“Uniqueness” is the primary quality I look for when searching for source material for brush sets. As a rule, cartographers tend to gravitate toward standardization—and for a good reason, familiar signs and symbols allow for easier comprehension. While the uniformity we see today took centuries to homogenize, along the way we got some incredible deviations.

Today’s set highlights one of those departures, and it makes for a fine brush set that would serve any fantasy map well. Taken from 1686’s Isola di Malta etched by Francesco Donia who detailed the cities, towns, churches, and fortifications of the nation of Malta. I particularly like how Donia rendered the uniqueness inherent to each of the individual settlements. They’re all different! But these aren’t the slight Blaeu-like approach with subtle variations. Donia rendered individual buildings which allowed each city to feel unique and purposeful.

A sample of the Donia set

If you’re looking for flora, you’ll want to go elsewhere. This is a set focused on human constructions—cities, towns, castles, churches, towers, fort, even a fountain! It’s not as extensive as some sets, just a little over a hundred brushes. But, it will play well with any other flora-focused brush set so don’t be afraid to mix and match it’s your fantasy world! Do what feels right.

Within Donia, you’ll discover:

  • 33 Cities
  • 20 Churches
  • 2 Fancy Villas
  • 7 Forts
  • 10 Towers
  • 9 Unique Settlement Brushes
  • 20 Mountains
  • 10 Mountain Ranges
  • 12 Cartouches

The button below links to a ZIP file that contains a Photoshop brush set (it’ll work in GIMP as well) and a transparent PNG in case you’re using a program that doesn’t support Adobe brush files. Click here to view the PNG in your browser. Heads up: it’ll come up black and look broken if viewed in Chrome, but trust me, they’re all there.


Version 1.1 Update: Minor change in the description to be more accurate—from “Cartography” to “Settlement” want to make sure people realize this set is primarily focused on cities, towns, towers, churches, castles, etc. If you have v1.0 be aware there is no change to the content. (I do concede, the included mountains are pretty cool.)

As with all of my brush sets, Donia is free for any use and is distributed with a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License that means you can freely use it in commercial work and distribute adaptations. While attribution is a part of the license, I personally don’t care. All I did was convert these into modern brushes, Francesco Donia did all the real work—so if you need to give someone credit, give it to him. (That said, it’s absolutely not necessary.)

Enjoy Donia!

Feel free to show me what you created by sending me an email or finding me on Twitter. I love seeing how these brushes get used, and I’d be happy to share your work with my readers.

💸 Supporting This Work

If you like the Donia brush set (or any of my free brushes, really) and would like to support my work, instead of a donation, consider buying one of my weird speculative fiction novels. The first book—The Stars Were Right—is only $2.99 on eBook.

You can find all my books in stores and online. Visit bellforgingcycle.com to learn more about the series. Tell your friends!

And what’s a pulpy urban fantasy novel without a map? When my 2nd book in the series launched I shared a map detailing the expanded world, you can check it out here.

🗺 More Map Brushes

Donia isn’t the only brush set I’ve released. Below are links to other free brush sets with a wide variety of styles all free and all open for personal or commercial use, you should be able to find something that works for your project.

Blaeu: A Free 17th Century Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Blaeu: A Free 17th Century Cartography Brush

Based on Joan Blaeu’s Terræ Sanctæ—a 17th-century tourist map of the Holy Land—this set includes a ton of unique and varied signs as well as a large portion of illustrative cartouches that can add a flair authenticity to any fantasy map. Elegant and nuanced, everything works within a system, but nearly every sign is unique.

Aubers: A Free 18th Century Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Aubers: An 18th Century Cartography Brush Set

An 18th Century brush set based on a map from 1767 detailing the journey of François Pagès, a French naval officer, who accompanied the Spanish Governor of Texas on a lengthy exploration through Louisiana, Texas, and Mexico. A unique southwestern set with a few interesting deviations—including three volcanos!

L’Isle: A Free 18th Century Battlefield Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

L’Isle: An 18th Century Battlefield Brush Set

A departure from the norm, this set is based on the Plan Batalii map which was included in a special edition of The First Atlas of Russia in 1745. A detailed view of a battle during the Russo-Turkish War of 1735–1739. Canon! Units! Battles! Perfect to map out the combat scenarios in your fantasy stories.

Widman: A Free 17th Century Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Widman: A 17th Century Cartography Brush Set

A 17th Century brush set based on the work of Georgio Widman for Giovanni Giacomo de Rossi’s atlas published in 1692. A fantastic example of Cantelli da Vignola’s influence and a solid set for any fantastic map. This is the workhorse of antique map brush sets—perfect for nearly any setting.

Walser: An 18th Century Cartography Brush Set

An 18th Century brush set based on the work of Gabriel Walser with a focus on small farms and ruins and a solid set of mountain and hills. This is a great brush set to see how Vignola’s influence persisted across generations. It was etched over 80 years after the Widman set but you’ll find a few familiar symbols within.

Lumbia: A Free Sketchy Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Lumbia: A Sketchy Cartography Brush Set

A sketchy style brush set I drew myself that focuses on unique hills and mountains and personal customizability. My attempt at trying to channel the sort of map a barkeep would draw for a band of hearty adventurers. It includes extra-large brushes for extremely high-resolution maps.

Lehmann: A Hatchure Brush Set

Named after Austrian topographer Johann Georg Lehmann creator of the Lehmann hatching system in 1799, this is a path-focused brush set designed for Adobe Illustrator that attempts to captures the hand-drawn style unique 19th Century hachure-style mountains.

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