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How to Make a Map in Illustrator

Every time I start thinking of a tutorial to write, I try to show techniques that I use in my job as a designer. For example, today I will be showing you how to make a nice little map. I was called to make a map for the university which was tedious but still fun. This can also be a neat little add-on to a party invitation or the like.First and most importantly turn on some music! Some Armin van Buuren thumping in the background helps the creative process.

Secondly Make sure your computer is on. Really. Enough small talk, let’s get started.

Setting Up

Same old setup as in my other Illustrator tutorials. Choose New Web Document, and just hit OK until your canvas is set up.

Getting Started

First off, you are going to need a map to use as a reference, unless you have some sort of crazy photographic memory. Google Maps is your friend on this one. For this example I pulled a screen-grab of my apartment complex. Go ahead and drop your Map into Illustrator.

Click for Full Image

Building Map Legend

Before we even start, it is a good idea to plan the different sizes of roads and terrains that you will be working with. If you decide that a four lane road has the largest shape and you run into a highway, what now? Here is what I came up with:

Map Legend

I am going to go pretty simple for this example, but it can be as complex or simple as you want.

The road graphics are very easy to make, just choose the Line Segment Tool [\] and draw a line with different strokes/colors. For the yellow one I placed a large yellow stroke on top of the two small orange strokes.

Close Up of Lines

Making the Brushes

With the road graphic selected, open the Brush window. Click on the options button which is the small icon with the three lines in the top right corner. This will open up the Brush Options, choose New Brush.

Brush Options

You will be presented with the following dialog box. Choose New Art Brush and hit OK.

Brush Dialog Box

A new window will come up that will allow you to customize your new brush. In this case it is set up perfectly for what we need. All we need to do is give the brush a name. Choose something appropriate for the different sized roads. I do encourage you to poke around all the neat settings you can use with this tool.

Art Brush options Panel

Repeat this process until you have a brush for each road you made.

Drawing the Roads

Using the Pen Tool [P] draw over one of the existing roads in you map, taking note of how big your graphic will be. Now simply click on the brush in the window that you want to apply to the road.

Draw a road on your map

Repeat this process for all main roads.

This is what I came up with:

Draw all of the Roads

Fixing Intersections

As you may have noticed, the lines will sometimes not line up right at intersections, which is easily fixable.

Roads not Aligned

In some cases it is just a matter of changing the layer order. Using Ctrl+[ to send the shape backwards, and Ctrl+] to send it forward try to adjust the roads to where they line up right.

In some cases you will need to draw the intersections. Draw some shapes with the pen tool that imitate the turn lanes at the intersection. Use the satellite picture as reference. Here are a few examples of how I achieved this.

Road Fix 1 Road Fix 2

Make sure to add some strokes too.

The quick fix is to just throw a dot over the intersection that matches the style.

Making Houses and Backgrounds

Using the pen tool draw out some houses using the graphic style you decided on. Here is an example of what I campe up with:

Houses Main

Using the Pen Tool still draw some terrain changes and send them back behind all of the other shapes. This is what I came up with:

Add Terrain to your Map


Map making is very time consuming and requires a good deal of patience. More than likely if you become a graphic designer, someone will eventually ask you to make a map. It is the basic skills I illustrated in this tutorial that can lead you to make much more complex and interesting maps. Here is an example of a map I have made for a university:

Tour Guide Map Example

Keep practicing and have fun!


  1. Add point Subtract point

    I just downloaded Adobe Illustrator cs5. When I went to create a new brush the “art brush” option was gray and I could not click it. How do I “unlock” it?
    Thanks. And great article by the way.

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  2. Add point Subtract point
    John Kelly (-5 Points) October 31, 2010 at 5:52 am

    dear all, would our tool help some graphic designer in their daily work? We have a info-video. I would gladly receive your comments. Sincerely, John
    Copy & Paste into browser

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  3. Add point Subtract point
    Senanye (-1 Points) October 13, 2010 at 4:45 am

    Hey, can I know how you make the 3D shape like map on University of Texas?

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  4. Add point Subtract point
    logo templates (1 Point) October 5, 2010 at 2:14 am

    Such a nice article. Thanks for sharing.

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  5. Add point Subtract point
    Laura Philllips (-3 Points) August 13, 2010 at 9:36 am

    How do i get rid of the Fill when im using the brush…i’ve tried everything!

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  6. Add point Subtract point
    autumn (0 Points) May 18, 2010 at 8:55 pm

    how do i make a map on the computer?

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  7. Add point Subtract point
    Vanessa (2 Points) March 15, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    How did you do the 3d buildings?

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  8. Add point Subtract point
    anaskattoor (0 Points) March 11, 2010 at 10:45 am

    it’s so great article!!!!!!!!! thank U…………

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  9. Add point Subtract point
    เพลงสากลใหม่ (1 Point) February 3, 2010 at 3:39 am

    wow Great article, thanks!163

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  10. Add point Subtract point
    โหลดเพลงฟรี (-1 Points) February 1, 2010 at 9:56 pm

    wow Great article, thanks!150

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  11. Add point Subtract point
    Jim Griffin (0 Points) February 1, 2010 at 11:55 am

    Do you know of any software for making map symbols such as mountains, bodies of water, forests, etc.? Thanks

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  12. Add point Subtract point
    เพลงใหม่ล่าสุด (1 Point) January 31, 2010 at 11:30 pm

    wow Great article, thanks!

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  13. Add point Subtract point
    เพลงใหม่ล่าสุด (0 Points) January 30, 2010 at 7:14 am
  14. Add point Subtract point
    Philip Cain (0 Points) October 13, 2009 at 10:36 am

    this is shit it has not helped me at all!!!!!

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  15. Add point Subtract point
    Calgary Graphic Design (0 Points) July 19, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    This is great. I’m regularly asked to make maps, and having a straightforward workflow is going to save me time/money!

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  16. Add point Subtract point
    Lina (-1 Points) April 27, 2009 at 10:21 am

    I’ve done a print screen from the photo in Google Maps, but when I place it in illustrator and select “new brush-> art brush” Illustrator gives me an error ( The selected artwork contains elements that can not be edited with art brush) what should I do? PLS HELP

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  17. Add point Subtract point
    zeynep özlem (-1 Points) March 21, 2009 at 6:08 am

    this tutorial is exactly what I need for the maps I will use in my website.. Thank you for sharing this precious thing..

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  18. Add point Subtract point
    Maverick! (-1 Points) February 23, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    Not bad. Creating maps in AI was my job for about 12 months not so long ago and these are pretty much the same principles we used :)

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  19. Add point Subtract point
    barbibouvier (0 Points) February 5, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    great tutorial. i make maps all the time & never thought about making a brush for them-off to do that now. & for joining roads:

    put all like roads on own layer (or not, but) select like roads, then cmd8 (compound path) and it makes all of the intersections, well, intersect with one another. mind you, it also puts these on the same “level” so if you have some of these roads going under AND over things (ie other roads) they will now ALL be over or all be under. but i’ve found, in most of the maps i do (def not all), overpass vs. underpass isn’t as important as where the roads/intersections are.

    again, thanks for the tutorial!

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  20. Add point Subtract point
    Johannes Henseler (0 Points) January 19, 2009 at 10:41 am

    yes, you can improve the crossing mess with grouping lines and then apply a style over it with several strokes. that’s easy as hell!

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  21. Add point Subtract point
    logicalnot (0 Points) December 24, 2008 at 3:32 am

    much easier (to me) :
    1/create all paths of the same legend element on the same layer
    (ie: all freeways on layer 1, all rivers on layer 2, etc. )
    2/ group all path of the same layer
    3/add a new apparence to the group with several stokes
    (this will avoid the crossing mess)
    4/ tadaaa…

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  22. Add point Subtract point

    This is pretty neat, thank you. But the intersection thing is puzzling me… in a more gridlike city there’s LOTS and they all look a bit weird. Anyway to mass correct all the crisscrossing lines?

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    Asad Jaffery (-1 Points) November 29, 2008 at 3:33 am

    This i is really helpful!
    Thanks ISAAC.

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  24. Add point Subtract point

    Isn’t creating derivative works from Google Maps disallowed by the terms and conditions?

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  25. Add point Subtract point
    nelsonph (0 Points) October 20, 2008 at 7:34 pm

    wow very nice ineed to master this tutorial

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  26. Add point Subtract point
    Vincent (-1 Points) August 12, 2008 at 10:34 am

    this was a nice tutorial, though you should have used dynamic editing and live effects so that one path had multiple strokes instead of having to put one on top of the other, blah, blah.(Yes I’m a designer and certified expert in illustrator CS3 among other apps.)

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  27. Add point Subtract point

    great tutorial. fantastic way to have a map that matches the rest of the flyer you just spent hours designing :)

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  28. Add point Subtract point
    Andrei Constantin (0 Points) June 26, 2008 at 5:09 am

    very interesting and useful.
    thanks a bunch

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  29. Add point Subtract point
    Abhijit V. Chaore (0 Points) June 25, 2008 at 2:49 am

    It is a simple and nice tutorial. Thanks for sharing.

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  30. Add point Subtract point
    Patareco (0 Points) June 24, 2008 at 5:20 pm

    Very nice one! I’m sure i’ll need this soon enough!

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  31. Add point Subtract point
    Ali A. Akbar (0 Points) June 14, 2008 at 2:51 am

    Excellent Work. Thanks for the visual.

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  32. Add point Subtract point
    D.A.T. (0 Points) June 13, 2008 at 4:44 am

    really cool tutorial! good job.

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  33. Add point Subtract point

    Sweet! I needed to do a map for a school project, this really helped.

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  34. Add point Subtract point
    LadyAngora (0 Points) June 10, 2008 at 10:13 am

    i actually love the tedious jobs… maps are one of my favorites… ok, i know i’m in the minority on this. thanks for the great tips!

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    sandeep (0 Points) June 5, 2008 at 3:21 am

    Great job with the tutorial .. also was great to see my university map on tutorial 9 :)

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  36. Add point Subtract point

    @ Lauren to make the shapes 3D, use the Effect>3D>Extrude & Bevel. Play with the 3D settings until you find an angle & depth that suits your purpose!

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  37. Add point Subtract point
    Lauren (0 Points) May 28, 2008 at 1:33 pm

    I’d like to know how to make the shapes in the map 3D? Any help?

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  38. Add point Subtract point
    CJ.H (0 Points) May 3, 2008 at 10:44 pm

    I find Illustrator confusing, but this tutorial is very well written and helped me sort out some things. Thanks!

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  39. Add point Subtract point
    Tyler durden (0 Points) May 3, 2008 at 3:45 pm

    wow that was a great tut very easy to follow and do great job

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  40. Add point Subtract point

    Very nice read Isaac! It’s a pretty simple technique, and the end result is great! You did a nice job with that UT Map ;)

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