Designing Maps

How to make beautiful and compelling maps for your games

Photoshop Typography

Wherein I teach you about typography in Photoshop.

Photoshop’s typography tools allow you to quickly and easily add text labels to your maps that you can continue to edit after the fact. Knowing how to use them correctly will make your work so much faster.

The typography tools are not difficult to master and are frankly intuitive to use once you understand the basics of what each one does. Subtle effects with tracking and leading can lend better readability to your maps than simply sticking labels everywhere.

Typography Basics

There are a handful of useful concepts to understand about Photoshop’s typography tools.

Editable Text

Text layers are continually editable. You can always go back and change the text in the layer to add or remove words, fix speling mistakes, or change anything else about the font. This will continue to work as long as you don’t rasterize the text or convert the text into shapes.

Paragraph Text Boxes

The Type tool can be used to create re-sizable paragraph text boxes. These work in conjunction with the paragraph panel. Use them when you have blocks of text that you need to keep sized correctly.

How to Make a Paragraph Text Box Layer
  1. Create a new layer.
  2. Select the Type tool.
  3. Click where you want the paragraph text box to start, hold down the mouse cursor, and drag to the lower right. You will see a box appear. Release when the text box is correctly sized.
  4. You can resize the box at any time by dragging on its corners or edges.

You can convert existing text layers to paragraph text layers as well. The paragraph text box will be automatically sized to the exiting point text layer.

How to Convert a Text Layer to a Paragraph Text Box
  1. Select the text layer you wish to convert to a shape in the Layers panel.
  2. Right-click on the layer to bring up the menu.
  3. Select Convert to Paragraph Text.

You can convert them back with Convert to Point Text.

Inline Changes

Nearly all character options can be applied to text inline. This means that you can edit a line of text and select a single word or character and change anything about it, from its typeface to size to color.

The only thing you can’t alter inline is any kind of layer style or blend mode as these are applied to the entire layer and not parts of it.

Rasterizing Text

If you rasterize a text layer you will turn it into pixels. This is un-doable, but useful if you want to manually add stress effects to a text layer with a brush (rather than applying a layer style that can achieve similar effects).

How to Convert Text to Pixels
  1. Select the text layer you wish to pixelify to a shape in the Layers panel.
  2. Right-click on the layer to bring up the menu.
  3. Select Rasterize Type.

Converting to Shapes

You can convert text layers to shape layers. When you do so, the text is converted from an editable font to a raw shape layer. Each anchor point on the text’s shape can then be moved or deleted independently. Be aware that you will no longer be able to edit the text; this is a one-way trip.

This is useful if you want to apply different styles to different characters in a line of text or if you want to merge text shapes with other shapes (like working a map’s title into some border decoration).

How to Convert Text to Shapes
  1. Select the text layer you wish to convert to a shape in the Layers panel.
  2. Right-click on the layer to bring up the menu.
  3. Select Convert to Shape.

The Character Panel

While many of these options are available in the character toolbar, you’ll use the character panel most often. Just go ahead and dock it on the right. It will be that common. Set the paragraph panel behind it while you’re at it.

Most Commonly Used Options

Typeface Selector

The typeface selector chooses the main typeface or font-family that you are using. The selector will show you examples of the fonts you have available. If you have lots of fonts, it has a built-in search function.

Variant Selector

The variant selector chooses italics, bold, or any of the other sub-variant fonts available in the typeface that you’ve selected. Some fonts – especially handwriting ones – don’t have variants.

Size Selector

The size selector does just that: changes the font’s size. This can be used inline or on the whole layer. You can enter any number but the drop downs are safest.

You can also directly size text with the Transform tool (<command>t) but be warned that this will set your font sizes to less than whole numbers.

Color Selector

Unsurprisingly, the color selector changes the font’s color. This can be used inline or on the whole layer.


Tracking determines how much space exists between the letters in a line of text. You will use this often to spread labels out, especially in mountain ranges and rivers. Some fonts (like Trattatello do not have good default tracking values, so you’ll nearly always want to change it for those.

Less Commonly Used Options


Leading determines the space between lines of text. Some fonts – especially those with deep “y” type characters – will want to have larger leading values than others.

You won’t often use this with map making because labels are almost always single lines of text. However, labels with alternate names will benefit from this option.

Type Variants

Type variants will transform all of the text into a specific mode, like super-script, sub-script, all capitals, or small capitals. You will most often use the “all capitals” mode with map labels.

If you typeface doesn’t include bold or italic variants, there are faux bold and faux italics options, where Photoshop attempts to alter the characters for you. They don’t always work the way you expect, however.

Advanced Options


Kerning controls space between specific characters. You can only use it inline. It is used when the default tracking isn’t sufficient for one or two specific points in the text.

Say you have your tracking set a little larger than normal (25) but you want the first character in the string to but up against the second. You would use the kerning option to change the spacing just there.

Kerning allows you the choice between metrics and optics. Metrics kerning sets the spacing based on the math inherent in the font – the kerning the font’s author designed. Optical kerning sets the spacing based on the vector shapes of the characters. Which one you use depends on the font and the effect you desire so you’ll have to experiment.

Baseline Shift

The baseline shift option moves selected words or characters up or down below the font’s baseline. You can use it when you want to “sink” part of a word or raise another. If you combine this with an inline size change you can effect super-script or sub-script; however, there’s an easier way to do so with the type variants tool.

Use this sparingly, if at all.

Alternate Ligatures

Some fonts (like Trattatello) have several alternative ligature options. These are alternative characters or connections between characters that can be used instead of the default. For instance, a font may display different capital letters if the character is the first in the line of text.

They can be used inline or on the whole layer.

Options You Won’t Use

You might use these options someday but you won’t use them when making maps.

Horizontal Scale

The horizontal scale controls the horizontal distortion of the characters. It’s goofy. Don’t use it. Use tracking instead.

Vertical Scale

The vertical scale controls the horizontal distortion of the characters. It, too, is goofy. Don’t use it. Use leading instead.

Language Selector

This option changes the language that Photoshop assumes you’re working in. This doesn’t translate text (for that you use the googles); rather, it informs the text engine various rules about when to hyphenate and so forth. You never need to change this.


This one turns on or off jankiness in your font display. The default setting was arrived at by many years of discussion and development by experts in fontography and typefaces. You will be a fool to change it.

The Paragraph Panel

The paragraph panel provides options that affect how text flows on the screen – even with single line text layers. You should dock this panel on the right, behind the Character Panel.

Alignment & Justification

A paragraph’s alignment tells it where to anchor the text: left, right, or middle. These are going to be your most common choices. You can also choose several options for justification, which attempts to space the words out cleanly in the space available. A paragraph’s alignment is different from it’s justification but justification always overrides alignment.

Note that if you are centering several lines of text with each other (using the Move tool’s alignment options), you will want to set those text layers to “Center” alignment before doing so. The Move tool’s alignment functions operate on the mathematical center of the layer and the font’s metrics may return a different number than the “true” center of the text.


This controls how deep the initial indent is with paragraph text. Since you’re not going to be writing a lot of copy on maps, you won’t use this much.


You can set the margins of a paragraph with four options: top, left, right, and bottom. This adds padding around the paragraph edges (left and right) or between paragraphs (top and bottom).

You probably won’t use this very often because you probably won’t be working with large volumes of text and can just drag text boxes to the desired position.


Checking or unchecking hyphenate will cause paragraph text to hyphenate where applicable. This is probably something you don’t want, so leave it unchecked.

Curving and Warping Text

From time to time you will want to have a text layer “warp” and follow a bend, like when labeling a river, road, or mountain range. In this case you will use the Warp Text tool located in the type tool’s options bar. This will open a dialog that provides access to many different text warping options.

You will almost always use “Arc” or “Flag”. Remember that you’ll also be able to rotate the text using the Transform tool and spread the text using the character panel’s tracking option. Together, these tools will allow you to make labels that follow river or road paths.

Styling Text

Text layers can be styled like any other layer. Strokes, color overlays, and patterns are common effects to use with text layers and, when applied well, can give your maps a pop and vigor that sets you above the crowd.

When applying effects to text layers, it is easy to over-do it. Text effects should be subtle because text should be readable. Sometimes less is more. For instance, strongly stroked text can “vibrate” and be difficult to read. Try adding a subtle glow instead of a heavy stroke to bring out the edges of characters.

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