I’m a cartographer. A fantasy cartographer to be exact. I enjoy the look of all kinds of maps ranging from antique maps to today’s road maps. They can be viewed as art or for their wealth of information. Either way maps are amazing documents. What about maps that we are fantasy authors, gamers or fans create? These can be just as amazing because let’s be honest, the first map makers were just like us, exploring a new world of wonder.
For me their are three ways I like to create maps. Freehand, CC3 (Campaign Cartographer 3) and Wonderdraft. The latter two are cartography software. Let’s look at each of these and I’ll also add my reviews of the two software programs as well.
First off freehand is probably the most freedom you will find with drawing a map. This is where you can make what you want without anything stopping you. That said, depending on your skill level, steadiness of hand and your own imagination, your maps will be a good reflection of what you want.
On a personal note, black and white such as pen on paper or even pencil on paper is the best for freehand. There are a lot of good training videos on YouTube that can walk you through some maps and techniques as well as showcasing some amazing artists.
Check this one out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=irMXZaN4heQ
Ok that was a shameless plug for my work.
But seriously, a freehand map maybe the best option for beginners to really get a free for the layout and concept of making a world map. Start small and try an island first before building a huge world.
Campaign Cartographer 3 is a program that I often use to create some really wonderful and colorful maps. While their are pros and cons to it I would say that it is a really wonderful way to make detailed maps. The basic software has multiple selections of templates that include landscape icons and cityscapes. The biggest benefit is the fractal design of the landmasses that allows for a bit more freedom and a personal touch to the map. The rivers can be a bit tricky but overall they can also follow the same fractal layout and design. There are some creative icons to make you map stand out and at only $45 it is rather affordable for the base model. However, there are more icons and templates at the higher prices which might be worth it but I haven’t seen the need to spend it just yet, as I am still enjoying the base model.
There are some drawbacks. First off the resolution can get a bit blurry depending on the size and the icon. The black and white template, which looks great in some aspects can be more limited due to the blurriness of the final product. There is a limit to what can look good depending on the templates as well. Not every icon works or looks good on various maps. The text feature isn’t as good as other programs and in fact I usually do all my text in paint. That said, for the price and what you are able to create it is still a great program!
Lastly, there is Wonderdraft. This is a map making software, like CC3, is directly made for fantasy maps. The differences are pretty obvious. There really aren’t any templates and most everything is free hand. That gives you much more freedom to work within the software. Some random generated landmasses can be used but you can also draw it out with the mouse or pen stylus. The maps have different shading and textures that help it to stand out more in terms of the atmosphere. Some maps look much more antique than other layouts and this can give the feel of the classic rpg style maps from the old days of gaming.
The icons are hit and miss in my opinion. The more creative icons are better in Wonderdraft. While the city icons, for the base model,have less variety. It isn’t a deal breaker because there is an upgrade option. I love the text on Wonderdraft because I can move it around and form it to better fit the map. While the font variety on the base model leaves something to be desired, the versatility is amazing. The reddit community for Wonderdraft is also a big plus since you can share your work or associate with other cartographers. Starting at $30 Wonderdraft is a great option for beginners and pros.
Both these come with a single computer commercial license. Meaning that as long as you have it installed only on one computer you can sell the maps you create. That is great for the pros.
There you have it! My take on creating some pretty cool fantasy maps!