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How To Draw A Map

19 June 2016

Have you ever had a wish to make a map for your sci-fi novel, or just as a reminder about the place you visited? Just follow this tutorial to become a real cartographer.


1. Think about the purpose of the map. Before you take the pencil in your hands, think of how big the map should be.

2. Think of the water to land ratio on your map. Most likely your map will have both of those, but it is up to you to decide about the sizes of them both.

3. Think of the things you want to map. What kind of map is it going to be? It can be a geographical, physical, political, road map etc. The type of the map defines the way you are going to draw it.

4. Decide on how detailed your map is going to be. This decision is as important as the scale and contents of the map.

5. Think about the climate. It usually concerns fantasy maps but you should always bear the climate in mind, especially when you plan physical aspects of the map.

6. Choose the way you will draw your map. Will it be on paper? Or will you use a computer program or an online service? All these methods require a unique approach, especially a paper one, where you have to draw by hand.

Drawing A Map

1. Draw the continents. If you already know how detailed you map is going to be, then you should know what continents (land) you are going to put on the map. The quantity and size of them should be clear too.

2. Now it is time to sketch water elements on your map. Everything that surrounds the continents are oceans and seas, but don't forget about the water on the continental land. So how about rivers, lakes, seas, bays, channels?

3. Add some details to your map. Depending on the style, your map can flourish with details or be moderate.

4. Define the outlines of the countries and cities on the map. Again, it all depends on the style of the map, but you can't go without borders at all. Mark the borders of the countries and at least some major cities.

5. Add color to your map, it will make it pretty. Don't forget that color on a physcal map has different meaning from that on a political map.

6. Label the map. Technically, you can skip this step, but a labelled map looks much better.

Additional Tips

1. Prepare a legend. The legend of a map is a vocabulary that explains what a symbol or a color on the map means.

2. Indicate map scale. It will tell the map reader how many kilometers are “hidden” in 1cm of the map. It is usually drawn as a line divided into sections at the bottom of the map.

3. Mark the directions. Draw a compass somewhere at the blank spot on the map. Mark the north, south, west and east directions of the compass.

4. Draw the latitude and longitude lines. Fantasy maps don’t need them that much, but the real maps do.

5. Put in the time and date. Whatever is on the map (political or physical) can change with the passing of time (even in a fantasy world), so make sure you note the time the map was drawn.

6. Add other comments and labels you think necessary. There is nothing wrong in giving additional information.