How to make Illustrated Maps

Written by
Alex Foster

The majority of Mapsy founder Alex Foster's commercial illustration work involves the creation of maps. In this tutorial, he takes you through the steps he takes when creating a new map.

In this article, I'll mostly be using my map of Paris as an example.

It can be great to invent maps and places like some of the legendary world-builders have done like Tolkien, George R. R. Martin and Roald Dahl have done with their characters and worlds. But maps can, of course, also be useful in the real world like in area and city guides. Maps can be a lovely balance between form and function.

In this article I’ll show you how I make mine, and how you could use these 8 steps to make your own maps in your own styles.

1. Choosing your area

In this case, the area is the city of Paris. The perimeter of the city on the Google Map here has a lovely shape that I'll be incorporating into the design. 'My Maps' (different to the usual maps section), is a great tool to plot and choose your area. 

Mapsy - Alex Foster Guide to Making Maps

 2. Collecting images and research

A lot of the places we want to map may be places that aren't possible to visit in real life - so collecting images of the places and making sure you research the place properly can help give you a better idea of what you want to map. Depending on how you want to draw the sites Google image search and Street view can give you great face on images of the places to draw.

3. Routes and paths

Draw out important routes and paths. This recent rural map here shows one of the selected walking routes of the UK.

Mapsy - Alex Foster Guide to Making Maps

4. Drawing out the main roads

When drawing an urban map, a good place to start is with the general shape of the place, including the main roads. Sometimes the city will provide a border like in the example here, or sometimes there will be rivers or the sea to break up the composition.

5. Smaller roads and routes

After this step it can be useful to add smaller roads, rivers or streams. These can be a different colour to differentiate them from the main roads and other areas.

Mapsy - Alex Foster Guide to Making Maps

6. Adding places of interest and sites

Now the main areas of the map are there, you can start adding sites and buildings to your map. If like me you are using a layer based software like Photoshop, these can be drawn separately and then dropped on to the map. I find it useful to add them as a 'linked smart object' - This allows resizing and organising the sites without pixellation.

Mapsy - Alex Foster Guide to Making Maps

7. Decoration and foliage

Now you have your main sites and places of interest, you can start adding decorations and fun little details to the map. Trees and foliage are something I like to make unique to each map. With so many varieties it can give you loads to work with and interesting shapes and colours.

8. Extras and finishing touches

Finish off your map with a nicely drawn title if using one, and any other details like the inhabitants of the area.

Mapsy - Alex Foster Guide to Making Maps


Thanks for reading and if you make a map or this helps your illustrations, please feel free to contact me to ask anything or show me your maps -

Latest Journal Articles

Mapsy Tips for Picking Perfect Illustrated Map Journal Article
If you’re thinking about buying an illustrated map, finding a piece that truly reflects you and your home is really important. That’s why we’ve put together a short guide on finding the perfect fit.
Mapsy 10 Map Illustrators to Inspire You
Beautiful illustrations come in all shapes and sizes and there’s no shortage of talented and inspiring map illustrators out there. If there’s an illustration style you really admire, chances are an...
Mapsy Map Prints of Your Favourite Places California Blog Post
We all have strong connections to particular places. It could be where we were born, cities where we have lived, summer holidays growing up or even cool towns we’ve seen on TV and have become...
Mapsy Journal How to Build an Instagram Following
We hear from talented graphic designer Liam Foster about how he grew his Instagram following organically, and what tips he gives to other creatives wishing to do the same.
Mapsy Melanie Chadwick Sketchbook Journal
Mapsy artist Melanie Chadwick shares her fantastic guide to using sketchbooks. It's well worth a read and will hopefully inspire many of you to get drawing.