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[Tutorial] How to make custom maps

edited May 2017 in Custom Maps
Hi, i've seen a few people on this forum that want to make their own custom maps but think it is too difficult. That's why i wanted to create this tutorial to get people started.

The first thing i want to say is that i'm not an artist and you don't need to be either to make cool looking maps. Heck, i couldn't draw something nice if my life depended on it. I'll be using Photoshop for this tutorial but you could also use the free tool GIMP (link). It should be pretty easy to follow along, as i won't be using more than a few basic tools. Now, let's get started. :) 


The canvas
Creating a basic layout
Filling up your map with custom assets
Creating your own assets

The Canvas

When you create a new photoshop project (File > New... ) you will see a window like this:


You want to copy all these settings, to get the right size for your map. When you hit 'Ok' you should see a white rectangle and one background layer in the layers panel (Bottom right).

edit: Meganzoor just gave the hint to use a higher resolution; 300 pixels/inch or higher so you might want to change that setting. :)

Next we want to download the grid here, save it somewhere convenient and just drag and drop it onto the canvas. This should create an extra layer on top of the background with the grid and character inventories. You can rename the layer by double clicking the name. 

You should have something like this now:

Now you're all set to go. Just one more thing: make sure when you add new layers the grid is always on top, that way it won't get obstructed.


Choosing the right colours for your map is extremely important. Have you noticed how all official Urealms maps always use the same base colours? That's to make them recognisable, even if you have never seen a particular map, you can immediately tell it's a Urealms map just by looking at the colours.

To make it easy for you I have created a basic color palette with same colours used by Meganzoor in the main maps:


Just download this image and drag and drop it into your photoshop project. To select a color just select the Eyedropper tool and click on the color you want to select.

If you don't need the color palette anymore you can just press the little eye next to the layer to hide it. You can also just load in another map and use the eyedropper tool if the color you want to use is not in these base 16 colors, and in the top right you can change the color to your own tastes.

Creating a basic layout

Now it's time to decide where your map will be. In this tutorial we will be making a basic forest map, as i think this is the easiest way to introduce you to all the tools you'll need. 

Background color:

Choose the background color appropriately for your setting, we will be using a green grass color as our background. Select the background layer and choose a color as explained in the color part of this tutorial. Click the paint bucket tool and than click the canvas. Your white background should now be changed to the color of your choice.

Rivers and pathways

Now we'll add the main features of our map. First create a new layer (Layer > new > Layer... ), make sure it is on top of the background layer but underneath the grid.

To make a river we will select the blue color using the eyedropper and then select the brush tool from the tool bar. In the top bar you want to press down the little arrow next to the brush size

Select a big brush size and make sure your hardness is at 100%.


Make sure you have selected your newly created layer and start drawing the rivers, if you are done make a new layer and repeat this whole proces for your pathways. Your map should now look like this:


Filling up your map with custom assets

Now we've come to the fun part, filling up your map with all kinds of objects. If you know how to draw, great, you can start drawing all you want. But if your drawings look like they are made by somebody in kindergarten like mine, follow along. :)

I've created a post here where i prepared some assets for you to use, later in this tutorial i'll be showing you how to make your own but for now we'll just use these.

First we'll be adding a simple bridge to the map. You can download it here. Just download the image and drag and drop it onto the canvas. Make sure the newly created layer is underneath the grid but above all your other background drawings. Just move, rotate and rescale the bridge and place it where you want. I recommend to rename your layer so you can easily see what object is in what layer.



Now we'll be adding trees, a lot of trees. Just start by adding one of these the same way we added the bridge. To duplicate this layer you right click the layer and select Duplicate Layer... (or press cmd + j / ctrl + j)

Then select one of the two layers and move it a little bit to a different position, you now have two trees. :) Repeat this proces a few times until you have a little group of trees. Select all layers with trees (hold shift and click the layers), right click and select Merge Layers.

Now you should have one layer with a group of trees, you can now start duplicating this group in the same way you did with a single tree, and place them all over the map. Create some different groups for more variation.

Now you know everything you need to know to create your own basic map, you can take a look in my other forum post for some more custom assets and fill up your map with those. With a little bit of practise you should be able to make a map like this in just a few minutes and set up for your own campaigns. Don't forget to hide the color palette once you are done, save the file as a .jpg and your map is done.


Creating your own custom assets

Now if you see objects from other maps you want to use, how do i make my own transparent image? 

This part of the tutorial is a little bit more complicated than the other parts, but i'll try to guide you guys trough step by step. It's not that hard, but might take a bit of time. Note that it is not necessary to do this step to create beautiful maps as you can just use the assets i linked before.

Step 1: removing the grid

All Urealms maps available on these forums still have the grid on them, if we want to use parts of them in our own maps we need to be able to remove this. 

Photoshop users: If you are using photoshop you are lucky. I created a photoshop project here with a pre-drawn grid, you can just load your map in this file and than you can skip the next part where we create a grid. Drag and drop your map in this project, make sure the grid layer is the top one and line up the grid layer with the grid on your map.

Gimp/Other users: You will have a little bit more work the first time you try to remove a grid. We need to create a grid of black lines that lines up perfectly with the grid on the maps. 
Just select the line tool and create a line right on top of one of the gridlines and copy-paste this all over your map. The line should be 2 pixels wide and all lines need to be perfectly on top of your map grid. Make sure you zoom in enough and get this correct to the pixel, otherwise the result won't be what we are looking for. Once you have made this grid, be sure to save it as you can reuse it for other maps.

Now everyone should have the same result. You should have a layer with your map and a layer with your black grid. This should look something like this:

Now we want to make sure we can edit our map, right click the layer containing the map and click Rasterize Layer. If this option is already grayed out you should just move on to the next step.

We created this black grid to be able to easily select all pixels containing the map grid, we will accomplish this as follows:

1. Select the layer with the black grid
2. Select the wand tool


3. click on a black pixel of your grid, you should now have the whole grid selected

4. Click the little eye next to the grid layer to hide it and select your map layer

Now we have selected our grid, we want to go to Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast... . A screen like this should pop up:


We want to change these numbers so the grid isn't visible anymore, you might need to play around with these values a little bit but i found a Brightness of 16 and Contrast of 8 to be alright in most cases. 

If you have successfully removed the grid you can save your map as an image (save as... and select .png in the dropdown menu)  and move on to the next step.

Step 2: Cutting out your object

Start by loading in your gridless map in a photoshop project. If you want you can change the size of your canvas to be a little bit smaller by going to Image > Canvas Size... and changing the width and height:


Make sure the object you want to cut out is fully inside the canvas by moving the map around. Today I'm going to cut out this rock, but the proces should be the same no matter your object.

Now we are going to start cutting away the parts we don't want. I can't give you an exact step by step process to follow for this part because every object is different, instead i'll be explaining what tools you need to use and how to use them.

The magic wand tool:

This is the tool you'll probably be using the most. If you select the magic wand tool and click on the image, you will select an area around the point you selected that has a similar color to that point. You can change the tolerance value to have better results, a higher tolerance means the color can be more different than your original. 

Once you have selected an area you can just press the backspace or delete key on your keyboard to remove the selected area.

The gray and white squares indicate a transparent part of your image. The magic wand tool is the tool you'll probably use most.

The selection tool

If there's a big square area with lots of different colours to remove we can use the selection tool. 


See those bones on the bottom left corner? Just press delete and they're gone.

Magnetic lasso tool:

Now above two tools should be enough to cut out most images, but if you are stuck on a particularly hard one, you might want to check out the magnetic lasso tool. I won't be explaining it here though as this post is getting quite long already and you probably won't need it.

Now i've gone ahead and used the selection and magic wand tool to cut out the rock image:

The only thing left to do is save it. Click File > Save as...  and make sure you select the PNG file format to keep the transparency: 


One last thing: Make sure to always credit the people who made the original map. In this case i used the official maps created by Meganzoor but you could use this on any map you want. 

Bonus: Rock walls

Now i had this rock cut out and of course i wanted to do something with it, so i made a small part of a rock wall with just this one image to show you how powerful this way of creating maps is. I just copied the one rock formation a few times and moved it around and rotated it to create this whole wall:

Now imagine what you can do with a bunch of these rock formations :) 

To finish this post i would like to thank Meganzoor for creating these maps, and the rest of the Urealms team for creating such an awesome community. Also, i'm sorry for eventual spelling/grammar mistakes, english is not my first language :) 

This work falls under the CC BY 4.0 License and can be used and edited freely as long as you provide credit!


  • This is really awesome and informative! Thanks for sharing it, it's super helpful :)
  • edited May 2017
    I don't know if Meganzoor would like it that you cut objects out of her maps to use them for your own maps, it's a lot of work to make a lot of custom assets and i haven't seen her share them publicly.
  • edited May 2017
    If anyone of the Urealms team thinks I shouldn't post this i'll of course take it down, but Rob posted these maps under the CC BY 4.0 License which states:

    You are free to:

    • Share — copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format
    • Adapt — remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially.
    as long as you provide credit, so i think this should be fine :peace: 

    Of course i encourage everyone to credit
     Meganzoor if they use any of these assets
  • Thank you for this! Being able to create my own map layouts will be amazing in the future
  • This is incredible, Looking forward to the new asset update :drunk: 
  • @xandat i'll probably post it later this week, but i need some time to write it because it's a little more complicated than the rest of the process (because you also need to remove the grid from the map) :)
  • Thanks @Jorre this is really helpful!!!!
  • @Jorre ; Sounds great, I have seen so many people making these cool maps, and you just gave me the keys to do my own. Looking forward to the next week now  :) thanks again
  • @Jorre , YOU SIR! ARE A HERO! (Insert Big Thumbs Up!)
  • Hey guys, I added the create your own assets part so now you should have every tool available that i use to create my maps. This post became quite a bit longer than i expected it to be (it's over 2000 words :oh: ) but i hope it helps you guys create your own adventures :)

    If you guys create some cool maps please post them on the forums so other people can use them as wel, and also feel free to post the images you have cut out in the comments of this thread, that way we don't have to all cut out the same campfire :) 
  •  I don't think I'm going to make any maps, but this is really cool.  Since there's no way to like this post instead you can have my first emote :) in a post (mostly because I keep forgetting that I can do that)
  • edited May 2017
    This is amazing, good job :)  However, No matter what I do, it doesn't let me click the grid as a pixel so I can magic wand it, it has a little 'ca
    nt do' sign and I have tried to make it worked, but it doesn't any fix?
  • edited May 2017
    @xandat A few things i can think of you could be doing wrong:
    1. Do you have the right layer selected? you should select the layer with the grid, not the map layer
    2. Make sure the layer is visible when selecting the grid with the wand and make sure its the top layer
    3. make sure you are actually clicking on the grid :) might seem obvious but its only 2 pixels wide so you might need to zoom in a little bit
    4. If you right click the layer, do you have the option to Rasterize layer?  If it isn't grayed out try clicking that, might fix it

    Edit: Also make sure you placed the map, might need to press enter after you dragged it in to complete this process

  • I can't even put into words how amazing this is! Thank you soooooo much! I really appreciate this and it was really helpful! AHHH THANK YOU!
  • edited May 2017

    Thanks so much @Jorre ;, I've never really messed around with Photoshop (or it's free equivalents) but this guide was super detailed and easy to follow. 

    I am far from the most creative person in the world but I'm fairly happy with how my first attempt at an abandoned mining town came out. 
  • @Acematerial yo where you get those map assets? :3
  • @Gterra2 ;The Rocks, Well and Tent (that I used as a mine entrance) are on the Imgur gallery in the other thread Jorre linked. The Houses came from a campaign a user @Aptmage created link here

    I just turned the rocks and houses using a rotate function to add some variety, nothing to fancy
  • edited May 2017
    @jorre Having a bit of trouble with pulling assets. not finding a line tool in Gimp and no matter what I do, without it I can only make my lines 1 pixel or 3 pixels wide. <_< 

    Actually never mind! found a shortcut! use black ink and the bucket on the grid on the blank map template layer.
  • edited May 2017
    @Konpaatre What you guys are doing is fine with me, you're allowed to use the maps that were released under the CC BY 4.0 License. (Those maps are the ones Rob has released with the campaign threads under the custom maps categories, any other maps have not been officially released) As long as the artist (me) is credited it is fine. I don't release these maps anymore because they don't belong to me.

    Just a tip! I would set the resolution to 300 dpi or higher, it will make your map look better.

  • Yo I love this wow thank you so much
  • Can someone help me with gimp?
    1. how do I get rid of the dotted line that appears after I select an area with the lasso selection tool? do I fill or draw? when I try to use those tools a circle that has the strikethrough appears by it and it does nothing.
    I have never used this program before and I have very little experience with Photoshop.
  • I have everything selected, the brush is not set to clipboard, but still the draw tool does nothing. same with the fill bucket tool. I have gone through and checked everything in the stuck section of the gimp guide thing, but it did not help.
  • :) NVM! I finally got it to work! 
    I had lock pixels selected...
    sorry for complaining in my last two comments
  • Thank you so much for 2 thing I now have a photoshop thingy and I can make awesome maps for my urealms games thank you so much m8.
  • Perfection! I mostly play outside of TTS, but this is still good for the community! *resurrects thread*

    *the forum necromancer has left the room*
  • edited October 2017
    How do you get to Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast.. In GIMP, I can't seem to find it.

    EDIT: nvm I found under Colors > Contrast/Brightness
  • Sorry if this is kinda.. necroing the thread. It's still a damn good thread and I only started following the guide today. It would be helpful for others I'm sure if it was bumped. Just wanted to say thanks a year later as this helped me a lot :drunk: 
  • @Cloud I completely missed this when it was first posted. thanks for bumping it up again, as i sure could use this !
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