Mapmaking Tools: Digital Cartography

If you want to start making maps with a tablet on your computer, create amazingly vibrant and colourful cartography, or even if your just curious and want to test it out, then this is the guide for you!


Now I should preface this article with a bit of backstory as my own experiences as a cartographer has shaped my methods of drawing over the years.


As I mentioned in my other article on pen and paper tools, I started out making maps on paper and made the transition to purely digital cartography about halfway through my professional career. (Which has only been about 4 years at this point so it’s not a huge amount of time) I would draw the line art with pens onto some nice thick paper and then scan them onto the computer and colour them digitally. However, after two years of doing this, I took on a single commission that changed my perspective entirely. This extra-large commission was drawn onto paper only partially, drawing the coastlines and mountains and rivers. But then I scanned it and started to draw some assets. The trees, locations, and details such as grass tufts and rocks could all be drawn, etc were drawn in Photoshop for the first time and I realized I could speed up the process by drawing these details as assets that I could copy and paste and use over and over.


There were other advantages as well such as being able to draw cleaner, more professional-looking lines, and my maps started to really come together style-wise. Perhaps the biggest reason quickly became apparent as well, drawing digitally means you can zoom into areas without straining your eyes and you can draw detail with increased precision. This has become something I simply cannot live without, as my maps have become increasingly detailed due to an increase in my own skills levels and the ability to do so with the zoom functions in Photoshop.


So with that all said and done, what kind of tools do you need in order to start drawing maps digitally using a computer?


Tablets

Firstly and perhaps most importantly for drawing you need to get hold of a graphics tablet. I won’t talk much about eh pens that come with these tablets as the vast majority are the same but you will need one of those as well. If you have a computer, you no doubt have a mouse, and laptops have a touchpad but I simply do not think these tools will cut it for creating maps. You can not achieve precise lines and it would be a very slow process if you tried to draw with a mouse or touchpad, therefore a relatively cheap graphics tablet will do wonders. Now it’s worth mentioning that there are two main types of graphics tablets out there. The first is what I would call a drawing tablet and the second is a screen tablet and there are key differences between them.


Drawing Tablets

Drawing tablets are typically the cheaper & smaller tablets, designed to sit in front of the main computer screen and while your hand moves across the surface of the tablet to draw, your eyes are looking at the result on the separate screen.


Below are a few that I would recommend.


Wacom Intuos Small: This is awesome, and the tablet I currently use. I’ve used Wacom pretty much since I started Mapmaking and not only is this tablet a wonderfully cheap option but it’s also small, easy to use, and set up. You just connect it via USB and start drawing. I would highly recommend this one to start with for these reasons and that the support for Wacom is very high.

https://amzn.to/2Vlkx8C




Huion Inspiroy: Huion is a very well know company for graphics tablets and they make a very large range of products, generally they are cheaper but not quite as well supported as Wacom tablets. This one is at about the same level as the Wacom Intuos Small but the surface is larger which can sometimes be a little nicer depending on the size of your hands!


https://amzn.to/3CaaqUU


Screen Tablets

Screen tablets are exactly what they sound like, they are typically very expensive tools that allow you to look down at a screen itself and watch where your hand and pen are making the strokes, just like you would if you were drawing on a piece of paper.


This little guide is not supposed to tell you which of the two types of Grapcis tablets are superior however, personally, I have used both and currently use a small Wacom tablet as this is simply something I have practiced with and feel comfortable using! But most professionals use screen tablets as it’s a more natural way of drawing.



Wacom Cintiq: Generally speaking the Wacom Cintiq is the most well-known graphics tablet in the world and is used by professional artists in a variety of industries. It’s a pretty expensive option but like all Wacom tablets it has a great deal of support is very well made and you won’t find any problems with it. There are different versions of a Cintiq out there but the only major difference is the screen size which affects the price.


16: https://amzn.to/2VfqeFh


22: https://amzn.to/3CaPvRY


If you want to look through other Wacom products, series and ranges you can find their website here https://www.wacom.com/en-gb/products/pen-displays and you can order directly from them instead of Amazon.