Tag Archives: tutorial

Tutorial: How to Use My Brush Sets

A few people have asked me how one would go about using my brush sets. (Or anyone’s brush set, really.) It’s a great question! It’s easy to see how daunting it’d look for the layperson. But the sets themselves are effortless to use, and that’s their intent. I want to empower writers or gamemasters to create detailed maps that are period-authentic for their fantasy work, be it a book, RPG, or a personal map for a gaming session. This is the onus of #NoBadMaps.

This post is going to serve as a step by step guide on use. But first, some introduction to the whole brushes thing: brushes were designed to mimic different mediums digitally—so one could develop brushes for oil paints, graphite lead, charcoal, watercolor, etc. The brush would randomize and do its best to emulate the little details left by those tools in the real world. My brush sets are a hack of that system. Instead of mimicking mediums, we’re doing something slightly different.

Think of these brushes as stamps.
Think of these brushes as stamps.

Think of these brushes as stamps. Only it’s one you never have to ink, and you can see where each symbol/shape/element is placed. You’re not dragging a mouse or drawing with a stylus across your document. No artistic skill is needed. All you’re doing is placing and clicking. The pattern goes like this: 1) select the brush you want. 2) position it. 3) click, and you’re done. 4) on to the next object! It’s that simple. By utilizing this system, one can rapidly develop a detailed map that feels hand-drawn. Instead of rendering each object one by one, we’re just stamping them into place.

As with my tutorial on coastlines, 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. For this tutorial, you need minimal experience using Photoshop, Gimp, or whatever tool you choose—this tutorial sits firmly in Beginner Level territory.

Let’s begin!


Step 1 – Download a brush set

Step 01 - Download

Download the set by clicking on the button from my site. For this demo, I am going to use Walser, one of my more popular brush sets. You can find links to all the sets over on my Free Stuff page. There’s a variety to choose from, pick whatever you like best.


Step 2 – Install the brush set

Step 02 - Install

Your browser will download the file. Simply locate it and install the brush set by unzipping the file (double-click on it) and then double-click on the .abr file, this will automatically install the brush set into Photoshop. Click here for step by step instructions on installing brushes for GIMP.


Step 3 – Set up your document

Step 03 - Set Up
For this demo, I am using a 1400x1400px artboard with a pre-drawn landmass to save a little time. I name the layer with the outline “Border.” You can draw your landmass any way you want, scan in a drawing, or download my demo map (pictured) and use it.


[!] Tip: There are plenty of tutorials out there on how to do this. But if you want a fantastic guide on creating realistic coastlines, check out Mike Summers’ tutorial. It’s a simple solution with some reliable results.


Step 4 – Locate your brushes

Step 04 - Locate Your Brushes

Now that you have a landmass, it’s time to add the details. Select the Brush Tool (B) then open the Walser Cartography Brushes folder using the Brush Dropdown (pictured) or from the Brush Palette located under Window in the File Menu.


Step 5 – Select your first brush

Step 5 - Select Your First Brush
Select the brush you want from the subdirectories. I take a great deal of time labeling and organizing these sets so you can find what you want quickly. I tend to start with the most significant landform first and work backward, but you can place your brushes any way you want. In this instance, I selected “Mountain 1.”


Step 6 – Place your brush

Step 6 - Place a Brush
Your cursor will change to an outline of the brush you selected. Make sure to choose the color you want. I usually go with #000000 (Black) to mimic ink. (You can change this by clicking on the Foreground Color located on the bottom of your toolbar. Just click on the swatch, choose a color, and click Okay.)

While not necessary, I personally like to use a new layer for each “type” of symbol. In this instance, I created a New Layer (Shift+⌘+N) or click Layer > New > Layer…  in the File Menu. The New Layer panel will appear, name your new layer “Mountains” then click “Okay.” You’ll now have a new layer. Now, just click to place your brush where you want it.

Boom! That’s it! You made a mountain!


[!] Tip: Want more nuance in placing your objects? Give each individual object its own layer. That way you can use your arrow keys to nudge it to the exact spot you want. Be sure to name each layer in a convention that makes sense to you. There’s nothing worse than having to hunt through a mass of misnamed layers.


Step 7 – Expand your mountain range

Step 07 - Expand Your Mountain Range
Repeat the process to expand your mountain ranges wherever you want them. Be sure to mix and match symbols to give your map that classic hand-drawn feel. This is why I include so many different variances in my sets, the less repeating symbols you have, the more custom your map will look.


Step 8 – Add hills

Step 08 - Add Hills

Create another New Layer (Shift+⌘+N) and name it “Hills” then repeat the process using the hill brushes. Place ’em wherever you want! As I mentioned above, think of the brushes as stamps. You’re just stamping away placing the landmasses, flora, and settlements wherever you feel like. The pattern and layout are entirely up to you. As Zombo.com used to sagely say: “The only limit is yourself.”


[!] Tip: If you want more advice on creating realistic geography for your fantasy worlds I’d recommend checking out Brandon Sanderson’s Worldbuilding Geography lecture, it’s a great entry into geography development. Check out Part I and Part II on YouTube.

[!] Tip: Remember that rivers come from elevation, generally after this step, I’d consider where I’d extend my rivers. You can see I drew in a few wider rivers in my initial border, but they would need to be lengthened to finalize this map.


Step 9 – Add flora and more

Step 9 - Add Flora and More
Follow the same steps as above for your flora. You can be as sparse or detailed as you want. When you’re finished, you can move on to your settlements. Just add a New Layer, label it “Towns” and repeat the process above. Once complete label your towns and cities with the Type Tool (T).

From here you can style your map any way you want. Add texture. Add effects. Weather the edges. Mess with the Blending Modes. There are loads of options to customize and tweak your design. Do what fits your vision!


[!] Tip: Not finding what you’re looking in Walser? Try mixing and matching brush sets! Different engravers highlight different aspects, so you never know what you’ll find to make your map your own.


You did it!

That’s it! There’s no step 10. You created a map just by clicking and placing the brushes you wanted, where you wanted, and it’s already looking pretty amazing. That’s the beauty of these brush sets, it allows anyone with a computer to create an authentically styled map quickly and easily. Hopefully, you found this tutorial simple to follow, and you were able to achieve the look you wanted. As always, let me know if I need to clarify anything.

If you’re looking for more advice on how to continue or expand the design your map check out Mapping Resources for Authors and GMs—it’s a handy resource detailing a variety of options and communities for authors and GMs who want to expand their map-creation skills.

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. All my brushes are 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 the novels from my Bell Forging Cycle series. The first book—The Stars Were Right—is only $2.99 on eBook. You can find all three in stores and online, and the fourth is due soon. Visit bellforgingcycle.com to learn more about the series. Leave reviews and 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.

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 →

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 →