How To Create a Contour Map Effect with Photoshop & Illustrator

Hello everyone and welcome back to another Spoon Graphics video tutorial Today we're going to combine the powers of Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator to create a contour map effect, you know the ones with loads of lines that show the topography of the landscape

They're often associated with adventure and outdoors themed designs I remember seeing them used as part of the branding and opening titles for one of Bear Grylls survivor TV series We'll use Photoshop's filters to produce the basic contour map effect, then we'll bring it into Illustrator to vectorize it, then customise the paths to add various line weights and styles So begin by opening up Adobe Photoshop and create a new document at your desired size Don't worry about the resolution too much because we'll be vectorising the artwork later, which means it can then be scaled to any size without any loss of quality

Hit the D key to make sure the foreground and background colours are reset to the default black and white, then go to Filter > Render > Clouds Next, go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur The amount you add here determines how smooth the lines are 20px is a good figure to run with Go to Image > Adjustments > Posterize

The figure you enter here will determine the density of the lines, so a higher figure will result in a more complex image I'm going for 15 Convert these blobby shapes into lines by going to Filter > Stylize > Find Edges We could end the tutorial here and make it a Photoshop specific guide, but you achieve the best results by using the strengths of the different applications Select All with the CMD+A shortcut (or CTRL+A for Windows), followed by CMD or CTRL and C to Copy

Open up Adobe Illustrator, create a new document and paste in the raster artwork It's useful to go to View > Hide Artboards to give yourself a nice full screen work area Open the Image Trace panel from under the Window menu, then expand the Advanced options and configure the settings as follows Change the Threshold to 249px The max is 250px, but for some reason the lines are invisible with this figure, so go with 249 instead! Reduce the Paths, Corners and Noise to their minimum values to create smooth curves that accurately match the original Photoshop image, then check the Strokes option instead of Fills

Turn off Snap Curves to Lines, but turn on Ignore White Turn on the Preview in the bottom left to check if the vectorised version accurately matches the original Go to Object > Expand to permanently apply the Image Tracing, then right click and select Ungroup Do this repeatedly until the Ungroup option is no longer available, which means all the individual strokes are completely separated We can now use Illustrator's strengths to customise these lines

They're all individual vector paths, which means you can change the stroke weight, colour and style however you wish Draw a selection around all the lines and reduce the stroke weight to 1pt Click anywhere to deselect, then select just one path Increase the weight of this stroke to 3pt Select a few more random paths across the pattern and increase the weights to 3pt to match

We can even get a bit creative with the stroke settings Select a stroke and increase its weight to 2pt, then check the Dashed Line option in the Stroke panel Change the settings to 20pt dash, 5pt gap, 7pt dash, 5pt gap This applies an alternating dashed line effect Rather than type these settings every time, use the Eyedropper tool to apply this stroke appearance to other paths

Hold the CMD key to quickly toggle back to the selection tool in order to click another path Select the Rectangle tool and draw a shape that snaps to the top left and bottom right corners of the contour lines Turn on Smart Guides under the View menu to make it easier to snap to these points Clear out any stroke it might have, then add a nice colour as the fill I'm using #EDE1D1

Use the shortcut CMD+Shift+[, or right click and go to Arrange > Send to Back to place this rectangle underneath the lines to act as a background Hold the Shift key while dragging a selection over all the elements, which will select all the lines while simultaneously deselecting the rectangle Change the stroke colour to something to complement the background I'm using a bluey-grey of #636872 As a finishing touch, we can select all and copy all the elements back over to Photoshop and add a folded paper texture to give it the authentic vintage map look

Change the blending mode to Multiply to allow the texture of the paper to show through onto the clean artwork So I hope this contour map effect comes in handy if you ever want to create any adventure or outdoors themed designs If all this sounds like too much hard work, I actually have a collection of free seamless topographic map texture patterns available over on my website at spoongraphics As always thank you very much for watching, and stay tuned to the Spoon Graphics YouTube for plenty more video tutorials for Photoshop and Illustrator

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