map’s cities, towns, castles, churches, towers, forts, even fountains then this is the right set for you.

Blaeu: A Free 17th Century Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Blaeu: A Free 17th Century Cartography Brush

Based on Joan Blaeu’s Terræ Sanctæ—a 17th-century tourist map of the Holy Land—this set includes a ton of unique and varied signs as well as a large portion of illustrative cartouches that can add a flair authenticity to any fantasy map. Elegant and nuanced, everything works within a system, but nearly every sign is unique.

Aubers: A Free 18th Century Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Aubers: An 18th Century Cartography Brush Set

An 18th Century brush set based on a map from 1767 detailing the journey of François Pagès, a French naval officer, who accompanied the Spanish Governor of Texas on a lengthy exploration through Louisiana, Texas, and Mexico. A unique southwestern set with a few interesting deviations—including three volcanos!

L’Isle: A Free 18th Century Battlefield Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

L’Isle: An 18th Century Battlefield Brush Set

A departure from the norm, this set is based on the Plan Batalii map which was included in a special edition of The First Atlas of Russia in 1745. A detailed view of a battle during the Russo-Turkish War of 1735–1739. Canon! Units! Battles! Perfect to map out the combat scenarios in your fantasy stories.

Widman: A Free 17th Century Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Widman: A 17th Century Cartography Brush Set

A 17th Century brush set based on the work of Georgio Widman for Giovanni Giacomo de Rossi’s atlas published in 1692. A fantastic example of Cantelli da Vignola’s influence and a solid set for any fantastic map. This is the workhorse of antique map brush sets—perfect for nearly any setting.

Walser: An 18th Century Cartography Brush Set

An 18th Century brush set based on the work of Gabriel Walser with a focus on small farms and ruins and a solid set of mountain and hills. This is a great brush set to see how Vignola’s influence persisted across generations. It was etched over 80 years after the Widman set but you’ll find a few familiar symbols within.

Lumbia: A Free Sketchy Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Lumbia: A Sketchy Cartography Brush Set

A sketchy style brush set I drew myself that focuses on unique hills and mountains and personal customizability. My attempt at trying to channel the sort of map a barkeep would draw for a band of hearty adventurers. It includes extra-large brushes for extremely high-resolution maps.

Lehmann: A Hatchure Brush Set

Named after Austrian topographer Johann Georg Lehmann creator of the Lehmann hatching system in 1799, this is a path-focused brush set designed for Adobe Illustrator that attempts to captures the hand-drawn style unique 19th Century hachure-style mountains.


Dead Drop: Missives from the desk of K. M. AlexanderWant to stay in touch with me? Sign up for Dead Drop, my rare and elusive newsletter. Subscribers get news, previews, and notices on my books before anyone else delivered directly to their inbox. I work hard to make sure it’s not spammy and full of interesting and relevant information.  SIGN UP TODAY →

Donia: A Free 17th Century Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Donia: A Free 17th Century Settlement Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

“Uniqueness” is the primary quality I look for when searching for source material for brush sets. As a rule, cartographers tend to gravitate toward standardization—and for a good reason, familiar signs and symbols allow for easier comprehension. While the uniformity we see today took centuries to homogenize, along the way we got some incredible deviations.

Today’s set highlights one of those departures, and it makes for a fine brush set that would serve any fantasy map well. Taken from 1686’s Isola di Malta etched by Francesco Donia who detailed the cities, towns, churches, and fortifications of the nation of Malta. I particularly like how Donia rendered the uniqueness inherent to each of the individual settlements. They’re all different! But these aren’t the slight Blaeu-like approach with subtle variations. Donia rendered individual buildings which allowed each city to feel unique and purposeful.

A sample of the Donia set

If you’re looking for flora, you’ll want to go elsewhere. This is a set focused on human constructions—cities, towns, castles, churches, towers, fort, even a fountain! It’s not as extensive as some sets, just a little over a hundred brushes. But, it will play well with any other flora-focused brush set so don’t be afraid to mix and match it’s your fantasy world! Do what feels right.

Within Donia, you’ll discover:

  • 33 Cities
  • 20 Churches
  • 2 Fancy Villas
  • 7 Forts
  • 10 Towers
  • 9 Unique Settlement Brushes
  • 20 Mountains
  • 10 Mountain Ranges
  • 12 Cartouches

The button below links to a ZIP file that contains a Photoshop brush set (it’ll work in GIMP as well) and a transparent PNG in case you’re using a program that doesn’t support Adobe brush files. Click here to view the PNG in your browser. Heads up: it’ll come up black and look broken if viewed in Chrome, but trust me, they’re all there.


DOWNLOAD DONIA v1.1


Version 1.1 Update: Minor change in the description to be more accurate—from “Cartography” to “Settlement” want to make sure people realize this set is primarily focused on cities, towns, towers, churches, castles, etc. If you have v1.0 be aware there is no change to the content. (I do concede, the included mountains are pretty cool.)


As with all of my brush sets, Donia is free for any use and is distributed with a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License that means you can freely use it in commercial work and distribute adaptations. While attribution is a part of the license, I personally don’t care. All I did was convert these into modern brushes, Francesco Donia did all the real work—so if you need to give someone credit, give it to him. (That said, it’s absolutely not necessary.)

Enjoy Donia!

Feel free to show me what you created by sending me an email or finding me on Twitter. I love seeing how these brushes get used, and I’d be happy to share your work with my readers.


💸 Supporting This Work

If you like the Donia brush set (or any of my free brushes, really) and would like to support my work, instead of a donation, consider buying one of my weird speculative fiction novels. The first book—The Stars Were Right—is only $2.99 on eBook.

You can find all my books in stores and online. Visit bellforgingcycle.com to learn more about the series. Tell your friends!

And what’s a pulpy urban fantasy novel without a map? When my 2nd book in the series launched I shared a map detailing the expanded world, you can check it out here.


🗺 More Map Brushes

Donia isn’t the only brush set I’ve released. Below are links to other free brush sets with a wide variety of styles all free and all open for personal or commercial use, you should be able to find something that works for your project.

Blaeu: A Free 17th Century Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Blaeu: A Free 17th Century Cartography Brush

Based on Joan Blaeu’s Terræ Sanctæ—a 17th-century tourist map of the Holy Land—this set includes a ton of unique and varied signs as well as a large portion of illustrative cartouches that can add a flair authenticity to any fantasy map. Elegant and nuanced, everything works within a system, but nearly every sign is unique.

Aubers: A Free 18th Century Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Aubers: An 18th Century Cartography Brush Set

An 18th Century brush set based on a map from 1767 detailing the journey of François Pagès, a French naval officer, who accompanied the Spanish Governor of Texas on a lengthy exploration through Louisiana, Texas, and Mexico. A unique southwestern set with a few interesting deviations—including three volcanos!

L’Isle: A Free 18th Century Battlefield Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

L’Isle: An 18th Century Battlefield Brush Set

A departure from the norm, this set is based on the Plan Batalii map which was included in a special edition of The First Atlas of Russia in 1745. A detailed view of a battle during the Russo-Turkish War of 1735–1739. Canon! Units! Battles! Perfect to map out the combat scenarios in your fantasy stories.

Widman: A Free 17th Century Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Widman: A 17th Century Cartography Brush Set

A 17th Century brush set based on the work of Georgio Widman for Giovanni Giacomo de Rossi’s atlas published in 1692. A fantastic example of Cantelli da Vignola’s influence and a solid set for any fantastic map. This is the workhorse of antique map brush sets—perfect for nearly any setting.

Walser: An 18th Century Cartography Brush Set

An 18th Century brush set based on the work of Gabriel Walser with a focus on small farms and ruins and a solid set of mountain and hills. This is a great brush set to see how Vignola’s influence persisted across generations. It was etched over 80 years after the Widman set but you’ll find a few familiar symbols within.

Lumbia: A Free Sketchy Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Lumbia: A Sketchy Cartography Brush Set

A sketchy style brush set I drew myself that focuses on unique hills and mountains and personal customizability. My attempt at trying to channel the sort of map a barkeep would draw for a band of hearty adventurers. It includes extra-large brushes for extremely high-resolution maps.

Lehmann: A Hatchure Brush Set

Named after Austrian topographer Johann Georg Lehmann creator of the Lehmann hatching system in 1799, this is a path-focused brush set designed for Adobe Illustrator that attempts to captures the hand-drawn style unique 19th Century hachure-style mountains.


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