Noob question: How do people make maps?
Ah, so I've found my next blog post topic!
is spot on: Google Maps
is a great place to get started. You can zoom in and zoom out so that you can plan out very detailed, fiddly precise alignments ("Can I fit a 2 track ROW between these buildings?"), you can use the satellite view to eyeball the build-up density (which can be a helpful reality check on overeager fantasy maps), and you can use the terrain feature to find out where you've got hills and valleys. You can also use layers to make the map a little more manageable -- put your stop labels in one layer, your commuter rail lines in another -- turning off different layers depending on what you want to focus on.
When you make your own map on Google Maps, you're actually creating .kml files
, which means you can export your maps -- useful for backing up your maps, sharing with other people, or importing features from one map into another. You also can import your map into Google Earth and view it in 3D, which can be super useful.
You will find limits with Google Maps -- there is a reason it is free. If you put a lot of work into a map, I definitely recommend backing up the .kml files offline.
When posting the map here, I recommend inserting a screenshot of either the whole map or a specific section that you want to draw attention to. Google Maps are great for highlighting details, but can be overwhelming (especially with lots of layers) when trying to get an overall sense of the map.
Beyond Google Maps, you're moving into the realm of Adobe Illustrator and the (open-source) GNU Image Manipulator Program
. These are what you'd use to make diagrams, and what you'd use if you want to make more static/stable maps. I myself actually use Paint.NET
and find it to be a really useful happy medium between the too-basic Microsoft Paint and the somewhat-intimidating proper vector graphic editors mentioned above (which I will eventually "graduate" into).
I use OpenStreetMap
screenshots or tiles as my basemap, importing them into a layer in Paint.NET and drawing in layers above. Though I haven't actually gone to confirm, I assume that Google's map layers and satellite imagery are copyright.
Also -- not gonna lie -- I will also make maps/diagrams freehand with markers and paper (sometimes graphpaper, sometimes with a ruler). This is useful for sketching out concepts and getting a feel for how the different pieces fit together. It also sometimes is useful to get the idea down on paper quicker than you can on a computer.