Any ideas how to start making a customized city map (one example below). I'm fairly good in using Illustrator and Inkscape but I'm unsure what an optimal workflow would be.


  • The optimal workflow is really up to you. Each artist has their own preferences as how to work.
    – DA01
    Nov 1, 2011 at 23:07
  • 4
    Whatever you do, DON'T use a script font for names on the map. Anywhere. Ever. Seriously. I don't care how "authentic" or "cute" or "fantasy" it looks. It will be reduced to a blurry 5pts in the frontspiece of the book and will lose all legibility. A clean sans serif or serif is worth a thousand points of "atmosphere." Nov 1, 2011 at 23:20
  • 2
    Don't rule out scripts entirely. If you're going for an old-world style (which is much more intersting ... and time consuming), then scripts are perfectly appropriate. For example. Jan 23, 2013 at 19:11
  • OpenGeoFiction might be of interest - it uses the tools behind Open Street Map for fictional maps. Seems to be just one collaborative map though, rather than allowing lots of individual maps. Blog article on it Jun 16, 2014 at 10:16
  • Try Mapbox Studio
    – Lucian
    Jan 3, 2017 at 8:02

2 Answers 2


The easiest way:

If you want to do this in a much faster way you could go to http://www.openstreetmap.org/ and find a street map you want your map to look like. Then click 'export' and download the map as pdf (Map will be vector) which you can open in Illustrator and modify it to match your needs.

If you want to do it from scratch:

  • Start out with a number of screencaps from Google Maps to have as reference for building and street shapes.
  • Create brush styles for freeways, highways, roads, dividing lines, and other lines
  • Create common icons to be used like street indicators, highway indicators and such
  • Using one of the screencaps from google maps start by drawing all streets, highways and freeways to match using the brush styles
  • After the streets and highways are done draw your own fictitious blocks between the streets using the rest of the Google Maps screencaps
  • Add fake street names and indicators
  • Create the legend

If you'd rather start from scratch, you're talking about cartography with the difficult fact-finding and accuracy stuff cut out. It's not half as daunting a task as it initially looks - the key is in the preparation.

Broadly speaking, a typical cartography workflow (minus the research and geolocation) is:

  • Decide what details ('traits') you are including. This will become the 'palette' you have to work with. For example:
    • Roads (and how many types of road, lane, alley, etc?)
    • Rivers, streams (and how many types? Varying or constant widths?)
    • Other natural features (woods? Types of grassland? Or even, if it's small scale, individual trees?)
    • Buildings (and when will you pick out individual buildings, and when do you show blocks? And how many types of block - are there types, e.g. residential, you want to distinguish?)
    • Any non-physical regions (toponyms) - for example, districts?
    • Any other landmarks (e.g. markers for events, facilities...)?
    • Any topography (e.g. contour lines to show hills, dips, etc)?
  • Work out what level of labelling you want. Go through your list above, and pick out the ones which you want to be things that can have labels. You won't label everything of that type, but you need to fix before you start which types of labels can exist.
  • Are there any specific things you want to give iconographic or pictographic images for? These could be, marking unique or important things, or illustrations and embellishments like the fantasy monsters on medieval maps. Another list.
  • You've now got the outline of the palette of your map. Turn it into something you can work with. In illustrator, the most straightforward way is to create a graphic style or brush for each trait, and a paragraph style or character style for each type of label, and a symbol (these can be simple placeholders for now) for each pictogram or icon.
  • Then, start drawing your map, using paths, polygons and text using the above palette and nothing else. As for where to start with a fictional map, I'd recommend starting from the ground up. How do you imagine the scenery? If you're showing any topography, rivers, etc, start there.
  • For a fictional map, build the town in a logical way: start with key main streets, main buildings, districts, features, then think how the town or city might have evolved. If this building is here, what will tend to be near it? What will the main routes to and from be? Build it up until it feels like a plausible town and has the right level of detail and completeness.

Everything in a map signifies a type (and usually also, subtype) of thing, and everything about a town or city has a reason for being where it is. Maps look daunting to create, but when you pare it down to a palette appropriate for the detail you want to focus on, and when you progressively build up the town from a logical starting point, it's not that daunting.

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