I would like to design maps that include a mix of current cities, historical cities, natural landmarks, roads (current and old). These maps need to be accurate, but I would like to be able to customize them in what I include in them, the labels, orientation etc.. The possibility to change the type of projection (Mercator, Winkel-Tripel..) would be a plus.

I have no experience in graphic design and like to do this to inspire me for my travels. Also, I'd like if possible to use free tools, and don't mind spending time to learn how to use them.

Thank you.

  • 1
    My suggestion is for you to look at free GIS tools as a start. Graphic design would be the very final step, and you might even find that you don't really need to get into graphic design. Post your question in this community made for map makers gis.stackexchange.com , but do your research first
    – fadelm0
    Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 23:01
  • @fadelm0 Even if it turns out that GIS is the right tool for this, I'd love to keep this question and its answers here. I disagree with graphic design being the last part of this process--it really depends on your aim and style. Please don't encourage people to double-post questions on different sites, that throws off stats big time. In this case, it also limits the Asker to particular tool. Thanks for your input, would you mind elaborating a bit on your advice for GIS and turn it into an answer? Thanks!
    – Vincent
    Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 8:34
  • @Vincent The asker was specifically asking for a way to design accurate and customizable maps, whose projection type can be changed at will, and which will include cities, historical sites, natural landmarks, roads.... There is no way that you can start with a graphic design package, be very geographically accurate, and maintain the level of control she is asking for. You HAVE to start from GIS, unless you're just looking to make simple diagrams.
    – fadelm0
    Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 0:00
  • As for my answer, it's been a while since I've dabbled in GIS, and I didn't delve too deeply, so I don't consider myself authorized to give an answer on it. That's why I guided her to the right direction for further questions. I didn't encourage to double post though, as you can notice I told her to do her research first. I'm pretty sure she will have completely new questions after the research :)
    – fadelm0
    Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 0:05
  • @fadelm0 Regardless, it is a question that a graphic designer can very realistically have, so I'd still want to keep the Q here. :)
    – Vincent
    Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 8:28

3 Answers 3


You are asking for a tool that let you manage map in the same time doing your graphics styles.

There is a tool that can do what you are looking for within Illustrator and it is a plugin called Avenza Mapublisher. Bbut I dont think that you are away from using a GIS package, you still need some GIs package like ArcGIS or ArcMap to export your map to Mapublisher.

  • So I can start out working on the map using an open-source GIS software, but then is there a free open-source alternative to using Mapublisher and Illustrator to then work on the design?
    – Lamia
    Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 15:57
  • Unfortunately, there is no free alternative for Mapublisher, but see my answer for a free alternative way of achieving what you're looking for.
    – fadelm0
    Commented Oct 14, 2016 at 16:30

Mapbox studio is free to use and lets you customize Google-style maps in great detail via a scripting language.

If styling is not something you need, but just to pin down places with notes and pictures, try Google My Maps.


There is a free tool called Maperitive. You can use it to generate base vector maps with custom styles. However, these are based on the free OpenStreetMap, and generally lack details, streets, and labels for many areas.

What you can do though is export SVG maps from Maperitive, then edit them in a vector graphics package like Adobe Illustrator (Inkscape is a free alternative). This way you can add missing streets, completely control colors and line thicknesses, and add labels.

Unfortunately there is currently no free package that makes this process easier and more fluent. But this might be the best option.

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