How To Draw Water On A Map

Water tutorial

It can be tricky to draw water on a map. You don’t want to fill areas with a flat blue, but you also don’t want to draw every wave and ripple. The trick is to strike a balance, and provide a visual shorthand that quickly sells the presence of water. When putting this together I was thinking about Mike Schley‘s water style (shown in this map).

1. Lines

Around the edge of the water area, draw in smooth flowing lines. Draw them quickly with a sweeping motion – don’t think too hard about it. This takes a little practice, but once you’ve got the hang of it, it comes quickly. Have the lines loosely follow the edge of the water, and avoid any sharp corners

At this point you can use it as-is – black and white line maps are easy and quick to use. But if you want colour, read on.

2. Base colour

Here I’ve added a grey blue as the base (on a new layer under the lines). Once the blue is in place, I added a white highlights, on the side of the  black ripple lines. I’ve added the white only to the edge away from the side of the pool. This way the ripples look like they’re heading towards shore. Add brighter highlights right along the ripple edges.

3. Extra credit

In this step I’ve added the ripple texture from earlier this week as an overlay layer at 8% opacity. I’ve also added a new overlay layer and used a large fuzzy brush set to black and low opacity to darken the deeper parts of the pool. This will darken the blue, and bump up the saturation, but leave the white highlights almost untouched.

That’s all there is to it!

Here’s a video walkthrough of how I draw water on a map:

10 thoughts on “How To Draw Water On A Map”

  1. amazing
    I’m not good in english
    But perfectly understood the tutorial
    thanks for sharing it

    congratulations for the blog
    Always keep visiting

    would like some tips if possible
    Thank you.


  2. Are you using photoshop? Do you think photoshop is the best program for creating maps or would you recommend any others? I know that adobe now has a pay by the month kinda thing but are there any cheaper programs that do similar things?

    1. Check Affinity Photo which is proving to be a good and cheap alternative to Photoshop. It’s still in beta so some rough edges are to be expected but I really like it.

  3. Thanks for the tips! That is pretty cool. I’ve been trying some techniques for maps but they haven’t turned out to good. This should really help. I love to toss in “water features” in many of the encounter areas I design. There is just so much you can do with water. Water can make a boring battlefield a lot of fun in a hurry.

  4. Man, you are just so good at this. I swear, I only look this stuff up once every year, and o always find myself at this site. You are great!

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