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  1. Design & Illustration
  2. Cartoon
Design

How to Create a Cartoon Map Illustration in Adobe Illustrator

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Difficulty:BeginnerLength:MediumLanguages:
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

In this tutorial, I would like to show you how to create a cartoon map illustration in Adobe Illustrator. The continents won't look real as you'd usually see on a map—they'll have a funny, simple, cartoon-like style instead. We will use basic shapes and deform them using some effects or by moving anchor points. You can print out the finished illustration on a large piece of paper and hang it up on a wall.

If you would like to, you can add some animals to your map by following these tutorials:

Feel free to check the GraphicRiver animals collection if you want to add ready-to-use images of animals. Or maybe you're creating a map infographic and need some icons? Anyway, GraphicRiver is a good solution.

1. How to Create the Continents on the Cartoon Map

Step 1

After you've opened Adobe Illustrator, create a new document (File > New) with 850 px Width and Height.

Hit the Ellipse Tool (L) and add a few ellipses of any shape. Make sure that the fill color is R=229, G=217, B=180. These are going to be your future continents.

how to start to create the continents

Step 2

Take the Warp Tool (Shift-R), and then drag and stretch the ellipses however you want. Just remember to select the object that you want to deform, otherwise you will deform the surrounding objects. 

The options of the Warp Tool (Shift-R) do not matter here, but if you don't like the options you have (for example the stretching brush diameter is too big or too small) you can double-click on this tool and a new dialogue window, the Warp Tool Options window, will appear. There you can change the Global Brush Dimensions and Intensity and check Show Brush Size.

how to distort the continents using the Warp Tool Shift-R

Step 3

If you want to deform your continents even more in order to make them more realistic, you can do it by going to Effect > Distort & Transform > Roughen. In the new dialogue window, you can play around with the options to achieve the result you want. If you check the Preview box, you can see all the changes in real time on your artboard. You can do the continents one by one, or all together. Whenever you are happy how they look, press OK.

Expand all the lands (Object > Expand Appearance).

how to roughen the continents

Step 4

Select all your continents and go to Object > Path > Offset Path... In the new dialogue window, enter Offset around 10 px, but it depends on the size of your continent. Press OK. A new piece of land will appear evenly around each one. Change this new land's fill color to R=234, G=224, B=195.

how to create the Offset Path for the continents

Create a new board for your continents again (Object > Path > Offset Path...), with an even lighter fill color (R=234, G=224, B=195). With the lighter parts on our map, we are trying to show the land surface lowering into the sea.

how to create the Offset Path for the continents

Step 5

Using the Ellipse Tool (L), create more ellipses on the continents with the fill color R=232, G=221, B=190. Change the fill color again (R=235, G=226, B=199) and add smaller ellipses over the bigger ones.

continue creating the continents

Step 6

To deform the new ellipses, you have two options: you can use the Warp Tool (Shift-R) or go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Roughen... Choose either one, and then expand these shapes (Object > Expand Appearance).

continue creating the continents

Step 7

The last things we want to add to our continents are lakes. Draw a few light blue (R=167, G=214, B=210) ellipses where you want your lakes to be located. Take the Warp Tool (Shift-R) and distort them. Remember to select each object before distortion.

Add smaller and darker ellipses (R=150, G=204, B=200) over the bigger and lighter ones. Distort them using the Warp Tool (Shift-R).

Add even smaller and darker ellipses (R=141, G=198, B=195) over the bigger and lighter ones. Distort them using the Warp Tool (Shift-R).

how to create the lakes

2. How to Create the Ocean on the Cartoon Map

Step 1

Take the Rectangle Tool (M) and click on your artboard. In the new dialogue window, enter Width and Height 850 px and press OK. A big square will appear on your artboard, which is going to be the water or ocean on our map. Make sure the water stays in the middle of your artboard and change its fill color to R=141, G=198, B=195.

how to create the ocean background

Step 2

Select the lightest border of one continent, and make a copy behind (Control-C, Control-B). Make it a bit bigger and change its fill color to R=167, G=214, B=210. While keeping it selected, distort it using the Warp Tool (Shift-R). Repeat this for each continent.

how to create the water around the continents

Step 3

Select the light blue shape around the continent, and create a copy behind (Control-C, Control-B). Make it a bit bigger and change its fill color to R=150, G=204, B=200. While keeping it selected, distort it using the Warp Tool (Shift-R). Repeat this for each continent.

how to create the water around the continents

Step 4

Delete the fill color and set the stroke color to R=167, G=214, B=210. Take the Pencil Tool (N). On the Stroke panel (Window > Stroke), check Round Cap and Round Joint.

Now for the fun part: draw waves all over the ocean. If you see that the stroke is too thin, increase its Weight on the Stroke panel (Window > Stroke).

how to create the waves

3. How to Create the Landmark Objects on the Cartoon Map

Step 1

Let's start with the tree. As our map is in a cartoon style, the tree will be very simple, and the same will be true for the creation part. Take the Rectangle Tool (M) and draw a long vertical rectangle with the fill color R=191, G=157, B=106. Then add a few ellipses on top of it for the tree foliage (fill color R=193, G=191, B=111). Group the whole tree (right-click > Group).

how to create the tree

Make a few copies of the tree you just created in different sizes, and spread them all over the continents.

how to spread the tree

Step 2

To create a spruce, start with a rectangle again (fill color R=162, G=124, B=102).

To create a triangle, take the Polygon Tool and draw a polygon. It will have six sides by default. If you have the newer version of AI, when your polygon is selected, on the right side of the selection you'll able to see a tiny rhombus. If you drag this tiny rhombus counterclockwise, the polygon will have fewer sides, and if you drag it clockwise, the polygon will gain sides. So make a triangle from the polygon by dragging the tiny rhombus counterclockwise.

If your AI is not very new, take the Polygon Tool and click on your artboard. In the new dialogue window, enter Sides 3 with any Radius and click OK. That's your triangle, which you'll use to build the spruce.

Create two more copies of the green triangle (fill color has to be R=168, G=168, B=108) and place them over each other, thus forming the spruce. Group the whole spruce (right-click > Group).

how to create the spruce

Make a few copies of the spruce and spread them over all the continents.

how to spread the spruce

Step 3

Now, let's add some mountains. Create three brown (R=162, G=124, B=102) triangles of different sizes. They must overlap, and their bottom line has to be on one level. Go to the Pathfinder panel (Window > Pathfinder) and, while all three triangles are selected, press the Unite button.

Then, create a few more white triangles and turn them upside-down. We are creating the snow on the mountains. Add white triangles overlapping the brown ones, as shown below. The white triangles should also overlap each other. While all the white triangles are selected, press the Unite button in Pathfinder (Window > Pathfinder).

After that, select the brown triangles again (they should be one shape now) and make a new copy in front (Control-C, Control-F). Keep this selection and, while holding the Shift button, also select white the triangles (they should also be joined together as one shape). Finally, press the Intersect button in Pathfinder. You should end up with snowy mountains. Make sure to group it.

how to create the mountain

Create more copies of the mountains and spread them across the continents.

how to spread the mountain

Step 4

So far, we've been creating nature, and now we need more signs of human habitation, so we need houses. Start with a white rectangle (use the Rectangle Tool (M)) with no stroke color (it is there just for better visibility).

Add a tiny grey rectangle for the window (fill color is R=168, G=193, B=192). While holding the Shift and Alt buttons together, move this tiny grey rectangle to the right. The Shift button allows you to move it straight, and Alt creates a copy.

Select the two tiny grey rectangles and, while holding the Shift and Alt buttons, move them down. You should now have four windows. Press Control-D as many times as you need to fill your house with windows vertically. The Control-D combination allows you to repeat your last movement.

Let's add the basement: this will be a blueish grey rectangle at the bottom of the house.

The last thing every house needs is a roof. Create a long, horizontal, red (R=219, G=134, B=97) rectangle on top of the house, and then add one more that should be a bit narrower and taller. Keep the last red rectangle selected, and go to Effect > Warp > Bulge. In the new dialogue window, enter the options you see below. The first house is ready! 

how to create the first house

Here are the options for the Bulge effect:

Bulge effect options

Make sure your house is grouped, make a few copies of it, and spread them around.

how to spread the first house

Step 5

It would be nice to have more than one type of house, so let's create one more. Start with a white rectangle with no stroke. Then draw a window with the same fill color as on the previous house. While keeping the window selected, go to Effect > Warp > Arc Upper, and in the new dialogue window, enter the options you see below.

Using the same method as before, when we multiplied the windows, create a few windows now.

Then add the basement and the roof. To get the fill color you want (and you want to take the red fill color from the previous house), use the Eyedropper Tool (I).

While keeping the roof selected, go to Effect > Warp > Arc and enter the options you see below. The second house is done!

how to create the second house

Here are the options for the Arc Upper effect:

Arc Upper effect options

And here are the options for the Arc effect:

Arc effect options

Make sure the second house is grouped, and make a few copies of it and spread them around the continents.

how to spread the second house

Step 6

To add an even greater variety of buildings, I decided to add a church. It's optional, so it is your choice. I think now you know how to create such a house, so you can try to make it by yourself.

how to create the church

Place the churches where you want to on the land.

how to spread the church

Step 7

The last thing we want for our map is a boat. Start with a white rectangle with no stroke color. Add one small grey circle (all of the windows in all the houses share the same fill color as you can see). While holding down the Shift and Alt keys, create a few more windows.

Add a long tube on the top of the boat with two red stripes on it using rectangles.

After that, just continue to create the boat following the image below.

At the end, if you want to distort the bottom part of the boat, take the Direct Selection Tool (A) and move the upper anchor points of the red rectangle. Group the finished boat.

how to create the boat

Create a few copies of the boat and place them on the ocean. 

how to spread the boat

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed going through this tutorial with me. If you have any questions, leave them in the comments section below. I really hope you thought that this tutorial was helpful and you enjoyed it as well.

See you later!

final
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