Making a new symbol set

Symbolset test

When I grew up one of the first maps I really remember, if you don’t count maps of the real world, is the maps in Tolkien’s books. I can still recall when I first laid my eyes on the map of middle earth in the Lord of the rings. I was on vacation in England with my parents and I was eight years old. We went to a flea market and there they were, all three books. I remember looking in them and I was lost forever. Just seeing those maps made me understand that these has to be the greatest books ever written, so I bought them for my own money. The funny thing is that I didn’t know how to read or speak English, but that didn’t matter I could just look at those lovely maps and fill them with life from my own imagination.

Since then I’ve always been very fond of black and white maps, and then I mean black and white maps, not the ones that are black, white and grey. So when I was commissioned to do a map for a fantasy world that will be printed in a book I decided to try to do a map that really looked like those old maps from Tolkien’s books. But just making a map wasn’t all I wanted to do.

As this project might expand to more maps than the first one I decided to make a new symbol set that I could use for this map and future ones. Earlier I’ve made two style sets for Profantasy and from that experience I’ve learned a lot, especially how much quicker you can make the maps once the symbols are done.

First of all when you make symbols for a map style it is good to try to write down what you need. What different type of terrain will there be? Mountains, hills, cliffs, trees, cities, villages, volcanos etc. Write them all down on paper, or in a document on your computer. Now you have a plan on what you need, next step is to start drawing them. When you’re done and satisfied with a symbol, tick it off from the list and continue with the next. Some symbols like mountains will need more than one symbol, so in this case you just make as many as you think is necessary before you tick it off in the document.

Another important step is to test the symbols. I usually have a test map where I copy and paste the symbols into, to see that they will fit together, the map in this post is a document like that. Here I’ve tested that the mountains and trees will look good together. In my first try I realized that the trees outer lines weren’t thick enough, so I went back to the originals and made the lines thicker. In this way you will be sure that when the symbol set is done everything will work together.

Making a symbol set will take some time, but after that you’re done making maps using the symbols will be so much easier.