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  • Writer's pictureWarren

The Castle Conquest

Updated: Nov 13, 2018

Lately I've been dumping pictures into ArcGIS Pro to create picture fills, strokes, markers, scale bars, and north arrows. I've fallen deep into a rabbit hole trying to add texture to nearly every facet of my maps and layouts ever since discovering the symbology options. Ultimately, my goal has been to see how I can utilize these pictures and textures to get so far beyond the "defaults", that the maps don't immediately reveal themselves as something that was created with ArcGIS.

The following is an overview of how I created this map of Popular Castles in the United Kingdom, from graphic assets to map and layout. You can download the ArcGIS Pro project, the graphic assets, or the map itself if you'd like to jump ahead and get right into the goods or follow along. Keep an eye out as I don't *think* I used many, if any, solid stroke symbols throughout the style.

Map Preparation

This was a map I was making purely for amusement and testing myself with ArcGIS Pro so I got to choose the scope of the map. Since I was itching to create a fantasy map with castles I figured some historic place in Europe that had ancient castles would suit nicely. I settled on the United Kingdom, c'mon Kingdom is in the name what's more 'castle and knightly'? This also had a reasonably diverse terrain (ocean, lowlands, mountains, plains, etc.) that I could represent with an array of symbols to fill the map. After some brief searching I found a list of the 10 most popular castles from English Heritage.

I sourced the majority of the remaining map data from Natural Earth and referenced a number of layers from the Living Atlas to create a landcover layer loosely based on reality. With all the data I sourced or created, I knew there would be plenty of features to represent with symbols and I'd be able to package up the symbology as a style. I ultimately wanted to create a GIS version of something like the hand drawn maps, boardgames, and RPG fantasy maps.

Now to Illustrate the Knight Away

Creating all of the graphic assets I would need for the map was the real test. I'd recently installed Affinity Designer and was excited to try it. I'd created a list of features I'd need to represent and this would guide my illustrations.

I'm still new to Affinity Designer so this isn't a software guide. However, I will offer a couple tips that I learned throughout the process of creating image assets for ArcGIS Pro.

Have a List

The first tip is to go into the image creation with a list of key items that you know you'll eventually need. Having a list also requires you to think about the look of your map and forces you to start making decisions pertaining to your symbology and how you'll build it (often you can use 1 asset multiple ways...). Needless to say, it also makes the process more organized.

Some key things to consider are:

  • Appearance of lines (Picture strokes are great for adding character to lines and also for 'faking geometry').

Some of the lines used creating the map. The 'fluffy cloud' line was used to surround the forest polygons.
  • Unique point markers (things you can't construct in Pro, or that unique styles to suit the map theme).

  • Any specific fills (both textures and marker fills).

'Point' marker symbols used to depict discrete points as well as within polygons as repeated marker fills.

Work Smart not Hard

Don't charge into creating images just yet, take a second to consider your symbols. ArcGIS Pro creates symbology in layers and the same should be done when creating assets for your symbology. Don't just create the symbol, create the components you need to build the symbol. Essentially, I'm suggesting to create assets in layers the same way you build your maps (also worth looking at existing styles for examples). For instance, if you're creating a bunch of highway shield markers don't create the entire shield and then export it to an image. Build the components and export them as separate images ex. the outline, the crest, and the 'badge topper' for lack of the correct term.

Outline, crest, badge topper?

You can mash these pieces together in any number of combinations later when you load them into Pro. You'll notice the classic character markers are constructed in much the same way.

These images will be the layers you need, not necessarily the symbol you wanted.

Building components as layers also applies to those complex symbols. In the case of the castle map, I built all the structures as individual components before grouping them together prior to export. This way if I needed another marker in a pinch I could easily rearrange the pieces to create a city or village that was assembled from the same components different enough to be distinct. It also meant I could double the total number of symbols available by saving the tower components as their own set of features in the style.

I created all the components of the structures that would form my castles and cities separately. I was also careful to assemble them all roughly the same size (hence the template box).

Different Strokes

Strokes are an interesting challenge that I haven't quite mastered but I've gathered some nuggets of experience that I'll share.

  • They get repeated over the course of a line geometry when the image is shorter than the geometry so it's important to make the image meet at both ends so it will repeat seamlessly.

  • Since they repeat, it's worth checking to see whether it's an obvious pattern or one that looks somewhat random and organic (this depends on what style you're looking to achieve).

  • I generally try to keep them around 5 centimetres (2 inches) in length within my design document. Otherwise, when I add them to Pro I need to crank the stroke width to something like 12pts before the image becomes clear enough to discern. Maybe shorter is better, something I'll need to look into.


I've been using texture fills to give my maps some character, lend them a backstory, and also to tie all the pieces of the map together. When you spend such a long time crafting castle elements slapping them onto a landscape of solid fills seemed criminal, so it's worth figuring out how to use them and even create them. John Nelson has a number of examples that would be excellent starting points and Wild Textures is another great resource. In this castle map I leaned heavily on John's seamless water colour texture, in much of my symbols. If you spend a moment and craft a really great polygon fill texture and save it within a style you can then also us it in endless places throughout your map. You can even use it as a fill within your text labels. Just keep in mind that transparencies within your image won't render a tint and will show what lies beneath on your map, so use it to create an illusion of layered depth in text labels that looks like a sloppy stamp.

This is a work in progress where I've used an image file to create a spotty stamp/ink print to fill the text labels.

Keep it Consistent

When creating image assets I found it helpful to keep things consistent. This including setting up guides within my document to ensure that things were either aligned or the same size across all of the assets I was creating.

For assets that would eventually be applied to points markers, and lines as strokes I created boxes (one for each geometry) within my document and all assets would be constructed to fit within these respective boxes. This way I ensured that my images were all approximately the same size when I exported them and I would know how they'd behave when scaled in Pro.

This is an example of what I learned from creating my castle map and applied to a work in progress. I've created approximate extent guides to keep my work all the same size.

Note: It may go without saying, but I found that exporting the images as higher resolutions scaled better and could be expanded and shrunk while behaving as expected versus lower resolution images.

Prepare for Export

Once you've created everything you think you'll need it's time to export. In terms of format I've been using PNG, this let's you take advantage of transparencies within your image. It can either aid in building the depth of the texture (think the stamp example from earlier) or to ensure that valuable space on your map isn't chewed up by a large white image background surrounding your picture marker.

Speaking of white backgrounds, I've learned that it's best to export as many images as possible without colour. There will be cases where unnecessary or impossible, but in general it's best. The reason being is that you can tint picture symbols later in ArcGIS Pro to any colour and that saves you creating an bespoke symbol in every possible colour of the rainbow. In addition, it also means you can re-use the same image several times within a symbol to create a more complex symbology. Work smart not hard remember?

Create 1 asset and use it many times different ways, save time and effort.

Back to the Map

Now that your assets are created you can jump back into ArcGIS Pro and start assembling some symbols! The best way to figure out how to build multi-layered symbols is to pick apart some existing symbols and just experiment with what looks good to you (that's how I learned). There's plenty to dissect and reassemble in the Castle Conquest symbols. If you really want to dive into it I suggest downloading the style and picking the pieces apart yourself.

*Hint, there's also assets I included in the raw files that I didn't build into symbols. I suggest you find them and add some extra symbols to your maps - a castle on a hill perhaps?

There are assets in the raw images that never made it into the style. With a little effort they could easily be used...

Once I'd finished building all the layered symbology and was happy with the map I created some layout elements (these are tagged 'Layout Elements' within the style). Things like scrolls, helmets, and shields extended the theme to the layout. I think the scrolls might even be possible to use as label callouts (bonus points to those that incorporate those scrolls as backgrounds to labels...).

While creating the layout I remembered that someone had mentioned to me on twitter about creating an old folded map crease texture. I can't find reference to this tweet but if they read this I'd like to let them know I finally did it. I thought this map would be a good opportunity to try it and realized it would be a useful texture. I ended up recklessly folding a heavy bond paper repeatedly and messily. Once perfectly abused I snapped a picture of the sheet and tweaked it with some image editing software removing all the whitespace (adding those transparent regions), and playing with the brightness and contrast. I also saved this image as a PNG and added it to my layout over top of all the other elements. It was the final touch to this amusing experiment and will be a useful resource for other maps (you can download it here).

Make your map look like you leant it to your non-mapper friends who don't know how to fold...

That really covers pretty much everything I did to create the map. Thanks for reading and good luck creating your own fantasy maps!

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