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How to use mountains to define scale by torstan How to use mountains to define scale by torstan
I've been asked a lot about how to depict different scales recently. The question is - how do you tell the viewer of one map that they're looking at a zoomed in region of a small area, and on another map convince the viewer that they're looking at a large area, zoomed out. The easiest cue for the viewer is mountain ranges. These are the feature that's different enough at different scales that they can act as a defacto scale-bar.

Left: I've shown a section of a mountain range pretty zoomed in. Here you can see the individual peaks, and the slopes and crests of the mountains. They take up a large amount of the map and we know we're looking at a detailed map - similar to the kind of map you might get when exploring hiking trails. This is perfect for a detailed map of the environment around a town, perhaps showing the location of some nearby monster lair or other location of adventure.

Right: I've shown a similar map, but the mountains are now just a range. You can't see the individual peaks, and all you get is the overall sense of a barrier. This is closer to what you might see if you look at the Andes zoomed way out ([link]). The lack of distinct detail tells the viewer that you're looking at a large expanse. You can add a scale of course, but ideally a scale should reinforce the impression the viewer has of the map, rather than being a necessary tool for interpretation.

You can also vary the amount of detail in the coastline. Coasts are fractal, so that's not strictly going to be a good measure, but it can trick the viewer into thinking that a map is of one scale rather than another.

As always, check out more tutorials in the Tutorials section on the blog: [link]

If you want to draw mountains in the style on the left - there's a tutorial for that: [link] and also a video tutorial: [link]

(and yes, I tried to do depth levels in the sea with hatching but it didn't really work....)
chashio Featured By Owner Mar 29, 2013  Professional General Artist
That's a rather pretty way to draw mountains, with the hatching. Have you ever done a full map like that?
torstan Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2013
It's nice. I've never done a full map like that. I'm tempted to try though. This with a light colour wash would look pretty good.
chashio Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2013  Professional General Artist
I bet it would, at that. Try it. :)
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Submitted on
March 27, 2013
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Date Taken
Mar 26, 2013 5:47:48 PM -04:00
Adobe Photoshop CS5.1 Macintosh