Migrator's note: Eano is the original author of this tutorial.
VERSION 0.2 - I will update this post with images and text, let me know if there are ways to make this guide better for you all. I work in digital arts so I might skip over bits that need more detail for some, I will do my best to answer all of the questions.
This guide will step through the creation of the Estelyon map and give you the information to make your own. Be prepared to put some time into it, especially the cleaning and masking tasks, this is what the quality of your map will rest on. Honestly, I could have spent at least a few more days on cleaning up the road layers, but I wanted to get back to city building and trying new mods!!!
The other big part of your map quality will be your color palette. Choose a map style you like based on what information you want to show the most, everything can't be displayed at the same level. I chose to make two versions from the same file, each showing off a different style of information; a road navigation map and a distribution map.
What this guide won’t be is a user manual for Illustrator or Photoshop, a basic level of understanding of these packages is highly recommended for this tutorial. I’ve heard great things about Paint.net, a free program that offers the features of Photoshop.
Adobe Illustrator is not necessary to create the map; I used it only to draw out the base terrain, Expressways and Highways as vector paths for a cleaner look. From there I exported them as an image file. I will leave that part of the tutorial out. If you know illustrator, this is a fairly basic but time consuming exercise. It is worth it if you want the high quality look. I don't know of a free vector illustration program out the, but you could actually do this bit in Photoshop too.
The Final Estelyon Map
Get into the habit of saving regularly as you work this basic requirement that will prevent tears later….
STEP 1 – TAKE THE SHOT
The map is created from a couple top down screen shots (CTRL+F11); one at night that will show the entire network lit up (TRAFFIC /filter on), and a day shot for referencing, this will be useful when working on the details.
STEP 2 - OPEN AND RESIZE
After taking the screenshots, bring both shots into Photoshop, drag one into the other to start the layered PS master file, hold shift to centrally position it.
I recommend that the image is scaled up. It’s always a good rule with digital art to work in a bigger size than the intended final size. Resize based on what you think your system can handle. For reference, my Photoshop file is 6000x6000pixels and was +700meg with a ton of layers.
Let’s go with doubling the size for this example, resize the image to 2048x2048pixels at a minimum.
STEP 3 - EXTRACT THE ROADS ONLY
I’ve found the best way to extract the roads was to use the night shot with the bright green roads on. CTRL+M will bring up curves. Go into the red and blue channel and bring all the values to nothing. In the green channel, carefully reduce the range by dragging the left bottom values (black) toward the right bottom value (white), therefore brightening the green. By not touching the right (white) value, we can keep the road edge cleaner. Careful not to ‘blow it out’ at this stage, too much adjustment here could wind up bleeding the edges making the image a little furry.
Mastering this technique will be valuable for screen shot masking for maps and toning beauty shots (using linked color channels).
STEP 4 – CLEAN THE LAYER UP
You’ll likely end up with some noise on this layer. Using the erase and brush tool, clean that layer up!
OK, I'll stop that now but you get the idea...
STEP 5 – DRAW THE TERRAIN
This will involve a lot of clicking; I created separate shapes for the green areas, developed areas and water. I then separated the developed areas into the district shapes on separate layers. This was done in Illustrator, it took some time, but I wanted to get a certain straight line style with the edges, somewhere between an accurate map and a small city guide style map.
STEP 6 – CHOOSE A COLO(U)R SCHEME
Look online for maps, find the color scheme that suites the vibe of your city. For Estelyon I wanted to emphasis the difference between the green and developed areas and also to highlight the main arterial routes. My visual priority was green areas first, highways & expressways, then districts and roads. A good way to check the balance is to turn it black and white. Your top info should be seen clearly against the rest.
The biggest piece of advice – go subtle!!! My map is definitely on the lower contrast side anyway, but I find that my eyes will burn if I study a detailed map with saturated color and solid white/black color schemes…
STEP 7 – APPLY THAT COLOR
I then applied the color scheme to the separate layers using blending options>color overlay. Almost all of the layers had a stroke applied to the inner side as not to fatten the look. The district strokes were wide and very subtle, where the Highways and coastline got a heavier but thinner treatment blending options>stroke.
One side effect that will show is any unclean layer will reveal the smallest dots when you apply the stroke, be sure to clean those bits up… again!!!
STEP 8 - FINISHING EFFECTS (the fun bit)
The distribution map was created within the same Master file, just a combination of screen shots using the wealth, resource, citizen breakdown and so on to get the different colored layers, a lot of filtering through curves and clean up, the final could be better IMHO. Again, choose your color palette wisely. It took a while getting all those colors to work at once.
- There is a very light inner glow of a darker blue to break up the lake.
- There are also three different sized and colored strokes on it too to get the graphic effect of the water edge.
- By duplicating the layer and putting the opacity at 100% and fill at 0%, you can control the stroke on its own; using opacity will help you balance the effect.
- For the underground roads, I duplicated the road layers, made the new one transparent and erased the sections in the opaque layer.
- I looked at different maps to get the fonts balanced, big bold for the districts, lighter italics for the natural areas. I almost started naming streets, but my dog needed a walk...
- Maps are usually printed with a border, makes for good framing, literally!
The Distribution Map
That's all I can think of for now, thanks for checking it out.
I will no longer be hosting XLNation as of March 1, 2017. Skullz613 will be taking the reigns of the site in early 2017 and XLNation will be moving to a new web hosting service. During that transition there will be an interruption in service of up to two weeks. Skullz613 is now a full administrator of XLNation. Be kind to him.
Tutorial Creating the Estelyon Map
And a guide to making your own!