• To Draw and Paint Maps, Revisited [2018]

    Back in 2015, we did the first list of programs to Draw and Paint Maps. In that time there have been some new players to add to that list. I'll touch on some of the ones we previously listed - most of those are still good choices and you should definitely take a look at that list.

    Again, there are lower cost options that are interesting and we'll look at several.
    Most of these come in at around the $25 to $50 price range, with a few being higher and more full featured as well.

    The high end of painting software is by and large occupied by Adobe's Photoshop, though ironically it was not made to be such. Originally, it was to be a digital darkroom for photo editing. Over the years many artists used it to layout and digitally paint scenes and images. And in time, to draw and paint maps as well.

    Corel Painter and Painter Essentials
    Another high cost program for painting is Corel's Painter, which is a monster of a program with an incredible list of painting features. One of Painter's key selling points is its ability to render more natural looking media, such as watercolor and inks, as well as thicker paints and underlying surfaces such as canvas.

    It isn't spoken of much by map makers, predominantly due to cost, I imagine. I've recently been experimenting with some of it's features and can say that some rather interesting effects can be achieved with it. There is also a less expensive Essentials version of the software. There are versions for both windows and mac. No linux, I'm afraid. Beware though, as Painter is quite resource intensive. The full Painter costs around $430 but can often be gotten on a discount. The Essentials version is only $50.

    Clip Paint Studio (Manga Studio)
    Another intriguing choice for map makers is Clip Paint Studio (CPS), formerly Manga Studio, which was more explanatory for what the software was designed to do. That being said, Clip Paint is identical to Manga Studio. It's just a rebrand name. What's more important is the large and creative toolset under the hood.

    CPS has an array of drawing tools and drawing aids, such as a variety of rulers and perspective tools that can be very useful for map making in iso or bird's eye views, as well as top down. CPS is also a much more responsive environment for fast paced drawing and sketching. There is a nice selection of pencils and inks that render well. This is definitely worth checking out and doing a trial version. Both the more expensive EX version and the standard version are available for Windows and Mac. The EX version sells for $209, but is on sale at the time of this article [Apr.01,2018] for $89.99 and is definitely worth the cost. The standard version sells for $48.

    Update - SmithMicro is selling their last physical copies at reduced price, as the software transitions back to Celsys, the original Japanese producer. The story is here. It will be sold hereafter by Celsys. The screenshot shows the mobile setup, but there is a larger desktop setup with a different layout and more tools. The interface is customizable.

    Medibang Paint
    Another interesting choice is Medibang. Strange name, good software. And free. It's also available on a load of different platforms, though again, sadly, not Linux proper. It has versions for windows and mac, ipad, iphone, and android. Which is impressive for a free and well crafted app.

    It's unusual to be offered such a full fledged program with no catch, but stranger things have happened. But hey, it's free. Give it a go and see how it rolls for you. Maybe it's the next big thing.

    Paintstorm Studio
    Another interesting full featured program with a fun name is Paintstorm Studio. Finally we have a Linux friendly program for full scale painting in our list. In the previous Draw and Paint we talked about Gimp and Krita, which are both Linux friendly and both free. Paintstorm chose a different path and does charge a nominal fee for their software. But only $19 at the moment, and possibly to offset the development for all these platforms - Linux, Windows, Mac, iPad.

    There are some new and interesting paradigms for the brush settings, so some learning may be in order to get used to new brush creation. But there are some wonderful features available due to that brush engine, as well as dynamic palettes, custom palettes, rulers, and a whole host of tools and toys, making the low cost an easy choice, in my opinion. It also feels very lightweight in terms of performance. Go give it a run.

    How about a Mac only program? I know we don't have many Mac users, as far as I know, but this program seems like it was a very good competitor for Photoshop and a good example of what can be done, somewhat akin to Affinity Photo, which we spoke of in the previous article.

    Pixelmator comes in a standard and pro flavor with a cost of $30 and $60 respectively, which is quite low considering just how closely this software matches up to its large scale competitor. And what a gorgeous interface. If I ran a Mac, I'd definitely grab a copy and see what it can do. It even sports a good selection of vector tools, which is handy. Another point to make here is that Pixelmator is likely to have a much better handling of type than the other programs listed here, as they are perhaps stronger in painting. But type is a large and important part of map making.
    Standard - http://www.pixelmator.com/mac/ and Pro - http://www.pixelmator.com/pro/

    Rebelle, like Painter, is another one of those programs that specializes in the simulation of real world media rendering. I came to it from watching a video of its watercolor rendering ability, which was impressive. The wet and dry media are very interesting. It won't be everyone's cup of tea, but it is worth a look if you're interested in a real world look and feel to your maps.
    Rebelle 2 costs $89.99 on their website. http://www.escapemotions.com/products/rebelle/

    I like to be fair and show all the options, so I will include some here that may seem a bit less featured or limited due to platform. Each has merit and has its customer out there.

    Milton is an curious beast. Like Mischief, touched on in the previous article, it sports an infinite canvas which has interesting prospects for map makers. Like Mischief, it too is a vector program, but Milton seems decidedly raster in the look and feel of its lines. It also has some really nice features like infinite undo/redo which persist, layers, blur, constant save, and small file sizes. It is available on windows 7 and up, Linux, and a Mac version is in the works. If that's not enough for you, it's free. Though you can support Milton's development on Patreon, which is nice. Go take a look.

    Tayasui Sketches
    Tayasui Sketches looks to be a fun program to work with, albeit it limited to iOS, Mac, and Android. Still, mobile map making is on the rise and would allow for some on the fly campaign mapping should a DM have the gumption to be so bold. There are the usual tools and a pleasant interface, from what I can tell. It downloads free, but has more features in a pro version, but I was unable to determine what that would cost. Anywhere from $5-15 possibly.

    Sketchable is a slick fun app to play with. It is reminiscent of Sketchbook Pro. Lightweight and very design oriented. And also limited to Windows 10 64-bit. That's it. No other platform. But it's free and fun to play with. If you have win10 and a tablet, go grab it.

    MyPaint is a very slim, very lightweight painting program made even more appealing because it has a Linux version, as well as windows and mac, and because it is free. Go give it a try.

    Here's another fun and free option for you if you're running windows 8 or 10. Graphiter is mainly a sketch and drawing application but as it has colored pencils, there is the option for color to your files. It's a slim, fast, fun little program that might prove more useful to visualize a quick map idea that you later produce in one of the previously mentioned paint programs. It's free. Enjoy.

    Another good program for getting an idea down, is Concepts, but only if you are an iPhone or iPad user. It's an attractive, clean, simple interface and sounds like it would be nice to work with. It downloads and runs for free but has pro features that can be extended for various sums. Apps like these tempt me to get an iPad just to use them. But alas, who has a spare $6-800 laying around? Not this guy.

    There are still more programs I could list here. Artweaver, PD Artist from the most strangely named Project Dogwaffle , as well as numerous mobile drawing and painting apps. I've tried to cover the ones I thought might prove most useful to Guild members and readers alike.

    I'd also like to let you know that many of the programs touched on in the first article, To Draw and Paint Maps, have been developed further and may have new features and benefits. I know that Krita is always being improved and is a wonderful program. Black Ink has recently had some new development as well. I believe Artrage has had a new release since I wrote the first article and remains a solid program for painting.

    Procreate continues to perform strongly on the Apple platform and is well respected. Affinity Photo continues to be developed and I heard that they were also working on a page layout program to rival InDesign. That's always encouraging.

    And if you go the painting route and find that you require a different application for your font needs, look no further than Inkscape. It's free and good and resides on a number of platforms.
    Comments 17 Comments
    1. Neyasha's Avatar
      Neyasha -
      Thanks for this interesting article!

      I have a long love-hate relationship with Gimp and I'm tempted to give Pixelmator and/or Affinity Photo a try. The main reason I still stick to Gimp is not only that it's free, but also that there are loads of tutorials here - and sometimes you can work with Photoshop tutorials as well. Does anyone have experiences with Pixelmator and Affinity Photo in this regard?
    1. kacey's Avatar
      kacey -
      This is great J! I've started playing around with some of the apps I hadn't heard of before, thanks for the list.

      Neyasha, I used pixelmator on the iPad quite a bit before I had Photoshop, it's pretty good though I'm not sure about the desk top version. The iPad version wasn't great for painting I used it mostly for selecting and they have a nice liquefy tool. I would use procreate for painting which I love (procreate is my absolute favorite painting app) then pixelmator for making adjustments.

      I also gave Affinity Photo an honest try and I absolutely hated it, it's good for editing photos and making adjustments and that sort of thing but for painting absolutely not. If I were only editing photos and nothing else I think it's useable but I would never recommend it for painting, it's just not there yet.
    1. Laomedon's Avatar
      Laomedon -
      I've also used Paint Shop Pro for maps; it has many of the same features as Photoshop, at a fraction of the cost. (The list price is $99, but if you're patient, they tend to offer pretty steep discounts just before they release a new version.)
    1. Neyasha's Avatar
      Neyasha -
      Thanks, kacey! When it comes to painting I love Artrage - so mostly I'm looking for layer styles, masks, filter, etc.
      As there are free trials for both Affinity Photo and Pixelmator I will perhaps try both of them.
    1. Azélor's Avatar
      Azélor -
      Very useful article! I used medibang on my phone and it was aweful. The problem is not much the software but also the size of the screen, it is a serious limitation unless you have the big ones that don't fit in the pocket. It is useful to take written notes or to draw concepts but not much else.
    1. ChickPea's Avatar
      ChickPea -
      Thanks for this article. I haven't heard of some of these apps, but it's always nice to have new things to try, especially on Linux.
    1. J.Edward's Avatar
      J.Edward -
      I'm glad people are finding it helpful. I was surprised by some of these apps when I ran across them.
      There are some really cool options out there.
    1. Voolf's Avatar
      Voolf -
      Thank you J.E.

      I never heard of some of those. I will check them out
    1. Ilanthar's Avatar
      Ilanthar -
      Thanks a lot! It's more than helpful : I would never have heard of Krita without your previous one.
      I'm actually very impressed by the number of available softwares... and I almost never heard of those except Corel Painter.
    1. Neyasha's Avatar
      Neyasha -
      I'm not sure if I like Pixelmator (for me the interface is very confusing), but I'm now playing around with the trials of both Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer and so far I'm pretty impressed. I like the intuitive interface and compared to Gimp it runs so fast and smoothly on my Macbook! Also the tablet seems to be working a lot better than with Gimp. Not sure if I'm going to buy one of them (and if: which one), but I'm glad the article made me aware of all the alternatives. Thanks a lot!
    1. ChickPea's Avatar
      ChickPea -
      Neyasha, I have Affinity Designer, and it's very good (though I find there are still many things that Inkscape does better), but I've no regrets about buying it. I don't own Affinity Photo, but I'd second Kacey's comments about it. I don't think Affinity intends it as a drawing app, and any painting tools it has are meant for photo touch-ups, and not really for the creation of original art from scratch. I'm sure it could be used for painting if you really wanted to, but I think there are much better tools available. I'd take a look at Clip Studio Paint for drawing/painting, or try Krita (it's free, so you've nothing to lose!) I think many people have found Krita to have much better tablet support than Gimp.
    1. onez's Avatar
      onez -
      Wow, I had no Idea there was so much good stuff out there!
      Thank you John!
    1. Aristotle's Avatar
      Aristotle -
      Nice rundown. I've been messing with Affinity Designer for mapping recently, as I can't justify the Adobe price-tag. I'd love to see examples of maps others have made with some of these alternatives.
    1. Straf's Avatar
      Straf -
      I've only just found this. Very nicely done J.Edward. I'm going to have to check some of these out. I'm particularly interested in Milton.
    1. JhekieJ's Avatar
      JhekieJ -
      Hmn, I didn't know that Clipstudio can be used for mapping but I am not surprised. I think I'll try it and see the difference from photoshop. Thanks for the list, I found some that I could recommend to some artists in my Discord Server (it's a general art society tho) who would like to try their hand in digital graphics software.
    1. Tom Solo's Avatar
      Tom Solo -
      What if you want to hand draw a map what tools would you need
    1. Dom de Mattos's Avatar
      Dom de Mattos -
      I thought I'd give Medibang a try and have just downloaded it. I have had some experience of Coreldraw (showing my age) and CS2 (not much better), so thought I ought to be able to follow the tutorials. First one: how to draw a square and a circle. As far as I can tell, I followed their instructions, but I could not get it to draw the outline of a square. Solid square yes, outline no. If I can't even manage to follow the most basic tutorial, what hope is there? Does anyone here use Medibang? Is it more user friendly than appears at first?