In Part I of the tutorial, I explained some of the basics of making a map. In this post, I will go further into the process by showing you how to add shorelines and cities. The picture I’ve drawn above shows a river flowing out to the sea with various tributaries as well as a small town and a fortified settlement/castle. I’ve also drawn in a swampy marsh and lines to denote flat terrain. Maps can take many forms; isometric (as shown above) or two dimensional. For my world map, I chose a combination of isometric elements such as mountains and flat markers (circles) for towns. Feel free to use whatever perspective works for you.

Shore and Water Lines

Now that you’ve defined the rivers, mountains, and forests, it’s time to spruce up the landmass boundaries. Just about every map defines shorelines with varying degrees of detail. Shorelines and water lines make continental landmasses pop especially in a black and white map. Shorelines should be fluid and smooth, not tight and jagged like your coastline. Every time you add a line, make it smoother than the previous one. Again, there are many styles so just experiment. Lakes can benefit from shorelines too. Go ahead and add those.

TIP: A good guideline is to place your first shoreline about 1/8″ away from the coastline and work from there. Keep your shorelines lighter than the coastline for maximum effect.

Towns and Cities

The whole purpose of having a map is to define important places in relation to other places and for this, you’ll need to draw some basic icons. Icon illustration will have a huge impact on your map. Again, you have the option of going isometric (3d look) as shown below, or you can go with a flat (top/down look). You can design castles, huts, trading posts, wizard towers, the sky’s the limit, but be judicious with placement. As you can see by my example, a map can get crowded fast. Place cities and towns on the map which are crucial to the story. In my map of Laremlis, I went with capitals and major cities. If you’re going to draw roads, choose only the important ones.

Towns are by far the most numerous places. Before you get started, consider your culture and the type of icon which is suitable. Do you want to represent towns with Tudor timber houses or round straw huts? Is it an Asian setting, or an Egyptian style world? The architecture you choose will set the mood for the reader right away. A pinch of realism goes a long way. For my fantasy world map, I opted for just circles. That is fine too.

The density of towns or the sparseness says something about a region. Really think about the placement of towns. Use light dots to mark the locations before you the icons in. Something else to consider is that people tend to settle where there is water, so towns near rivers and lakes are very common and towns which have access to fresh water and the ocean often turn to cities as goods can be brought in to the harbor and traded on the river.

Cities are the largest civilized areas of your world and as such are usually fortified. A wall/fort may be used to defend the perimeter and is often the location of a castle.

There are some amazing artists online who have taken the time to create icon tutorials for cities. Djekspek on DeviantArt has mastered the art of map making and has been kind enough to put some of his tutorials on DeviantArt. Do check them out.

Castles and Fortresses

Castles and fortresses are the kinds of places that inspire fantasy stories. Placing castles on the map is really fun and the part that most of us fantasy nerds look forward to. Drawing castles and fortresses can seem daunting at first, but it’s not that hard. Take a look at this wonderful step-by-step isometric tutorial by Djekspek on DeviantArt , but don’t feel like this is the only option. A simple flat turret works fine too. See below.


Castles are usually built on high ground. Elevation increases defensibility and offers a 360º view of the surrounds. The countryside surrounding a castle may have fortresses or keeps which are smaller and offer the first line of defense against an invading army. Holdfasts are usually located at key trade routes, ports, and waterways.

Icons can be a lot of fun to draw. You can add a dock if the city is on the coast, domes, mage spires, and just about anything you like. The most important thing is to just have fun.

Map Resources

Great Map Resources and Tutorials

Drawing a Fantasy Map (video)

How to MAKE and DESIGN a fantasy world map (video)

How to Make a Fantasy World Map

Hope Part II was useful, stay tuned for Part III where it’s all about Typography and putting on the finishing touches.