In Part II of the tutorial, I discussed iconography. In this post, I will show you how to add place names and use typography to further clarify places in your world. A settlement’s location affects everything about the way it develops, from the reason it exists in that spot, to what it has to defend against, climate, culture, and more. Location is the first decision to make, but you’ve already made those choices. Now, it’s time to give the place a name, but don’t be too hasty. Names are sources of power and doors to the imagination. Names affect the culture of your world and its people. Places like Istanbul, Izmir, and Ankara summon very different images than say, Marseilles, Nice, and Saint-Tropez. Names help to define a place as much as any geological feature, so when deciding on them it’s important to consider your world as a whole.

Many fantasy worlds are Eurocentric with cultures and places skewed toward Western civilization. The Lord of the Rings is a classic example of this. Tolkien was a linguist who chose his names carefully. ‘The Shire’ is based on rural England and places like Crickhollow, Barrow Downs, The Prancing Pony, etc. summon very specific imagery of that part of the world. He also relied heavily on Norse and Germanic mythology for his Elves and Dwarves and the names reflect that.

I don’t want to go too deeply into worldbuilding proper, as this is a map tutorial, but I do urge you to think about your place names and what story they tell. Don’t make up arbitrary names, take your time. Mull on the people and cultures who live there before assigning random names.

If, however, you wish to assign some random names, the internet is more than happy to help. Seventh Sanctum has some of the best name generators this side of the web. If you’re looking for more, this town generator will spit out a whole town complete with pubs. And This generator will even make a Medieval city map for you.

Alas, I digress. I do that often.

You’ve settled on some great names and now it’s time to put them on the map. Old maps rarely spelled out names in a straightforward manner. River names often curved along rivers and mountain range names flew diagonally across peaks. Let’s take a look at some real maps for inspiration.

The names may seem like a jumbled mess, but this is precisely what we expect from a map. Typography should never be so small that you can’t read it but if it’s upside down, sideways, curved, and squiggly it’s fine. In fact, I encourage you to go experiment with place names. Don’t try to write place names out the same way you would on a notebook. Place names should be free to roam just like your landscape. I did this in my own map. (Below). If you are just starting out, keep the names of towns and cities horizontal and go crazy with the rest.

Typography can be one of the most important elements in cartography, and it can contribute greatly to the success or failure of a map. For mapmakers, that means laying in text to label locations and geographical areas so a reader can identify what they are looking at. Many parts of a map benefit from labels: Towns, geographical features, rivers, waterways, roads, etc. Typography done right can also add a decorative element and sophistication to your fantasy map. A map without labels is just a pretty picture and not very useful. So, it’s worth taking some care getting labels right.

If you are doing a map by hand, try to be neat and consistent with your lettering. If you are planning on scanning in components and layering them digitally, but still wish to hand letter, use a sheet of tracing paper over the map to write in your place names. Hand lettering has an advantage over commercial fonts in that it’s very unique and nuanced. There are fonts out there that can mimic handwriting, but I find that the results may vary. My map is a combination of hand drawings and digital manipulation in Photoshop. Don’t feel like you need to stick to one thing. Mix it up.

Do’s for Map Typography:

  • Determine a script style that works for your culture and time period
  • Bend the rules by curving and aligning text to geographical features
  • Do not overlap typography elements so that they crash into one another
  • Keep a good distance between labels for legibility
  • For citadels, you might want to emphasize capital letters
  • Follow the curves of rivers and oceans when lettering
  • The typeface must be legible in small sizes

Fonts for the Digital Cartographer – These are paid fonts, but I find their collections to be the absolute best.

Free Fantasy/Gothic Fonts Suitable for Maps: Pieces of Eight, Italian Cursive 16th Century, K22 Monastic, Civitype, Royal Vanity, Elementary Gothic, Water’s Gothic, Bulgaria Moderna, Rosemary Roman, Valdemar, Gotica Bastard, Asrafael, Ironworks, Primitive, Beowulf Modern, Serpentis Black, Cruickshank, Level Fourteen Druid, Burgfest, ThrorianDeutsch Gothic, Black Castle, Berry Rotunda, Kelmscott, Carolignia,

Free San Serif Fonts Suitable for Maps: Linux Libertine, Constantine, Old Style, Spinwerad, Dark & Black, Averia Serif, Indira K, Charpentier Renaissance Pro, Gentium, Cheboygan, Exquisite, Castle Press No. 1, Chanticleer Roman, Smorgasbord, KillamAugustus, DominicanJSL Ancient, Dark Ages, Garibaldi, Goudy Trajan,

Free Handwritten Fonts Suitable for Maps: Stingray, Samantha, Yerbaluisa, The Bad Weather, Hello Beauty, James Fajardo,

Foreign Look Fonts Suitable for Maps: (Asian) Yozakura, Korean Calligraphy, (Arabic) Arabic Magic, Taibajan, (Roman/Greek) Achilles, Greco Roman Lubed Wrestling, JSL Ancient, Dark Ages,

Pirate Fonts Suitable for Maps: Black Pearl, Treasure Map Deadhand (What I used for my map), Leander, Trade Winds, Ugly Qua, Almendra,

I hope you’ve enjoyed these tutorials and that your creative juices are flowing. Leave a comment and let me know if you found them useful. Thank you!