How to create an illustrated map

By in Blog 6th Dec, 2018 0 Comments

In this tutorial I’m going to describe how I approach creating an illustrated map step-by-step. The examples in this tutorial are taken from a real commission for Wanderer Magazine who asked me to design a map of Hanoi in Vietnam.

1. First you need to decide on the landmarks to include on the map. In this example the client provided me with a list of landmarks they wanted to highlight in the article, plus a few people and food item ideas. Using Google Maps you can plot each landmark and see how they are distributed across the city. If you’re choosing the landmarks yourself I’d recommend picking ones that are evenly distributed across the map so you can have an evenly balanced composition.

Google map screenshot of Hanoi

Google map screenshot of Hanoi

2. Take a screen grab of the Google map and then import this into Illustrator (or any image creation software of your choice). Place the screen grab in the top layer, set the Transparency to Multiply and lock that layer. Create a new layer underneath the top layer and you’re ready to start creating your illustrated map. By placing the Google Map in the top layer this means it’s always there for handy reference.

3. Create a base layer and choose a background colour. I tend to think of colours that somehow make me think of that City but sometimes the colour of a certain landmark will set the tone for the rest of the map. In my illustrated map of Birmingham, the Library has a distinctive blue and yellow colour scheme and in my illustrated map of New York the yellow of the taxi cab was my starting point. For this map of Hanoi I chose a warm pink that made me think of a hot bustling City.

4. Lock the background colour layer and create a new layer on top. Trace the major roads from the Google Map and add any rivers or train lines. You’ll then start to build up a network of roads and the skeleton of your map will start to emerge.

Roads are marked out on the map

Roads are marked out on the map

5. Start adding your icons and landmarks. I usually sketch them out first on paper and spend a bit of time searching the web for images of the buildings from different angles. I then import them into Illustrator so I can lay the sketches out on the map and experiment with different sizes and compositions. As I mentioned before, you’re looking for an evenly distributed composition where the landmarks are nicely spread out across the page. If a few of the landmarks are grouped together you can spread them out and then link them to their actual location with arrows. If one of your landmarks is way off the map you could add a map insert to show that this particular icon is outside of the main map.

Hanoi illustrated map with landmarks sketched out

Hanoi illustrated map with landmarks sketched out

6. Add some food and people. As well as buildings and landmarks, food and people really help bring a map to life. Think about local delicacies you could include. These kind of illustrations can also be used to fill any empty space.

7. When you’re happy with the placement of the map features, check your colours and try and get the composition to harmonise. I like to use bright contrasting colours so try to get the pops of colour balanced evenly across the map.

8. Add some decorations such as trees, small buildings and shrubs. These kind of smaller details can really bring the map together. And et voilà here is the final map of Hanoi:

Landmarks are coloured in and details added to the finished map

Landmarks are coloured in and details added to the finished map

If you have any other questions feel free to get in touch and if you’re interested in commissioning me to create an illustrated map you can email me on tomcwoolley@gmail.com

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About The Author
Tom

Tom Woolley is a freelance illustrator based in Yorkshire. He specialises in illustrated maps, 3D diagrams and vector artwork.