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Digital Map Tips & Tricks

Tips & Tricks to add Style and Professionalism to Your Maps

Following are some common tricks that you can apply to your base maps for added style & flair.

Shading & Fills

Example Gradient effect on Illustrator MapYou can add any vector shading effect to your map. The most popular are the drop shadow and feathering effects under the “Stylize” submenu. Many use the feather tool on filled water features to give them a nice shoreline effect. Some people also use the gradient fill to get a angled reflective sunlight look off the water. You can use the gradient and shadow filling effects on other fills like parks and boundaries to highlight them. Either of these effects will give depth to the map. Gradients are really great for the water layer on globe maps. It gives the globe map a look of sunlight hitting it and a spinning effect.

Note: On some of the larger detailed maps you might need to copy the layer and simplify and merge polygons before applying these shading fill effects.


Blend Tool Effect

Here is another edit to create sunlight effects on a globe using the blend tool. You can use the gradient tool for shaded effects, but the blend tool gives you even more control on sunlight on your map. You can download this sample map to see this effect in action.

  1. Open the globe file up and unlock the water layer
  2. Select the water layer and change the color to a dark blue you like
  3. Now, select the circle tool and add a very small circle where you want the sunlight to hit.  It’s best to choose open water as the origin, and not water under land.
  4. Change the color of the added circle to a light, almost white shade of blue
  5. Select both the ocean fill and the new circle
  6. Under the Object menu select “blend” and choose “make”.  It may take a few seconds to make your map blend.

Drop Shadows

Drop shading and shadows are great for making text and symbols stand out. Make sure you have selected the font you want to use for each text feature before applying the drop shadows. Use drop shadows sparingly since it can sometimes overwhelm a map. Here's an example of a subtle but effective use of drop shadow effects on a vector map:

Drop shadow effect on a digital vector map


Small Locator Maps Inside Your Map

Lots of people who do a map for their web site or publication are now selling to a Worldwide audience. Some people might know where the U.S. Is, but not the state where your business is. To better illustrate a particular location for a viewer, many map designers use a map in a map. For example, if your map is of Ohio, you could put a scaled U.S. Map in the upper left or right with Ohio high-lighted. This can easily be done with a page layout or graphic program like illustrator. You can scale the U.S. Map on top of the Ohio map than output the two as one PDF, jpeg, or png file. The same can be done using a world or regional outline map as a locator map in the corner of any map.

Map in map effect on a vector map


Road Casings

You can easily add road casings to any road line layer. Some people like really wide road line widths and casings to surround them. First, duplicate the road’s layer twice you want the casing on. Name them something unique like frwycasing and frwycolor. In each newly created layer delete the roads you don’t want. Select by color to do this. Next, make sure the frwycolor layer is on top of the frwycasing.   Now lock all layers except the frwycasing. Select the freeway lines in frwycasing by using “select stroke color.” Once selected, change the color to black or a different color and widen the stroke width by about one third.   

You now have road casing for that road class. You can park the two new layers over the original roads layer or delete the matching roads out of the original layer. Note: A lot of people like to simplify the road line work before creating the casings.  Simplifying the lines in Illustrator deletes a lot of the vertices and replaces them with handled lines ( Bezier curves).


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