Drawing Rivers on Simple Maps in Illustrator

Following on from the video posted a couple of weeks back that showed how to quickly draw roads on simple maps in Illustrator, this week we’ll take a look at adding another feature: rivers.

Drawing Rivers

Rivers tend not to be of a consistent width along their course, and the way this is often approached is to treat them as a shape, drawing the outline and filling it. Of course, if your river needs to have a specific level of detail, then that is perhaps the way to go, but in a simplified map, then there is another, much faster way to approach the task—using the Width Tool.

compareRiverUsing strokes and the Width Tool (accelerator: SHIFT-W) means that you can simply plot the course of the waterway with your preferred drawing tool and then change the width at appropriate points.

Pattern Texture

compareRiverTexturesTexturing your river adds a bit more visual interest—look at (1) in the image above, compared to (2); it looks a lot more alive than just flat colour. This is easily achieved by duplicating the stroke in the Appearance Panel and changing the stroke colour to a pattern. In the example above, I’ve used one of the default mapping patterns that ship with Illustrator, to find those:

  • Go to the Swatches Panel
  • Click on the “loader” icon (Swatch Libraries Menu) to the bottom-left of the panel
  • Choose Patterns > Basic Graphics > Basic Graphics_Textures

Although of course you could always make your own texture quite easily.

Work Smarter, Not Harder: Drawing Rivers on Simple Maps

As part of my Work Smarter, Not Harder series on YouTube, I’ve recorded another quick video that shows another quick approach to drawing river features on simplified maps:

It seems that the WSNH videos are getting more popular every time I make one, and that make sit easier for me to make more, so if you like the content, please subscribe to the channel. You can always suggest topics for any of the desktop or mobile design tools to me on Twitter @tonyharmer and keep up with my posts on Facebook.


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