DIY Internal Maps & Line Drawings

Perhaps it’s just a personal preference, but I like it when books include some internal artwork.  Most usually these seem to appear in the front matter of thrillers and fantasies.  I guess they’re most relevant when the plot-line spans several countries, or an entirely invented landscape.  Sometimes they’re used to support the text – such as the puzzles in Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci Code’ or Kate Mosse’s ‘Labyrinth’.

I certainly wanted to include artwork inside Firebird, and it’s turned out the same for Thunder.  The challenge was, how could I create the images whilst avoiding copyright problems?  Having just tackled this exercise again, I thought that now was a good time to write down how I’ve done it – before I forget!  Perhaps you’ll find it useful.

I needed royalty and copyright free maps of Europe, so this technique describes the process I followed.  Variations on the theme would work for other line drawings too.

I use a Mac, which makes life easy when handling graphics, but the techniques apply equally to PC’s too.  I haven’t bothered to specify exactly which software I use but the majority is ‘bundled’ or ‘freeware’ and the exceptions are ‘budget/lite’ variants.  The point here is to create good looking graphics on an indie-budget (i.e. nil)…

Okay, here goes:

Step One: Obtain relevant source material as hardcopy (printouts).

It took me a while to find the right (and same) scale maps for the areas I needed.  In the end, I chanced across some illustrations in the back of a promotional airline magazine which suited my purposes almost perfectly.

Step two: Trace and Scan.

Clear acetate sheets are available from most stationers.  I remember them being used regularly for old-style overhead projectors.  Nowadays, they seem to be used for comb-bound document covers.  You’ll need a few of these, some Blu-tack (or equivalent) and a couple of medium/fine tip permanent marker pens.

I’ve found it’s best to stick the source document down onto my desktop (with the Tack), and then to stick the acetate in place on top of it – but perhaps you’re less clumsy than me…!

Carefully trace the original onto the acetate sheet.  The level of precision required will vary depending on personal preference and content.  To be honest, a little inaccuracy is good – this is what makes the image yours.

When you’ve finished tracing, scan the acetate (any flatbed printer/scanner will accept the acetate and scan the image in as if it has a white background).  Use the highest resolution your device will allow.  600×600 DPI is good.

Here is a section of one of the maps from Thunder.

Step Three: Flood fills (or colours)

Almost all painting / drawing packages include a feature for flood fill.  It’s usually symbolised with a paint-can icon (not a spray-can!).

For my images, I wanted the sea to be shaded grey (see above), so I imported the scanned image into my basic drawing package and simply used the flood fill feature.  If you find that you have ‘bleeding’ – where the fill covers more of the image than you want – try adjusting the fill sensitivity (if your package allows it) or check that your line drawing doesn’t have any gaps round the edges.

Step Four: Titles, text and labels.

Again, many drawing packages also include the facility to insert text.  I chose to use a separate package for my titles and labels, but that was just personal preference.

A couple of things to watch out for…

Check that the text size you’re using is big enough to be visible on an eReader screen.

Try to avoid the temptation to use lots of different fonts.  Stick to one, if possible.

Include the image Title (if relevant) in the image itself – this makes life easier when creating an eBook file and prevents titles and images becoming separated across pages (a problem I struggled with in Firebird… Grrr…).

Step Five: Finishing Touches.

Finally, resize the image.  For my eBooks I use JPG format images which work fine for line-art and are efficiently sized.  While I’m building the picture up, I generally use PNG or SVG format (which are bigger, more complex files).  I recommend that, during drafting, you keep your image at the highest resolution/complexity possible.  Only now, at the end, is the time to save lower resolution/quality images (and, don’t overwrite your originals!).

Resizing can be done using the “Save As” function in many drawing packages.  On a Mac, the Previewer Application has both ‘Resize’ and ‘Save As’ features which are extremely useful.

For a standard Kindle, an image size of 600 pixels wide by 800 pixels high is one full page.  If you have text, outside of the image, that needs to stay on the same page (e.g. a page title), then the picture will need to be less than 800 high (how much will depend on how much, and what size, text you’re dealing with – trial and error will doubtless ensue).

Whenever resizing, try to keep the aspect ratio (the ratio of height to width) the same – most software packages will do this for you automatically if you select the correct option.

This then is a reduced-resolution example of one of my finished maps…

So there you go.  A tricky but not too difficult way to produce internal imagery!  Good luck, I hope this helps, and please let me know if you’ve got any other special little tricks and tips you can share!


NB: This guide was originally posted on 23rd July 2012.

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