Tag Archives: photoshop

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.


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 →



I am a firm believer that creators should help other creators. I don’t look kindly on folks who refuse to share process, advice, and experience. The world is already a savage, selfish, and cutthroat cesspool, and dragging that attitude into the creative sphere is counterproductive. It doesn’t matter if it’s writing strategy, musical tips, painting advice, or one’s approach to performance; we should—as a rule—lift each other up. Make the world a better place.

Enter: #NoBadMaps. My next venture into doing just that.

For much of my life, I’ve been a designer. I’ve worked for companies large and small and I love it. It’s offered unique challenges, it’s changed the way I’ve viewed the world, and it’s made me reevaluate how I see others. (Plus, it made it a lot easier to release my own books.) But not everyone is a designer. That’s okay. We have strengths and weaknesses and we should use our strengths to help others.


Recently, many of you have noted my release of Photoshop brush sets designed for the creation of fantasy maps. There is a reason for this and it harkens back to focus on helping others. Within the realm of genre fiction many readers, myself included, are keen on maps. They can help us see a world more fully and they go a long way to enliven the text with a sense of place. Are they necessary? Not always, but much of my own reading has been enhanced with the inclusion of a map. I want to pass that experience onto others as well.

We’re nearly two decades into the 21st Century and we’ve seen the rise of indie publishing and along side that enormous growth in genre fiction. It’s no surprise that many authors—traditional and indie—want to make their own maps. But, it can be a struggle. Fantasy cartography is a skill set that takes time to hone, most writers want to write and don’t want to put in the effort to learn map-making. This is why I started #NoBadMaps—my goal is to make it easy for authors to create high-quality maps for their novels and do it in a way that doesn’t cost them an arm and a leg. While there is no substitute for professional illustration, I want to do my damnedest to help writers get as close to professional as they can.


Using my brushes is easy: you load them in Photoshop, create a document, and place what you want where you want it with a few mouse clicks. Point-and-click. There’s very little drawing, no scanning, nothing complicated. In fact using any of my brush sets you can make super cool maps in minutes. That’s intentional. The end result is to empower authors to create better maps that fit the style of their books.

Of course, I have rules.

  1. The brush sets will always be free. This is key, after all the goal is to help others. If I charge for this stuff it feels predatory. All of the work I am using is in the public domain, all I am doing is making the style more accessible. No sense charging for what is already free, ya dig?
  2. The brush sets will always be royalty-free. I want to see people use my brushes for both personal and commercial projects. The maps are already public domain, no reason why the brush sets shouldn’t be as well.
  3. The brush sets will always be varied. One of the things I want is to help recreate that feeling of hand-drawn maps. That means I will do my best to capture and share the imperfections found in ink-on-paper maps. If you want machine-made creations, look elsewhere. We’re going for authenticity with #NoBadMaps.
  4. The brush sets will connect to history. I think this is vital. It’s why I name the sets after the engravers when possible and like to include a brief history on the map and the maker. I think it’s important to recognize the creators and in a way, this helps their creations live on.

With Monday’s release of L’Isle, I’ve now shared five sets in total and I have several more on the way. I’ve gotten enough questions that I felt this post was necessary to address concerns from my readers. Let me make this clear: my focus is still on writing, it will always be on writing, but I want to share my experience and empower others to create great maps. My brushes are a way of helping other authors create something beautiful.

A few people have asked how they can support this work. My first rule is very clear: these brush sets will always be free. I’m not planning on starting a GoFundMe, nor do I want to manage a Kickstarter, and—if I’m being honest—I cringe a little at Patreon. (A subject for another post, providing Patreon lasts that long.) If you want to support me and my work: buy what I create. In my case, it’s my books. Buy ‘em. Read ‘em. Tell people about ‘em. Leave honest reviews. Give them to friends. They’re good. They get positive reviews. They’re wonderfully weird.

That’s it. That’s how you can support me. It’s simple.

Going forward I plan on doing a few things:

  • Keep writing. I recently put up some big numbers in Gleam Upon the Waves and I have updated the tracker in the side bar. No ETA on launch, but I’m moving along.
  • Release more brush sets. I have at least three that I’m finalizing. So expect more to come. I’m really focused on finding variety. There are thousands of old maps, and making sure each set remains unique is key.
  • Write some more.
  • Tutorials! I want to share tips, tricks, and ways to best optimize the brush sets for your projects. This might include expanding beyond the typical map elements of landforms, flora, and settlements.
  • Write. Write. Write.

#NoBadMaps will continue for the foreseeable future. If you have questions feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email. There’s a lot more stuff to come, and I am excited to share it with everyone.

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 →