Introduction: How to Draw Fantasy Maps

Maps are often the bridge between the real and the imaginary. From islands to worlds, a physical representation of a storyteller’s vision can make all the difference. In this tutorial, we’ll go through all the steps of creating amazing hand-drawn maps to go with anything, from D&D campaigns to fantasy books.


For this project, you will need the following supplies:

  • Thick paper (Watercolor paper works well)
  • A lining pen (I used size 03)
  • A gel pen (I used size 06, but the size isn’t very important)
  • A sharpie
  • A pencil (Wood or mechanical)
  • A ruler

Step 1: Planning

It is important to go into this with a plan. If you have a story to model your map after, you will likely have locations and a general idea of what it will look like already. If not, you can make up some names or use an online generator to get them. Either way, you want to have a written list of locations to put on the map. It is also a good idea to draw what you will use to represent things like towns, forts, mountains, etc.

Step 2: Landmasses

On to drawing. Using a pencil, draw the shape of your landmasses. Keep in mind that nature is irregular. Straight lines and clean shapes are nearly non-existent when it comes to landmasses. You can make your lines slightly jagged for rockier coasts and smoother for sandy ones. Feel free to make more or less separate pieces.

Step 3: Biomes

Start drawing the biomes. Hills, deserts, swamps, mountains, and forests are the best to use here. You can draw the mountains and hills for now. For the others, you can just label the areas they will go in. We’ll get to them in the lining stage.

Step 4: Locations

Now draw the locations. These include towns, forts, towers, etc. Then write the names of all the things you have names for. It may be helpful to have a font for reference. Take this part slowly; you aren’t writing the names, you’re drawing them. Also, spell check your names like I didn’t. (Sancuary should be Sanctuary)

Step 5: Lining the Landmasses

Using the lining pen or sharpie (lining pen looks more authentic but sharpie is easier), line the coastlines, skipping the smaller islands, rivers, and lakes. In this step, it is easy to smooth out your coastline, so be sure to follow the line closely. After that, use the lining pen for the smaller islands, rivers, and lakes. Remember that location names are the most important, so leave holes in the coastline for them.

Step 6: Lining the Locations

Now, using the lining pen, go over the names. Be sure to go slowly here, since it’s easiest to spot a lettering mistake. I used the sharpie for the name of the area. Next, line the icons representing man-made structures.

Step 7: Lining the Hills and Mountains

Now, using the lining pen, go over the hills and mountains. Be sure to leave the lettering clear.

Step 8: Erasing

At this point, you can go over your map and erase the leftover pencil marks. Be careful; some erasers will lighten the ink.

Step 9: Connecting the Mountains

With the lining pen, connect the peaks of sequential mountains with a jagged line. You can also add small marks on the right sides to indicate slope, as shown above.

Step 10: Hatching

Using the gel pen, we’ll now add hatch marks to the left sides of the hills and mountains for shading.

Step 11: Foliage

Now we can add the swamps, as shown above. The next step is one of the most time consuming ones. Forests. I like to make my trees round and slightly cone shaped. First, draw the tree line, giving the trees lines for trunks. After that, you can just build off the front line. Try to avoid your instinct to make the shapes even, starting from the top center of one tree and going to the next. Make the trees irregular. Don’t be afraid to use trees as a filler; the make the map look less plain.

Step 12: Coastline

Now, with the gel pen, draw a line following the coastline. It should be a lot smoother and encompass the entire landmass. My continents were close together, so the line ended up circling all of them, but feel free to keep yours separate.

Step 13: Coastline Hatching

Next, put hatch marks extending from the line all across the outer line, all in the same direction. You can also add some around in the water. This helps make the continents pop out better.

Step 14: Border

Using the ruler, add a square border around the map. You can make it fancier if you like.

Step 15: Compass Rose

For an extra touch, you can add a compass rose. They can be made all kinds of fancy ways, but I made a simple one using dots as reference. I also added eight dashed lines coming from it, extending across the map. I used 1/4 inch dashes with the same sized gap in between them.

Step 16: Congratulations!

1 Person Made This Project!


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