We’ve all struggled with creating maps at some point in time. This article will show you the exact tools, skills and process of creating simple vector maps in Adobe Illustrator. These methods can be used with other software or even by hand (if you’re going for that effect) and are fully customisable.
At the start of any project, you’re either given a site or offered to choose on for yourself. The site and its surroundings are an extremely important feature of the project and can affect the overall design of the building. The process for creating maps isn’t too long and once you get the hang of it, it’ll be easier each time.
Look out for more resources and examples of maps we love at the end. Your map doesn’t need to be in the exact style we show you and can be as detailed or minimal as you wish.
Scales and Measurements
For architects, scale becomes an industry standard. Being able to understand this language and training your eye to figure out the size of an area on a large scale is a key skill. Maps especially should be :scale. But how can you figure out what the best option is?
We believe there are 3 important factors when deciding the scale of a map you want to create and eventually present.
- The size of your page
- The amount of surrounding information you want to show
- The size of your site in relation to the page
The tools used when creating a map are just as important as the thought process behind it. It is essential that you use good quality maps or images because you don’t want your work coming across as something put together in five minutes. Maps will undoubtedly be featured towards the start of your portfolio, so presentation is key because it builds an impression.
For most architecture students across the UK, there will be a large collection of resources available to you through your university, and most of the time some websites allow for university logins so that you can access materials for free.
We love using Digimap to create maps, site plans etc.
Digimap is an Ordnance Survey mapping website and has quite a bit of interesting features but mainly it lets you look at and download maps from all over the UK.
A great feature of Digimap is that it allows you to download maps in common formats such as .PDF but also AutoCAD.
Once you’re logged in, you can use the ‘Roam’ feature to start tracking down your site.
By this point, you would have either visited your site in person or seen it through Google Maps. It’s great for getting a sense of the site without actually having to be there, but also to access or view areas you physically cannot.
As long as you have an address or a general idea of where your site is, you can view this as a satellite image, in a simple map format or by using the street views.
The quality of Google Maps isn’t extraordinary but if you did want to use a satellite image as a plan view, we’d recommend downloading Google Earth. It lets you select your area and export as a high-quality image.
This can be useful later on in the project when you have designed your building and want to place a plan view back on site as a plan or a rendered image.
Illustrator is the obvious choice for creating a vector map. If you aren’t familiar with it yet, visit our page about ‘Getting Started: ‘10 Essential Tools to Master in Adobe Illustrator’.
A vector map gives a clean, minimal outcome and Illustrator is preferred over Photoshop because you can edit the exported Digimap as well as edit colours and add text easily.
This doesn’t mean you can’t use Adobe Photoshop, or other drawing software to create your maps. If you want to see an alternative method, tell us in the comments after this article. You could hand-draw and scan in your map and edit it further using these software and it would still work fine.
By now, you must want to get stuck in and create your map. For this map, we’ll be looking at Shoreditch and using a random building as our ‘site’. In your project, the site might not be an occupied space, so to workaround this, either choose the neighbouring building’s address or locate your site using a unique landmark you can recognise.
The first thing you want to do is get logged into Digimap and find Shoreditch. Our chosen building for this exercise is:
Soho Works Shoreditch
Or you can enter the postcode: E1 6JJ (you should write your site’s address down somewhere so you can easily access it without having to try find it each time).
After entering the Ordnance Survey Roam tool and entering the postcode this is what your screen should look like.
Now we can zoom in or out and change the type of map displayed to us by clicking on Basemaps and choosing Line Drawing.
This gives us a clean image with our site at the centre. Now we’re going to export this map. But before we do this we need to set the 3 parameters we mentioned earlier.
- The size of your page
For the start of a project, we think A2 (portrait) is fine but if you choose A1 or landscape, you can easily change this in the next steps.
2. The amount of surrounding information you want to show
We want to show the majority of Shoreditch, at least its recognisable landmarks and have our site somewhere in the centre.
3. The size of your site in relation to the page
At this stage, we don’t need the site to be large because this map is focusing more on the surroundings and general area.
To export the map, you need to click on the printer icon at the top of the screen. We aren’t actually printing it yet but setting it up as a page.
Now you’re faced with the print options. You need to enter this information according to your parameters. On the right-hand side you can view what your page will roughly look like.
Details for this map –
Map Title: Shoreditch Map 1
Print Scale: 1000
Print Format: PDF
Page Size: A2
Print Layout: Portrait
*Uncheck Add my Name
Then, click Generate Print File and save to a location of your choosing.
Now, we’re going to open Adobe Illustrator and go to File > Place and place the PDF on an A2 portrait page*.
*This is important, the size of your artboard in Illustrator should match that of the map you downloaded to make sure the scale is correct.
After placing your PDF map make sure to save your file by going to File > Save As.
Now click on the Embed button in the top toolbar. This lets you edit the contents using the Selection Tool (V) and Direct Selection Tool (A).
For a clean, simple vector map, we need to get rid of the extra information such as street names and legends. (If doing this in AutoCAD, you could download the .dwg file and turn off these extras as they will be on separate layers.)
To do this, you can use the Direct Selection Tool (A) and hover over extra information such as the watermark and directly delete it. To help things move along faster, zoom in and using the Direct Selection Tool (A) click on one of the texts or letters.
Next, go to Select > Same > Appearance. This selects everything on the page that is similar. If at any point, it selects the building lines we want to keep, try one of the other options or do this manually.
Sometimes there may be a leftover outline that isn’t visible so be sure to do the same and select all and delete using the Delete key. Now we can repeat the same for other texts and shapes we don’t need.
Sometimes we can run into the problem of expanding the map beyond the visible borders. This can happen when trying to get rid of the outlines or the legend at the bottom.
To fix this, use the Direct Selection Tool (A) and drag across one edge of the page till the area where you want the map to stop.
Don’t be worried if this takes a long time, Illustrator is processing all of the detailed information. Sometimes you just need to wait it out and be patient, so don’t start clicking everywhere because it will just make the process longer.
After some clean up, you should end up with a result like this. For the purpose of the tutorial, we’ve set the stroke weight to 2pt, but it can be whichever is best visible at the moment according to you.
Next, using the Selection Tool (V) we are going to make the entire stroke colour Black. Select the map and then double-click on the stroke square and select Black.
*Remember to save your work as you go, there’s nothing worse than repeating these steps in case of a crash.
Now, we’re going to use the Live Paint Tool. If you haven’t used this before, read our ‘Getting Started: 10 Essential Tools to Master in Adobe Illustrator’ to understand the basics.
Click on the map using the Selection Tool (V) and go to Object > Live Paint > Make. Choose Black as your fill colour and click on the Live Paint Bucket Tool (K) which is usually under the Shape Builder Tool (Shift + M).
Now you can go in and fill in the buildings with the Black fill colour. To not get confused, fill your site – or in this case – the building, with another colour so you don’t lose it. You can click and drag to cover more areas but try not to fill in any pavements or railway lines.
Make sure to expand the Live Paint once you’re done by going to Object > Live Paint > Expand or by clicking the Expand button.
Now, we can either turn off the stroke colour or set it as white depending on your preference. Here are both. The level of detail is completely up to you and you can play around with colours or even gradients if you want.
And there you’ve got a simple vector map. But it still needs some extra bits and resources. For example, these maps have different colours to associate with different parts of the site or even additional photos and keys. Don’t go crazy and make a rainbow coloured map, try and keep it as simple and clean as possible.
Make sure you use layers in Illustrator so that your map is not affected directly. It’s totally up to you how much information you want to add depending on what you want to show through the map.
Try not to overload too much information as this can make the map seem unappealing. Adding photographs, annotation and other information is fine but realistically the examiner won’t have time to read a long paragraph.
Remember to add the scale of the map at the bottom of the page as well as a north symbol. You can make this quite simply or find an image online.
We’ve created a template to help you organise your map and not forget any key information. It contains a template for A2 and A1 pages as well as our own North symbol.
To download the template simple click below and open in Adobe Illustrator. Then make sure to copy it over to your map file or overwrite the template and save as a new file.
Creating vector maps becomes easier with online resources. In case you can’t use Digimap, here is an alternative as well as other website links.
Pinterest is great for looking for inspiration and styles. Find one that suits you and try to create one in your own style. Follow us on Pinterest too!
Let us know how it went and whether you did anything differently. We’re always looking for the most efficient way to create architectural drawings. If you have any questions leave a comment below!