Worldbuilders need maps and map-making software is a great way to create your own! And anyone wanting to take advantage of World Anvil’s interactive maps features will need a map image to get started! Of course, if you’re a talented artist (I’m not) and if you have loads of time (I don’t) you can hand-draw your maps. But map-making software offers a great chance for the rest of us to have artistic input, and still quickly come up with a map that looks at least passable!
Rather watch the video about map-making software than read the blog? Here’s our review in video form!
So, behold – 5 of the best map-making software on the market (or just about to be) right now! They’ll all allow you to create maps which you can import into World Anvil as JPG or PNG files. And from there, the fun really begins! You’ll be able to drop pins to create interactive maps which your players and readers can explore, track journies of your characters and even link maps to other maps! That gives your readers and players an incredible understanding of the scope and scale of your worldbuilding, and it’s a sure way to get them hooked!
Map-making software 1: Project Deios (Coming Soon)
Project Deios was designed to be the last word in map-making software. The art style is phenomenal, as created by the inimitable map illustrator Caeora. The UI will be straight forward. You’ll be able to link all your maps together, so you have a clear understanding of scope as you work. And most importantly, it’ll integrate directly into World Anvil! There’s a browser-based option (my preference) BUT if you’re a die-hard downloadables fan, you’ll be happy to hear there’s a desktop application too, which will work offline.
What kind of maps can you make with Project Deios’s map-making software?
Project Deios will allow you to make star maps, globe view maps, world maps and region maps. But what I’m most looking forward to is the city maps, which will be created in stunning detail. Dungeon Maps, scene maps and building maps will be possible with the integrated battlemap editor from DungeonFog. And my favorite thing? These will all be procedurally generatable IF YOU WANT THEM TO BE! SO, you can have full control of you map, and where everything is place if you need that. But if you’re in a hurry, you can just tweak a few specs and…. voila! A map in moments!
How much does Project Deios cost?
Well, here’s the thing. Project Deios exploded at Kickstarter (more details here) and is currently being built by a crack team of coders in Austria. But it’s not quite ready yet. Good news is that the preorder store will be open in two weeks, and you’ll be able to learn more and buy this glorious chunk of mapping genius! Once launched, it’ll also have a Freemium model so you’ll be able to try before you buy, and see if you like it! But since it’s not quite ready yet, check out the rest of the mapmaking software in this blog post!
Map-making software 2: Inkarnate
Inkarnate is browser-based map-making software, which means that it works wherever you have internet access. There is a limited free version with about 100 map assets, but the full version offers way more. For me, though, I’m not in love with the art style of Inkarnate maps, particularly the way the lettering looks. Of course, if you’re creating your maps to be imported into World Anvil, you can just add interactive labels on the World Anvil interactive maps interface. That means you can dodge the lettering and get a slightly sleeker result from this map-making software.
What kind of maps can you make with Inkarnate’s map-making software?
Inkarnate allows you to make world maps, region maps and distant-view city maps. It also promises a variety of different styles of assets – including Elven, Dwarvish and Orcish assets. That’s going to be a relief to TTRPG GMs who are map making for Dungeons and Dragons style games. A lot of the assets would also be suitable for medieval fantasy settings, so fantasy authors writing medieval or renaissance style fantasy will find this just fine. They don’t seem to have any futuristic or scifi assets, though. Maybe not a great resource for Starfinder campaigns or Scifi writers!
How much does Inkarnate cost?
Inkarnate is a SaaS (System as a Service), and so it’s purchased by subscription, which makes sense. Browser-based software like this has persistent costs to cover, and subscription models allow the software to constantly improve, too!
The free version of Inkarnate’s map-making software will get you smaller maps (1024×768), and about 100 assets. In addition (and that’s important for all you self-publishing worldbuilders and pro-GMs out there) maps from the Free version are only for personal use. You can’t use them for any published or commercial projects.
The paid version of Inkarnate gets you bigger maps (2048×1536), over 500 assets and you can use your maps for commercial projects, without a hitch. A subscription will set you back 5$ a month, but if you try it for a month and like it, spring for the yearly fee of 25$. That’ll save you 35$ a year!
EDIT (13/3/20): The nice folks over at Inkarnate reached out over Twitter to let me know that their most recent version (Inkarnate 1.0) supports up to 8K export resolutions, HD versions of all our stamps for close up city maps, over 1600 assets, and many new features and options!
All in all, Inkarnate is a cheap and cheerful map-making software! You can make some good looking maps on this with a little knowhow, especially if you’re happy with medieval fantasy style assets, or sticking to geography-only for scifi maps! If you’re curious, the beauty is that you can go make an account and play around with it right now for free! And if you want to learn more before you check it out yourself, watch this Inkarnate review by WASD20. It’s far more detailed than anything I can do in the scope of this blog post, and also shows in-platform footage and the map-making process! Nate from WASD20 is a really good guy, too – so make sure you’re subscribed to his channel!
If you’re creating worlds, you’ll know the frustration of dreaming up fascinating stories behind each island and continent…. and then forgetting them! World Anvil’s interactive maps allow you to add context and information to your maps. You can add pins to denote which regions and cities (and dungeons, and lakes and. more!) are which, and even reference articles about them – they pop up on the right, just like in the video below! Imagine being able to immediately check out names, cities, dungeons, and the like!
Oh, and you can also give this information to your players and readers if you want to, or keep some or all of it secret! Designed by writers and GMs, for writers and GMs. 🙂
Interactive maps are just one of the many free features of World Anvil, the award-winning worldbuilding platform, campaign manager and novel writing software! Make sure you check it out!
Map-making software 3: Wonderdraft
Wonderdraft is a downloadable map-making software with a onetime purchase. It’s compatible with Windows 10, Linux, and MacOSX. Like all the map-making software on this list, you can use it to quickly create maps which look pretty good. You also have some good color and visual customization options, and you can autogenerate continents for faster map-making, too.
The benefit: That said, if you have very dodgy internet, or frequently make maps when you travel, this might be a good program for you, as it works offline!
The drawback: Because it’s downloadable, it’s got two big drawbacks. Sadly, you can’t try this one out before you buy it like you can with Project Deios or Inkarnate. And because it’s not browser-based, you can’t just pick up working on your maps on any computer.
The art style reminds me of those sketchy, Tolkeinian hand-drawn maps, but it’s fairly inoffensive. The running requirements are not crazy, and my gaming laptop runs it just fine.
Bare Minimum Requirements for Wonderdraft
Graphics Driver: OpenGL ES 3
OS: Windows 10 64-bit or Linux 64-bit
CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo 2 GHz
GPU: Intel HD Graphics 5000
Memory: 2 GB RAM
What kind of maps can you make with Wonderdraft’s map-making software?
Using the Wonderdraft map-making software, you can make world maps and region maps, and, at a pinch city maps. Megasploot, the creator of Wonderdraft, also just released DungeonDraft, a dungeon mapping software like DungeonFog, but it’s not part of the Wonderdraft program. In terms of genre, this one’s a lot of Inkarnate. Great for fantasy, but not much offering for Scifi, and the art aesthetic really reinforces that.
How much does Wonderdraft cost?
As a downloadable software, Wonderdraft has a one-time fee of $29.99. That’s a very reasonable price for a software that can make you UNLIMITED maps! Wonderdraft also has additional art packs that you can buy for 5 or 10 dollars, but you can also use your own assets if you want to (this thread explains how).
If downloadable is the ONLY way for you then Wonderdraft might be for you. Again, if you want to learn more about this map-making software check out Nate’s excellent review here. He goes through the map creation process on Wonderdraft in detail.
Map-making software 4: Flowscape
OK, so Flowscape kind of is and kind of isn’t a map-making software. Let me explain…
Flowscape is a downloadable 3D modeling program that allows you to make 3D animated scenes. You can also resize the assets, which means (using tiny assets) you can create a large region or a continent. Or (using larger assets) you can create a city or even a single house or scene. It’s all a matter of perspective.
World Anvil users are going to find this program to be pure gold, especially if they’re eager for imagery! Because it’s a 3D modeling program, you can use different perspectives for your images, moving the camera around to get the angle you want. You can take a bird’s eye view screenshot and turn it into a map! Or record a video like this to show to your players or readers and embed it into your World Anvil article! But also, it’s a great way for novelists or tabletop RPG Game masters to get different impressions of their city, from street level. That’s going to help your players and readers really understand what you’re describing, and it’s a great way to generate multiple images and assets for World Anvil worldbuilding articles! You’ll be able to zoom in on areas you like.
Here’s the trailer of Flowscape, and it’s hilarious!
What kind of maps can you make with Flowscape’s software?
Because of the resizable assets, you can make anything from a region or a small continent to a city or even a single house or scene. Check out this 3D medieval style city made by the Co-operatives using Flowscape!
How much does Flowscape cost?
Flowscape costs 10$ and you can buy it right here. It’s an offline, downloadable programme which runs on Windows, Mac and Linux. You can also buy it on Steam, but it’s just a little bit more expensive there at £11.39 (about $14.50).
Map-making software 5: Campaign Cartographer 3
Campaign Cartographer is a downloadable map-making software made by ProFantasy Software. It runs on any modern PC with Microsoft Windows 10, 8 (and 8.1), Windows 7, Vista, XP or 2000, but not on Mac or Linux. It’s an old software, and the UI is pretty dated. Actually, it made me super nostalgic for old-school MS Paint! Not to say the program works the same way, but I was definitely getting some retro vibes!
What kind of maps can you make with Campaign Cartographer’s map making software?
Campaign Cartographer allows you to make world and region maps, but that’s it. They have other map-making software you can buy (City Designer and Dungeon Designer) which cover Cities and Dungeons or Scenes, but they are not part of Campaign Cartographer. You can choose from a LOT of different preset styles on this program, which gives you a diverse choice of aesthetics.
How much does Campaign Cartographer cost?
Campaign Cartographer retails at £29.95 (about $38.50) in the UK, but $44.95 if you change your settings to USA on the website. They also have additional upgrades you can purchase. Either way, it’s the most expensive of the software mentioned here. If you want to learn more about Campaign Cartographer, you can find their tutorials here.
You can use some of your own assets in Campaign Cartographer, like in Wonderdraft, which gives you more stylistic options (learn more here). And this software definitely has some die-hard fans. That said, it’s a bit retro for me, and wouldn’t be my personal choice. The maps don’t look bad, though, and it certainly does the job it sets out to do – you can make maps fairly quickly, and without any art skills!
Once you have your map images, remember that you can link EVERYTHING together in World Anvil! Go from your solar system to your plant, down to your regions, cities, and even dungeons! The video below shows this really well! This kind of linking system gives you – and your readers and players if you choose to share – the ultimate perspective of WHAT is WHERE in your world. And after all, isn’t that what a map’s all about? Interactive maps are one of the many free features that World Anvil offers both novel writers and TTRPG Dungen Masters. Make sure you check it out!
Which mapmaking software do you use, and would you recommend it to others? And did I miss one? Let me know in the comments! <3
THE MAPMAKING RESOURCES
I’ll be rolling these out more of these over the next few weeks, so check back for more posts linked below, or keep an eye on our social media!
- Check out our micro-review of free map generation software for world and region maps!
- Or check out these amazing fantasy and scifi cartographers who create work you can use for your own worldbuilding
- For city and settlement maps (both generated and software) check this one out!
- For landscape images check out this blog post which is full of useful resources!
Finally, check out our blog post on character portraits and images resources – not quite maps, still super useful!
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I can recommend Other World Mapper! It is rather pricey (two price tiers, 32$ and 55$ of one-time purchase) but I’ve been getting really good results. It can be used for outdoor and indoor maps and you can change just about every setting. It’s also royalty-free for commercial purposes so you can use your maps for anything you want without worrying.
Awesome – I’ll check this one out! <3
I purchased Other World Mapper a while back and have been using it. I think it’s pretty good, though there are of course some things I wish it had or handled differently. Unfortunately, I don’t have any hands on experience with the other tools discussed here, but I’m very curious to see a comparison between Other World Mapper and Wonderdraft specifically, as I do like the concept of downloadables (maybe I’m old school) and they seem to be in a very similar space.
Otherwise, great video and article on map making tools, much appreciated!
Your link to the Wonderdraft asset importing is broken. Do you have a proper link to find those instructions?
But, but… what about Photoshop!?! 😀
Hmm, well I would guess personally that this is specifically for dedicated map-making tools, as opposed to tools that can make maps but is not necessarily its main design point, such as PS and GIMP. 🙂
Photoshop isn’t a map-making software – it’s an EVERYTHING making software! I wanted to focus on dedicated map-making software here, but if there’s demand I can do ANOTHER post about the different types of tools to make maps!
I’m not interested in Fantasy or Sword & Sorcery, but more into Science-Fiction(Sci-Fi for short) instead, is there a WorldAnvil equivalent for Sci-Fi world-building?
Indeed! We try to keep all of our templates open to both Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and other equally awesome genres. Here is a link to a comprehensive list of all of templates that you can explore to see for yourself: https://www.worldanvil.com/w/WorldAnvilCodex/a/article-templates
Now, if you are looking for map recommendations, I would say DungeonFog has the best library of Sci-Fi assets, and should support any map making you do in Sci-Fi.
I hope all this helps!
I’m not sure how it compares to DungeonFog’s sci-fi asset library, but MapForge offers a lot of sci-fi mapping content: https://www.mapforge-software.com/product-tag/sci-fi/
Nine of the Add-Ons are free downloads.
Try this one. https://azgaar.github.io/Fantasy-Map-Generator/
It makes great maps, plus it’s FREE! I used it for mapping my own world of Tenoria.
Have a look at Arkenforge. It allows you to create animated maps and can act as a VTT as well. I’ve been really impressed with their progress so far.
I’ll do one of these about Dungeon mapping software and I’ll definitely include Arkenforge, but I don’t think they have world and region mapping. Or do they? 😮
What about TaleSpire? It’s like a tabletop specific version of Flowscape
I’ll be doing a separate list for dungeon mapping software, which is I think the space Talespire is in. I backed that KS and I’m definitely looking forward to it! But this microreview was more about World, Region and City mapping software. Any others you can recommend?
Talespire is absolutely awesome but it’s not a Map-Making software, it’s a dungeon/encounter designer and Virtual Tabletop … and I want to eat it! #gorgeous
I have to mention Azgaar’s Fantasy Map Generator. It has a wide variety of options and seems a good fit for fantasy gamers, especially for those people that are interested in view’s of a world that include countries, sub states, religions, cultures, biomes, etc…
You can import height maps, import language files for random generation of name.
The map starts with everything randomly placed, including settlements that link to Watabou’s medieval fantasy city generator.
Azgaar’s Map Generator = https://azgaar.github.io/Fantasy-Map-Generator/
Watabou’s City Generator = https://watabou.itch.io/medieval-fantasy-city-generator
One of my favorites is Azgaar’s Fantasy Map Generator, i have been using it for a while. It recently got a whole suite of tools to custom build worlds in a natural way from the climate to nations and religions. And its completely FREE!
Hexkit is great for quick old school style hexmaps. https://cone.itch.io/hex-kit
Illwinter’s Floorplan Generator is a pretty good tile based system you can find on steam to create encounter and city maps. Not so sure about region or world so much, but so far it’s been working well for smaller projects.
The link to the micro-review is broken, but I think it’s supposed to point to this page: https://blog.worldanvil.com/2020/02/08/get-maps-for-worldbuilding-your-novel-or-dd-campaign/
Inkarnate is definitely an Okay system to use. It’s upper price tier is really expensive and it’s constantly doting that in your face. I wish if you were at lower price tiers, they wouldn’t make upper tier things APPEAR to be available, then when you click on them a pop up appears saying that it’s for premium. I’ve used it for my maps, but they just released a whole bunch of new designs that make the upper tier seem more and more worth it.
How is their “upper price tier” expensive? It’s $25 for a year. That’s a steal.
Cant comment on Deios as you are pretty much the only one that might have seen a working build of it, seeing as you guys are one of the founders =P
The others though, CC3+ is the most powerful and versetile of those listed. It has an old school look and feel and a steep learning curve, yes. But you can mod (change the UI and add buttons and macros) it if you have the skills.
It also has so many different styles of maps, many are made from some of the best mappers out there like Mike Schley.
Inkarnate Ive played around with, but its very limited when it comes to art style, size and map options.
Wonderdraft I havent tested yet but the maps looks fantastic, all though, they are starting to look the same, like if it only had one art style. (Atleast what I’ve seen around the web.)
Flowscape I wouldn’t count as a map making software as its pretty much just a 3D engine to create pretty scenery, but its really good at that =)
Im still waiting on testing Project Deios as I love what I’ve seen from it. Looking forward to the City Generator the most to be fair.
I can strongly recommend Azgaar’s Fantasy Map Generator, it’s free.
I’d have to recommend Azgaar’s Fantasy Map Generator! It’s free and great to use as long as you have an internet connection. You can either choose to randomize your continent or you can pick one from the list of geographical shapes they provide (my favorite are the high islands)
So I’m pretty late to the party, but I’ve always wondered: I’m a big fan of the “chain” style of drawing mountains, where you draw the spine of the mountain range and then add details to indicate that it’s supposed to be mountains. Problem is, every map-making app I’ve seen draws mountains using stamps. Is there a map-making app that draws mountains as chains, or am I pretty much struck with hand-drawing them in Krita or another similar painting app?
I’m a backer for Project Deios, so I’m definitely on board with it and excited about it, but since its made in collaboration with World Anvil, I really think you should put a disclaimer about that in the review.
I’ve been looking for cartography software for years, but I’ve never found a suitable program. Perhaps this is a good place to ask if anyone knows of worldbuilding software that has these three features. First, I want to be able to build a spherical world. I know that means that flat maps generated from such a world will have inherent distortions, but I want something more realistic than “just pretend the map is of a round planet”. Unfortunately, the above article doesn’t specify whether any of the listed tools allow one to design a spherical world or whether all you can do is create flat maps. (I don’t need a computer tool to do that, I’ve drawn flat maps of imaginary places since elementary school, which was in the previous century.) The second feature I would like is the ability to create contour maps. The screenshots above seem to suggest that the tools reviewed mostly or entirely create a sort of “drawn mountains” effect, and I would like more precise control of topography. Third, I would like to find a program which saves map designs in layers. That way things like vegetation, land use, human(oid) artifacts like cities &c. can have their own layers. The above discussion doesn’t seem to parse the difference between topography (elevation, ruggedness) and secondary effects like vegetation (forests, prairies, deserts, &c.). I hate the sort of map that treats things like forest and desert as being separate categories of the same land features as hills or plains, as it doesn’t allow for things like, for example, hilly woodlands, or rolling desert. Plains are just flat land. They can be covered in forest, be open grassland (prairie), be sandy or rocky desert, just to name a few, and a lot of basic mapmaking software doesn’t allow for such details. I was hoping that either further explanation of the programs in the article above would clarify whether any of them address these concerns, and, if not, whether anyone can point me to cartographic software which does. Thank you for any help you can provide me.
I think that you are too harsh on Campaign Cartographer being “old software”. Sure, the first iterations are but last version, called Campaign Cartographer has only a few years on. Futhermore, it´s way more versatile than other programs you posted mainly because there are loads and i mean LOADS of styles. Sure, old styles look old but new ones are simple beautiful and modern looking. You can also do everything with it: Scifi, modern mapping, world, regional, city, dungeons, etc… Not every software can. Inkarnate has a nice style but what if you dont like or get bored? You just have a couple styles more. Same with Wonderdraft. CC3+ has dozens if not hundred styles available. The only program right now that is more versatile and better than CC3+ at the right hands is Photoshop/GIMP.
I’ve got about 30 square metres worth of hand drawn maps and some 400 pages of notes for a world that I probably should start converting into digital form, it’s not really the age of hand drawn anymore after all. Thing is, I’d need a software that allows me to input accurate elevation curves for everything from ocean depth to mountain height, create my own biome and topography markers and art because only about a third correspond to real world or classical fantasy trope ones, create overlays for trade routes, overlays for meteorological phenomenons (including different types of force and magic concentrations and flows, not just normal weather effects) custom draw buildings for city scapes AND preferrably customise the art to my own style. I don’t even know where to begin looking since I’ve only used Gimp and Inkscape before and mainly just drawn and painted by hand, any advice?
Thanks for the great article! Looking forward to using WorldAnvil!
You’re so welcome! And welcome to the World Anvil community, too! <3
I was a little unsure at first if using a software would be right for me, but once reading your statement that both an artistic inkling and extra patience are needed otherwise, I was sure I don’t. I’ll be better able to make my maps on paper without getting distracted with additional softwares. Thanks for the tip.
interesting! and worth reading ,thanks.
I’m creating a fully submerged deep water campaign. And I would like to know what would fit best for my world. I still don’t know which software or website to pay or buy. Does anyone recommend any of these to me?