The World of Khoras - The Maps

How the Maps Were Created

I am often asked how I created the maps. I get emailed that question at least once a month. So, rather than send out the same email over and over, I'm writing this page up to answer this most frequent question.

The short answer is that I built it in Adobe Photoshop. Photoshop is an image editing program from Adobe Corporation, Photoshop is a professional level program. It's very expensive and very powerful. And it's not designed for building maps. But it's so robust, you can create just about any kind of graphic in it.

Why did I use Photoshop?

Well, I use Photoshop every day and have been using it for almost 10 years. I'm an expert at Photoshop. So that's why I chose it. It was just a matter of being very familiar with the software. Also, I did NOT want my maps to look like that had been created by Campaign Cartographer or some other vector based graphics program. I wanted to be able to blend the colors, shape the map and soften the edges. Something that just isn't possible with Campaign Cartographer (as far as I know).


What follows below is an overview of the steps I used to create my map in Photoshop. If you don't have Photoshop or if you don't know how to use it, then you won't be able to recreate the same style. Although it's possible that you could get the same results from another image editing program (as long as that image editing program supports both layers and layer blending).

I would like to point out that there are DOZENS of photo editing programs on the market. You often get low end cheap image editing programs with scanners and digital cameras. Those image editing programs WILL NOT WORK. Those are cheap, consumer level programs that lack advanced features. Only a full featured professional image editing program like Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro will have the necessary special features to do most of the tricks listed below.

The Basics of Layers

Photoshop supports layers and transparency. You can have as many layers as you like overlapping each other to create a composite image. Essentially, I started with a hand drawn map. Scanned it into the computer (in several sections, the original hand drawn map was quite large). I then assembled that into one large Photoshop document.

I put the original map image on the bottom layer and then added additional blank layers on top of that. I filled the layers above the base layer with color. There were a total of about 15 layers or so. There were 3 layers for the ocean (I needed different shades of blue to denote depth). There were a couple of layers of grass color. And then there were a number of separate layers for special items. I had a Mountain layer,  a River layer, a Desert Layer, a Hills layer, etc.

As mentioned previously, I think I ended up with about 15 layers total. However, some of those layers required a lot of work before I could boil them down into a single layer. For instance, the ocean was actually three separate layers that eventually got merged into one. And the mountains were actually many layers that were eventually merged into one. Also, these 15 layers created the geography only. The city markers and labels were added last.

On several of the layers, I utilized Layer Styles. Specifically, I used the texture style to give some texture to the color. This was used mostly on the grass plains area. Also, I created a layer with a slightly bumpy, wavy texture in the Layers Style to simulate low, rolling hills. I won't give a precise recipe here. Rather, I encourage you to experiment with Layer Styles in Photoshop (or an equivalent feature in your photo editing program of choice).

The Mountains

The mountains are probably the most important element to creating the look of this map. I created the mountains using a technique of combining 3D shaded relief terrain with overlay layer blending. First, I created basic mountains in a 3D program called Bryce with the camera directly over the mountain pointing straight down. I then rendered them out, took them into Photoshop and converted them to greyscale and balanced the levels.

If you don’t have Bryce, you can easily acquire shaded relief maps. Shaded relief maps are the “bumpy terrain” maps. You can find them on the net. Basically, you just need “shaded relief” mountains as seen from above. I used Bryce to create them, but you could do it with real shaded relief terrain. Turn them to greyscale.

Bring them into Photoshop and position the mountains on layers above your base color layer. Then, for each mountain layer, change the Layer Blend Mode to Overlay. Well, I think it was overlay. Actually, I can’t remember. But the secret is to play around with the layer blend modes. Try a few different modes. You’ll get the mountains to blend nicely with whatever color is underneath.

The Coastline

The second most important effect was the coastline. Several people have asked how I got the "rippled" look of the water just off the coastline. Like the mountains, this required several steps.

I had three ocean layers. The bottom layer was the dark blue, the deepest part of the ocean. I filled that layer with dark blue. Then I selected the continent, expanded the selection by quite a bit and filled it with a medium blue. Then, for the top ocean layer, I selected the outline of the continents, expanded slightly and filled with a lighter blue. So, in the end, I had three layers of blue: the continents had a halo effect of light blue and then medium blue around them and then the rest was a dark blue. Howevever, these blues were hard edged and had a stair step look to them. I then blurred the medium blue quite a bit and the light blue a bit less. Finally, I merged all 3 ocean layers into a single layer and used the Glass filter on them to give it the rippled effect. The Glass filter is the real secret and you can make anything look rippled. But you have to take some time to set up the color of your ocean first. And blurring different shades of blue together makes the Glass filter work really well.

The Labels and Markers

The cities and nations and other points of interest are marked on the map with text labels and, in some cases, markers. These labels and markers were added last. Once the geography was finished, I saved it as a layered Photoshop file and then flattened the image and saved THAT as a high resolution TIFF. I then opened up that flattened geography TIFF in Photoshop and began adding names and markers. Each name was a separate text layer. Some of them benefited from beveling and drop shadow layer styles to make them easier to read. The final version, with text layers and markers, was saved and then flattened and saved as a high res JPEG which was put on the Khoras web site.


That’s pretty much it. I hope this helps and gets the creative juices flowing. As I mentioned earlier, you'll have to have Photoshop (or something like Photoshop) to do these kind of tricks to make a Khoras style map.

Good luck.


This website was last updated March 31, 2019. Copyright 1990-2019 David M. Roomes.

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