Making a City part 5

Now it is time to leave CC3 behind and start to do some Colour correction in Photoshop. CC3 has a lot of advantages when it comes to making city maps. It is easy to use and you can quickly come up with a very good looking city map. One of the drawbacks however, in my opinion, is that the colour palette used in the included styles are a bit too bright. That is something I usually change by opening up the finished map in Photoshop and applying some filters and effects.

This guide is not meant to be cut in stone, it’s more a way to show you how it can be done. You can pick bits and pieces from here and add to your maps. You might feel that some steps are unnecessary or that some are missing. See it more as an inspirational guide.

As you can see in the picture above I’ve added eleven layers to the map to get the look and feeling I’m after. First of all I add the layers I’ve marked as 1 and 2. They are for a start purely copies of the background image.

1. On the first layer I apply the Pixel bender filter’s oil paint effect. Pixel bender is a free addon from Adobe that let you apply different effects by using the GPU on your graphics card. This makes it possible to do some really great stuff. With the oil filter the best way of working is just testing your way through the different settings. Don’t worry if the effect comes out a bit strong. You can reduce it later by lowering the opacity of the layer.

2. The oil paint filter has a tendency to blur the image a bit, and we want our map to be clear and sharp. To achieve this I apply the Other/High Pass filter in Photoshop to the second layer. This will make the layer grey and the details light up a bit. You’re looking for a bit of a neon feeling in the picture here. When you have applied the filter change the layer setting from Normal to Overlay. This will sharpen the details in the image that got blurred in the earlier step. Again if you feel that the effect is a bit too strong just lower the opacity of the layer.

3. Now we have a nice and sharp map with a oil paint feeling but we do need some texture to make it look more genuine. For this I’m adding a texture that I’ve downloaded from the Cartographers Guild’s forum. Set the layer of the texture to Multiply. This will darken the image a lot, but don’t worry we fix this in the next step.

4-5. Time to fix the lighting in the map. At the moment the map is way too dark. To change this I add two adjustment layers/Curves. The first one (the fifth layer in the picture just to complicate things) I use to lighten up the whole map. The second one (the fourth layer) is used to darken the waters. Here I’m using the layer mask to apply the effect only to the water areas.

6. Now it is time to reduce the colours of the map to avoid the cartoonish feeling it has at the moment. For this I’m adding a new Adjustment layer/Gradient map that will turn the image into a black and white. I change the opacity setting to 50%. This will let the colours bleed through the layer but the colours will be reduced. You have to try how much you want to reduce the opacity. It depends a bit on what end result you’re after.

7. Next layer is also an Adjustment layer, levels. As you can see I’m very fond of adjustment layers. The big reason for this is that you can easily go back and change the settings or even remove the layer completely if you’re not satisfied with the result.

As you can see in the picture above what I do is that I move the white and black arrow into the middle on the graph. This will clear up the picture a bit. Be a bit careful with the settings here or you will over expose the picture which means that you will lose details.

8. Next step is to add some shadows to the forest and land. Add a new layer and fill it with 50% grey. Change the layer settings to Overlay. This will make the grey colour to disappear. Now you select the Burn tool and change the exposure to 15% and start to draw. As you will see youre now creating shadows in the map. I’m using this to make the forest a bit more interesting and alive and to add hills.

9-10. Now we’re nearly done, but the map is at the moment a bit blue (or at least mine is) and I want to change this. To fix this I’m adding yet another adjustment layer, Colour balance. In here you can increase or decrease the colours of the picture, or more correctly if you increase Red you’re decreasing Cyan and so on. When I’m done with the layer I’m still not fully satisfied so I’m adding the adjustment layer/Hue and saturation to the map to decrease the colour a bit more.

11. This layer just includes the black frame around the map.

Well that’s about it. The map is done, except labeling, and we now have a map that in my opinion has a much more appealing atmosphear than the one that comes straight from CD3. Below you can see the differense in the map before and after I’ve edited it in Photoshop.


Making a City part 4

In this post we will create the outskirts of the city, farmlands and the ruins. First of all you have to decide what parts of the city that will be farmland and what part will be ruins. In this map I wanted to create the feeling that the city is situated in the middle of an old ruined city. The two closest islands to the east and west of the city will consist of farmland. Those areas are close to the city and will be easy to protect as well. On the north part of the western island you can also see that a part of the old city wall has been taken into use again, to protect the city from whatever hides outside.

When I create farmland I always start by putting in all the roads and houses. Usually you will have a cluster of houses just outside the city gates, the further away you get from the gates the more space you will have between houses. I then select the city hedge drawing tools and start to mark out the area where the fields will be. I’m actually using the same technique here as I do when I’m making smaller towns. For a more thorough explanation on how I draw the fields see my Mapping a small town part 4 post from January this year.

When I’m done with all the fields the map looks like the picture below, so still some ruins to put in.

To complete the fields in the map I also export a map from CD3 where all the land is yellow. In this way I can combine them in Photoshop and paint in some yellow fields among the green ones. This will give you a more natural look than if the fields are just green. See my Mapping a small town part 6 post for more info on how to do this. The yellow version of the map looks like the picture below.

You can of course add in all the yellow fields in CD3, but I’ve found that to be a lot more time consuming then doing it by combining the two pictures above in a third party program. This program doesn’t need to be Photoshop, use the program that you feel comfortable with.

The next step would be to add in some ruins in the picture. Here I must say that CD3 doesn’t really have any good styles to work with, so I had to make something up myself. Creating a completely new style wasn’t something I felt I had the time or knowledge to do, but I think a good ruined city style would be a great future annual style add on (are you listening Profantasy?). Sure you have some ruins in the program that you can use, but for me a ruined city mainly consists of the foundations of the houses and maybe some larger, more intact, buildings.

So I decided to draw in some random roads and houses using the CD3 B Ruins Grey buildings. They’re not perfect, but they are a good base symbol to continue working from.

When I’ve put in all the roads and larger buildings in the map I’d export it again from CD3. This means that I now have three different versions of the map, which I’m going to put together in Photoshop, the two different ones with yellow and green fields and this one with a green background and ruins in the outskirts of the city.

At this stage I had to work on the ruins a bit in Photoshop to make them look more like ruins. If you put the map with ruins in one layer and put it on top of a layer consisting of the map with green fields. You can start to erase bits and pieces from the top layer, when you do this the layer below will be visible instead of the top one. In this way I erased all the inner parts of the buildings, which left something that looked more like the foundation of a house. I also erased parts of the larger buildings to make them look more like ruins with broken roofs and missing walls.

In the picture above you can see a part of the map where you have the ruins as they look in CD3 on the left side, and how they turned out after some editing in Photoshop on the right side. In my opinion the right side looks more like ruins then the left side. Or at least more like the ruins I wanted in this particular map.

Making a City part 3

We now have the basic layout of the city. Next step is to put in more roads and try to decide where the majority of buildings will be placed. Sometimes when you create a large city the process of placing all the houses can be overwhelming. To make this easier I try to divide the city into smaller areas. I then place the houses one area at the time, in this way you divide the work into smaller goals that you can reach quite quick. It will make the whole process much easier. In the picture below you can see how I’ve divided the city of lost souls into seven areas to fill in with houses. A good idea can also be to try to make every area intresting by adding a major house, villa or temple in it. It will add some details to your city and will make the end product more fun to look at.

At this stage I also try to locate where the major squares will be, naturally they will be situated where the large roads meet up. I also like to add some smaller squares in front of the gates, usually this is where people have to wait to get in and out of the city. You also have to decide what density your city will have. Nearly all cities have some sort of park or green area, older cities could actually have quite a lot of farmland inside the walls. In this case how ever the farmlands are outside the city walls.

When I start to place the houses I zoom in and out to quite a lot to check the progress of the area I’m doing to make sure that the network of roads and houses looks natural. A good thing to think about is if the area you’re making is planned or if it has grown over time. To understand the difference in how a planned city looks compared to one that has grown over time you can look at some modern cities in USA (for example New York) and compare it to some older ones in Europe (for example Venice). The planned ones tend to have straight roads in squares and the grown ones usually have roads and city blocks in all kind of versions. At first you can’t really see any logic in the city construction, but after a while you will start to see that roads lead between squares and larger empty areas usually consist of an important building and its surroundings.

When I start to map an area I always start with the roads. First I add in some larger main roads, I then switch to a smaller road to make intersections between the larger roads. In the picture below you can see a nearly finished inner part of the city. I’m working on the last area and have put in the roads and squares. The squares I try to place in areas that feel natural. Also try to have some space between squares, a square is a place to meet and trade, so they will be evenly spread out in the city.

When I add houses to a city or town I always start by using the Random street tool. The ability to quickly add all houses on a street is one of City Designer 3’s best advantages. When you’ve added a lot of streets it isn’t always possible to use the Random street tool everywhere, in those cases I add the houses one by one. Sometimes you also have to go back after adding houses with the Random street tool and delete houses that don’t fit in for one reason or another.

When I use the Ramdom street tool I try to make the houses come as close to each other as possible. To do that you have to change the settings a bit. Right click on the Random street tool icon and in the street option window you click the Street settings button. The settings I used for the map you can see in the picture below.

The most important setting is the Distance between houses that I always set to 1, both as Min and Max value. In this way you will get the houses as close as possible togehther. The other values depend on the scale of the map that you’re doing. You have to try some different settings here and see what works out.

When you’ve added houses to all your areas in the town you are done with the central parts of your city. Don’t forget to zoom out once in a while and check that the streets look good. I often have to go back and add some more roads to make the city more crowded. In the next post we will start on the outskirts of the city, farmlands and ruins.

Making a City part 2

Ok so far we have the landscape where the city will be situated. When creating the City of the Lost I combined graphics from three different styles in City designer 3. First of all the actual landscape, which is what we have at the moment, is made in City style A, later on when I add in houses I mainly use the graphics from City style B. The reason for this is that those houses looks more painted then the one in style A that looks more 3d generated. Which one to prefer is up to you, but in the maps I do the style B graphics are better suited. In this map I’m also using some graphics from the Profantasy March annual, Jon Roberts city style. In that style I’m especially fond of the city walls and towers. However the walls in this style are a bit harder to place due to being built from a static graphic file. So you have to watch the corners because they tend to create some gaps there. A good way to hide this is to place a tower on the “bad” spot.

When I start a new town I usually always start by building the town wall and deciding where the gates will be. In this way you will get a clear view and idea on where the majority of houses will be placed, so you can plan ahead and get a good balance in the map. In this particular map we also have three different docks, one larger and two smaller ones. In older cities the docks where often situated outside the city walls. In this way you could both tax the goods efficiently when they were entering the actual city and you also didn’t need to compromise the security of the town. So I’m placing the two docks on the central island outside the walls. The small third dock however is situated in an area where you have no walls. This dock is probably used for more local trading, not taking in ships from abroad. The idea with the docks is also that they are remnants from an earlier city that has been reused. So naturally it is around the docks that the “new” city is built.

Now when we have the walls and gates of the city I put in the main roads. The logic here is that all main roads in a city usually will take you from gate A to gate B. Somewhere in between you will have some main areas like a square or a city hall etc. In this way you will also create some natural boundaries for different districts in your city. It will make it easier for you to plan the next step, adding more roads and start adding houses.

Making a City part 1

In my last post I presented the City of Lost Souls. The idea of the city has been in my mind for a long time as a city that originally was created by outcasts from the ordinary society. Outcasts that in the end have created a powerful city, a city made untouchable because of its location in the middle of a maze like river delta.

In this post and the next couple of post I’ll try to describe the process I’ve developed when I create cities. I don’t say that this is the best way to do it but it is one way to do it. To exemplify the process I’m using I will use the map of the City of Lost Souls.

When I decide to make a map it is always easier to start if you can get some inspiration from the real world. One of the best tools you can use is Google earth. You can learn tons of information just by moving around the globe looking at old cities, land formations and following rivers through the landscape. In this particular case I looked a lot at river deltas and cities situated at the end of rivers.

You will never find anything that will look exactly like the part you want to create, but the idea here is to find real world location that can inspire you, and that you can copy bits and pieces from. In this way you can create a map that will look much more convincing than if you just draw something from your head.

I soon found two cities that gave me the right feeling. These cities are Lübeck in the northern parts of Germany and Gdansk in Poland. None of them was perfect but I liked the flow of the river around the old part of Lübeck (as you can clearly see in the map), but this part missed a harbor. So I picked the harbor from Gdansk for the map. I also added in some more rivers to get the feeling that the city really is situated in a river delta.

In City Designer 3 (CD3) I then started a new map and started to draw the rivers. During the process I looked at the cities for inspiration but still trying to do something original. While creating the island where the actual town would be I draw the outline of the harbor already at this stage. In this way the shadows between river and land would be right later on. So at this stage I had a quite clear picture on how I would progress with the city. In the picture below you can see the result when all the terrain was done. Next step would be to start on the actual city.

Add texture to your map

In my last post I published a map made in the black and white city style from the 2010 annual. As I said in that post I am very fond of black and white maps and the style is both fun to work with and have a nice selection of buildings. However I think that the end result is a bit to white. Sometimes, if you have large white areas in the map the white tend to be a bit dazing. To fix this I like to add some texture to my Black and white maps. This will turn down the white areas in them.

If you look at the picture below you will see a part of my Ponte Portore map, as it comes out of City Designer 3.

As you can see in the picture the white areas are very white, at least I think so. To tone down the white I open up the map in Photoshop. In Photoshop I’m going to add a new layer with a texture, in this case I’m adding a paper texture by Coyotemax that I’ve acquired over at the cartographers guild. Because this is a Black and white map I’m converting the coloured texture into black and white. The layer should be on top of the actual map layer. Now you will only see the texture. Change the layer setting from normal to multiply. This will let you see the map layer through the texture layer. The result will look something like the picture below.

As you can see it will make the whole map very dark, too dark actually. So we have to fix that.
Create a new adjustment layer, Curves…. This layer should be the top layer in the map. With Curves you can adjust the light in the picture. You do this by changing the vertical line in the curves settings window. If you get too much light in the picture, don’t worry. You can easily fix that with the adjustment layers opacity setting.
After having done this the picture will look something like the example below.

As you can see in the picture the white is now toned down and you have a nice texture in the map.
I actually use some sort of texture in nearly all my maps. By doing that you get more of a feeling that  the map is hand painted. An that is usually the feeling I’m after.

Mapping a small town part 6

Now it’s time to continue with the map in Photoshop. To be able to complete the map in photoshop you must have CS4 or CS5. The reason for this is that you need a free plug-in from Adobe that is called Pixel Bender (you can download it from We need this plug-in to get the painting effect on the map.

As you remember from last post you now have two pdf files, one with green grass/fields and one with yellow grass/fields. We are now going to combine these maps. Drag the yellow map/picture over to the green map/picture. You will now get two layers on top of each other. Lower the opacity on the top layer so you can get it exactly on top of the lower one. This is very important or the result will look strange. When that is done add a new layer mask to the top layer. To add a Layer Mask click on the  Add layer mask icon (down at the bottom of the layer window). This will add a mask filled with white (reveals all). Mark the layer mask and press ctrl+I, this will invert the mask to black (hides all).

Now it is time to select the Brush tool (B). Select white as the colour you will use. Now draw on the fields you want yellow. All the drawing has to be done in the layer mask! Remember white will reveal and black will hide. In this way you can quite quickly get some nice fields that will alternate in green and yellow.

The picture below shows how the end result looks on part of the map and the same areas layermask.

When you’re done with all the fields you will have a map that looks like this:

The next step is to get the painting effect. First of all you can flatten the image. Copy the layer two times, this will give you three layers with the background. Mark the middle layer, this will be the Pixel Bender layer. Select Pixel Bender, you will find it under the filter menu. In Pixel Bender click on the drop down menu and select the Oil paint filter. This will in a blink turn your map into an oil painting (this is really cool I think).

On the right side you have some sliders that you can use to adjust the settings so that you get the kind of effect that you want. It is generally better to do too much then too little, we can adjust that a bit later as well. When you are satisfied with the result press OK. In the picture below you can see my settings:

When you are back in Photoshop’s main windows you can always adjust the Oil paint effect with the opacity setting of the layer. Try some different settings until you are satisfied.

One of the drawbacks with the oil paint filter is that you loose some details, we’re going to fix that now. Select the third layer and select Other/High Pass from the filter menu. High pass will make your picture look grey and strange. Move the slider until your picture looks like it’s glowing with neon lights, like in the picture below.

When you’re done click OK. Back in the main window you select the third layer again and change the layer setting from Normal to Overlay. This will give you the details back in the picture. Usually the effect gets a bit strong so it is always good to lower the opacity a bit to get the best result.

The picture is at the moment quite bright in its colours so we have to fix that, but it has to wait until the next post.