How to Draw Roads on a Map (with the Stroke Tool)

Parallel lines are a good way to indicate a road on a map. But drawing parallel lines is next to impossible. Photoshop to the rescue – there’s a simple trick to get this effect quickly and easily.

How to draw roads step 1 - lay in the shapes

1. Draw the roads using a hard round brush

The first step is actually to draw in the roads as a a simple network of lines. I use a hard round brush at 100 opacity, and nice and big (8px, or 15px depending on resolution). Then I use a smaller brush (4-6px) for the smaller roads. Remember, if you have a straight line road, just hold shift and click on the corners, and Photoshop will lay in straight lines.

How to draw roads step 2 - sharpen the roads

2. Sharpen the Layer

First off – duplicate the layer and hide one of them. This is because you can always go back and work on this hidden layer when you decide you want to change the roads, and repeat this step and the next one.

On the visible layer, run the Unsharp Mask filter. Here I’ve used a 50% Amount, and 2px radius. This works pretty well. If you’re using a larger resolution (15px brush above), you can bump up the amount. This basically makes the edges of your roads very crisp, and gets rid of the fizz from anti-aliasing.

How to draw roads step 3 - stroke the layer

3. Stroke the Layer To Create the Edges

Now we set the fill opacity of the layer to 20% (not the overall layer opacity). Second – add a stroke to the layer. Here I’ve set it to Centered, 2px, and blend mode = overlay. That provides a nice subtle road, with a blended edge. This integrates well into the background texture.

Another good tip here is to duplicate that original road layer, and set the blend mode to colour, and the opacity to around 20-30%. That’ll slightly desaturate the roads, greying them out and making them stand out a little.

If you want to edit the roads, edit the original hidden layer, and repeat the sharpen+stroke steps. Easy!

Once you’ve got the roads in place, you can go ahead and draw the buildings, or use this brush trick to lay them in quickly.

6 thoughts on “How to Draw Roads on a Map (with the Stroke Tool)”

  1. Hm. How about doing this in GIMP? I suspect it’s really hard, can’t seem to find fill opacity or stroke …

  2. Is this similar to how you’re laying down rivers? I’d love to see something about how you’re creating these gradient river textures in your maps because that’s something I’m definitely struggling with getting a decent look.

    1. Actually no. For the rivers I draw them in with a large pen (15px hard round) – starting with light pressure (thin line) at thestart of the river, and ending with a thick line (heavy pressure) where it meets the sea. Then I add a new layer, set up as a clipping layer, and use a large fuzzy brush (>100px) to add blues and greens to colour the rivers.

  3. This was very confusing, can you make a video for this? Sounds amazing to use this technique but the tutorial was not clear =/

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