Mapmaking Tools: Pens & Paper

If you are starting your mapmaking journey and want to start drawing using pens and paper to make those maps then this is the guide for you! I'll cover what paper to use, the pencils pens and other tools you might want to consider getting hold of in order to make the process of creating maps faster and look better!


Now I should preface this article with a bit of backstory as my own experiences as a cartographer has shaped my drawing methods over the years. This won't be a guide on how to use these tools per se, but it should help you choose the tools themselves!


I started out making maps a long time ago, from around 10 years old, I would sit in the back of the class at school drawing swords, castles and fantasy maps. I didn’t learn how to play TTRPG games until I was 24 so there were many years of not really knowing what I was doing, just drawing in a way that looked good to me. These were mostly doodles and I wouldn’t call my maps back then very good but they were a starting point.


When I did learn how to play Pathfinder and later on, D&D 5th edition when I went back to university, I was still drawing my maps with a pencil. At some point, I started upgrading my pencils to pens, which made the line art clearer and cleaner. Eventually, when I started my mapmaking Patreon a few years later I drew my maps with pens as well, drawing all the line art onto bits of paper before scanning them into my computer and colouring them in Photoshop.


These days, I draw the entire process in PSD instead, which is faster and even cleaner than before but I still look back on my hand-drawn maps with great fondness. I think the process of making maps from pens and paper to fully digital mapmaking was very slow, I certainly could have switched to drawing everything digitally sooner, but I was stubborn and I liked the old school look to my maps!

Still, I think there are great merits to drawing maps with pens & paper so I will talk about the best kinds of tools to use and the pros and cons of this method of mapmaking at the end.


Paper

The paper you choose for your maps becomes your canvas, and there is a huge variety to choose from, simple A4 printer paper to more expensive art paper and which one you should pick can be confusing at first. But there are really only two things to pay attention to when deciding what kind of paper to draw on, weight & size.


Paper Weight.

The first important thing about the paper you draw with is weight. It is a crucial aspect of the drawing process because higher weight paper can handle pens strokes without smudging or blurring. There are situations where you might want thinner paper or seriously thick paper to draw your maps on but we will discuss those below. The weight of paper is measured in GSM (grams per square metre). Effectively, this is the thickness of the paper: the higher the GSM, the thicker the paper.


Printer Paper

This is pretty much the standard kind of paper we are all familiar with. It’s a cheap, easy to acquire option that most people will start drawing with. Most printing paper has a GSM between 60 and 120. 80gsm is about standard. Printing paper like this is great to start with and if you are drawing with pencils then you might not even need thicker paper. However, one of the major downsides to printing paper is its fragility and it's very easy to tear and damage accidentally. Printer paper can also smudge pen work and because it is lighter and thinner you might experience blurring or bleeding which is when ink from your pen soaks into the paper gives you messy, imprecise pen work.

Below are some affiliate links on Amazon for you to look at, these are examples of paper you could use or buy!


A4 80 GSM https://amzn.to/3k7lnQS £6.99

A5 100 GSM https://amzn.to/2UBJEne £4.95













Art Paper

What I’m going to refer to as Art Paper in this article is merely a rather medium run of the mill kind of thick paper that is much better for pen work than light printer paper. Typically this kind of paper is more expensive but it’s perfect for mapmaking. You can draw with pens without worrying too much about smudging, blurring or bleeding. I would typically use 180 GSM paper for my maps as I found the extra weight compared to 160 rather nice for thicker and thinner pen work. It also has a nice feel to it and is much more durable to store and move around!

Below are some affiliate links on Amazon for you to look at, these are examples of paper you could use or buy!


A4 160 GSM: https://amzn.to/3k8l6gm £7.06

A4 180 GSM: https://amzn.to/3hT2vlI £5.15

A3 140 GSM: https://amzn.to/36roVFk £16.70