How to make a map (with pictures)

How to make a map (with pictures)
How to make a map (with pictures)

Have you ever wanted to make a card to complete a fantasy novel or to make a souvenir of a place you have visited? Think carefully about what you're going to do, draw some sketches and you'll be a great cartographer in no time!


Part 1 of 3: design the map

Make a Map Step 1

Step 1. Determine the extent of the map

Before you start drawing it, you need to decide on the extent of the map you are going to make. Would you like to represent the surface of an entire planet in a world map (why not the Earth?), A hemisphere, a continent, a country or only a region or a city? This consideration applies to maps representing real places as well as to those representing imaginary places.

Make a Map Step 2

Step 2. Choose the proportion of water

Choose the proportion of water and soil in your map. With a few exceptions and unless the map is a very close-up of a small area, it should represent both water and land. You need to decide how much of each item you are going to put there. For extended maps, it will be necessary to represent seas and oceans, rivers and lakes. Maps showing a smaller area may include only part of the ocean, rivers, or a few lakes. If you represent only a few land masses, for example in an archipelago, the map will mostly include water with a few islands.

Make a Map Step 3

Step 3. Think about the function of the card

What type of map do you want to create? A geographical, topographical, political, road map or something else? The type of map you make can influence how you draw it, so determine this aspect before you start. You can mix several types, but you will need to reduce the amount of detail you draw to keep the map from being overloaded.

You can also make a map representing other elements such as major trade routes, areas of high population or even different languages

Make a Map Step 4

Step 4. Determine the level of detail

It depends on the scale and function of the map, but it's important to take this into account. Do you plan to represent only the largest or most important places or do you want to include even the smallest elements of the area represented? The level of detail can have a big influence on the size of the map. You could draw it on a very large piece of paper or on a small notebook page, for example.

Make a Map Step 5

Step 5. Think about weather trends

While this mostly applies to fancy cards, it is important for the design of certain physical features of the card. Where are the areas where it rains often? Where are the deserts? Do these regions correspond to the location of seas and oceans or mountains and their geographic position on the planet (as in reality)? Try to think about the climate, environment, and weather of certain areas before drawing them to make your map more accurate and realistic.

Make a Map Step 6

Step 6. Choose how to make the map

Would you like to draw it by hand, use a computer to draw it, or design it using online card making software? Each method requires different preparations, especially if you plan to draw by hand. If you want to make your job easier or don't think you have enough drawing skills, there are plenty of software programs online that allow you to create maps.

Part 2 of 3: draw the map

Make a Map Step 7

Step 1. Mark off the land masses

If you've already figured out how detailed your map is, you should have a pretty good idea of ​​the number and approximate size of land masses. Start by tracing the main contours of the land masses, delimiting them schematically with straight lines. Once you've placed the outlines where you want them, iron them to make them more detailed (usually they are slightly wavy) by adding ribs and borders.

  • When drawing the land masses, think about the position of the tectonic plates (real or imagined) below. It will help you make a more realistic map if you are depicting an imaginary place.
  • Once you've delineated the major land masses, add things like peninsulas, islands, archipelagos, deltas, or gulfs.
Make a Map Step 8

Step 2. Add the streams

In general, it can be assumed that the areas around land masses are oceans or other large bodies of water. However, you should also draw the smaller bodies of water or streams that you want to represent on the map. These can be rivers, streams, lakes, small seas, bays or canals. Depending on the level of detail on the map, you can also add even smaller features like ponds, streams and creeks.

If a body of water is small, but important (for example, a canal or cove), you could represent it on the map, indicating that it is not to the same scale as the rest

Make a Map Step 9

Step 3. Build up the land masses

Depending on the type of map you are making, you can choose to add more or less detail, but in general you still need a minimum. You can draw geographic elements such as mountains, valleys, deserts, plateaus or even forests. By thinking carefully about weather trends, you can also add jungles, rainforests, swamps, tundras, savannas, coral reefs, etc.

Make a Map Step 10

Step 4. Place countries or cities

Again, it depends on what type of map you are making, but it is usually helpful to draw the borders of countries or territories and place a few important cities. Draw simple lines to delimit the continents, countries and regions. They can follow natural borders like mountain ranges or rivers or be completely artificial. Represent cities with any symbol of your choice, such as a star or a dot.

Make a Map Step 11

Step 5. Color the map

Color can be very useful in increasing the efficiency of a card. Colors can identify different types of land mass (for a geographic map), different countries (for a political map) or simply have aesthetic value. If you choose to keep the map black and white, use at least different shades of gray when shading. You can create various shades of colors to represent particular features like forests or cities, or you can use only two or three colors to differentiate basic territories.

Make a Map Step 12

Step 6. Write on the card

This is not required, but if you leave the map blank it may be difficult to understand. Start by writing the names of the largest and most important regions. You could show that they are large and / or important by using writing larger than what you use for the other indications. If you want to do something very detailed, just write more area names on the map. Use different styles or fonts depending on the different types of places you specify. If you are writing by hand, you can try writing in bold or italics.

Part 3 of 3: Add information

Make a Map Step 13

Step 1. Make a caption

This is a small box indicating what the different codes (colors, symbols, etc.) present in the card correspond to. The legend helps you understand what each visual element means and the reasons for your color choices. Remember to label everything on the map so that it can be read easily.

The legend is essential for a good reading of a symbolic map

Make a Map Step 14

Step 2. Indicate the scale

The scale is the difference between the actual distances and those on the map. You can easily indicate this by drawing a small segment at the bottom of the map showing the distance corresponding to a small section. You can also add a small box containing a small area at a larger scale or a larger area at a reduced scale to show the map scale more accurately. If you prefer, you can just write the scale instead of drawing something on the map (eg 1cm = 100km).

Make a Map Step 15

Step 3. Show the orientation

You can draw a compass rose on an empty part of the map to indicate its orientation i.e. the direction of cardinal points like north, south, east and west. This is especially useful if you are making a map that has an unusual orientation, with north at the bottom, for example.

Make a Map Step 16

Step 4. Draw lines of latitude and longitude

You probably don't need to draw them on a make-believe map, but they are almost always needed on a real map. These lines run horizontally and vertically across the map so that specific places can be found using the coordinates of these lines. Make sure they are perfectly straight and evenly spaced.

Make a Map Step 17

Step 5. Write a time stamp

The locations represented by the maps (whether physical or political) can often change over time (even for an imaginary map). So write down the time or date on the card somewhere on it. You can also write the date the card was drawn, but that is less important than when it represents what it represents.

Make a Map Step 18

Step 6. Add other explanations

You can write some additional explanation somewhere on the card. This is not essential, but they can be useful if your card has an unusual design or depicts an imaginary place. Traditionally, these indications are written at the bottom of the map so that the person using them understands that they do not correspond to particular places.


  • Outline the map on scrap paper before making it on beautiful paper.
  • If you find it useful, note the population and area of ​​the regions before making the map. This will help you use the correct scale and achieve a good overall effect. Whatever you do, avoid sketching out the small details before all of the main elements are okay with you.
  • If you are going to make several maps of the same place, it is advisable to draw a simple physical map without any written indication and to print several copies, as the names of the places change often.
  • If you don't want to write anything on the map itself, make a good caption.
  • It is useful to draw a grid using a ruler on the sheet before drawing the map on it.

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