Lately, after releasing my last few map sets, I’ve had people ask me how I achieve the coastal hatching in my sample maps. It’s been a process. Since the release of Widman in February, I’ve been trying to create a believable machine-produced reproduction of the classic hatched shoreline typically seen on 17th and 18th-century maps.

Examples of 17th & 18th Century Costal Hatching
Left to Right: Pieter van der Aa’s 1714 “La Floride,” Merian’s 1660 “Galliae Nova et Accurata descriptio Vulgo Royaume De France,” Vrients’ 1608 “Indiae Orientalis”

I don’t think I was close with Widman, and while the effect I achieved was interesting, I didn’t start to figure it out until the release of Aubers in March. Before then, I saw plenty of suggestions, but they tended to be complicated affairs. Rolling up your sleeves and doing it by hand absolutely works, but is of course, time-consuming and it takes practice. Digital brushes are often the most common idea, but they tend to be slow, and after a while, the pattern repetition is clearly discernible. For the hatching to look right, you need randomness. Thankfully, there are a few tools that when used right can produce a random hatching effect rather quickly.

For this tutorial, I’ll be using Adobe Photoshop CC on my Macbook Pro running macOS Mojave, but I am sure similar functions exist in other image software. Nothing I am using in this tutorial will be cutting-edge technology. I’d recommend you have some experience using Photoshop, Gimp, or whatever tool you choose—this approach sits somewhere between Beginner Level and Intermediate.

Step 1 – Download 18th Century Coastlines

This all begins with a simple pattern of horizontal lines. Personally, I tend to skew toward odd numbers for pattern-based work. All the patterns in 18th Century Coastlines are 1px wide by 49px high, and each individual line is generally 2-3px thick.

You can make your own, but I figured I could get you halfway there and just distribute the patterns I use. Just click the button below to download my 18th Century Coastlines pattern set. There are ten patterns in all (and I include them as brushes as well) with various weights and distributions. Unzip the file. Double click on the PAT file, and it will automatically install.


As with my brushes, this pattern and brush set is free for any use. As of July 2019, I now distribute my sets with a Creative Common, No Rights Reserved License (CC0), which means you can freely use this and any of my brushes in commercial work and distribute adaptations. (Details on this decision here.) No attribution is required. Easy peasy!

Okay, with that out of the way, let’s make a coastline!

Step 2 – Define your border

There are many ways to do this. Choose what works best for you. (If you need a good guide on how to create realistic coastlines, check out Mike Summers’ tutorial.)

I tend to keep my coastline border and the landmass as separate opaque layers. That way, I can select them with a single click. Once you have your coastline selected, create a new layer for your edging. Then use Select > Modify > Expand to increase the depth of the edge.

18th Century Coastlines - Step 2
Making the selection for the coastline hatching.

In my example, I used 11px, but you can use any size you want or select it by hand. The selection you make will be where your coastline hatching will appear. Be sure not to miss selecting any lakes or rivers. Historically it was common to apply the same hatching to inland waterways. (There are, of course, exceptions to that rule, in particular regarding rivers.)

Step 3 – Fill the selection with the pattern

Now we want to fill our selection with our pattern of horizontal lines. Select a pattern from my set or use the one you created in Step 1.

Now choose the Fill Bucket from the Tool Bar. Change the mode in the dropdown from Foreground to Pattern—it’s located in the horizontal Options bar at the top of the screen. Then click on your selection to fill it with your pattern.

You’ll now have a layer filled with your pattern. It should look something like this:

18th Century Coastlines - Step 3
One a new layer, fill your selection with your choice of pattern

A Note: If you’re trying to reproduce a historical style map, be sure your hatching emerges from a lined border like I have in my sample map. That said, I could see this same effect applied to more modern designs, and it could work really well with colored solutions adding a subtle textured effect. Do what works best for you.

Step 4 – Wave time

With the pattern applied, it’s time to push it. (Ah, push it, push it real good.) First, Right-click on the coastline layer in your Layers Palette, then click on Convert to Smart Object. This will allow for non-destructive editing and if you don’t like the look of something you’ll be able to go back and tweak settings on the fly to get the look you want.

Now we’ll use the Filter > Distort > Wave tool to makes these lines to look more hand created. The key is to keep the wavelength and amplitude very low—were going to stretch those horizontal lines randomly. Using Wave in this manner will rough up those edges.

My base settings are as follows:

  • Number of Generators: 22
  • Wavelength Min: 1
  • Wavelength Max: 2
  • Amplitude Min: 2
  • Amplitude Max: 3
  • Horizontal: 100% 
  • Vertical: 1%

Once you adjust your settings to your liking click Okay.

18th Century Coastlines - Step 5
Use the Wave Filter to distort your pattern and give it a more hand-drawn look

Wa-la! We’re getting close now.

There are a few adjustments you can make to tweak the look. Below is a graphic I prepared with each of the patterns included in my base set. Each step down is an increase in the generator number. Simple rule of thumb: more generators equals more randomness.

Coastline Samples

Bonus Experiment: You can also add randomness by increasing the Amplitude Max. For example, use the settings above but change the Amplitude Max to 15. It’s an interesting effect that adds a distinct style to your coastlines.

Step 5 – Noise

Finally, we’ll add some imperfections to make these lines look inked. We do that with Filter > Noise > Add Noise… be sure to check Monochromatic checkbox at the bottom of the panel. This will keep the noise black and white, which is useful for future blending. I tend to use Gaussian for my noise Distribution, but if you like the look of Uniform, you can use that instead.

The Amount you choose is up to you. Some of this will depend on your style. I think 7-8% is a good starting point—I went with 10% in my above example. The more Noise, the more pops and scratches you’ll see in the faux-etching. The tiny imperfections go a long way toward making these machine-made hatch marks feel a little more realistic. Once you have the Noise you like, click Okay.

18th Century Coastlines - Step 6
Add noise to mimic ink catching on the tooth of the paper

BOOM – You did it!

That’s it.

Congratulations! You now have a happy and healthy 18th Century-esque coastline. If you used Smart Objects, you’ll be able to make nuanced adjustments really easily. Now that you have this down, there’s a lot of things you can do to make your coastlines distinctly yours. In the past, I’ve also applied layer masks to further grunge up my hatch marks. Do what suits your project the best.

Hopefully, you found this tutorial easy to follow, and you were able to achieve the look you wanted. Let me know if I need to clarify anything. I’ve tried a bunch of experiments to get here, and this solution came the closest, worked the quickest, and caused the least amount of pain. It’s also endlessly futzable, which is fun.

This style of coastal edging works great with any of my free fantasy cartography brush sets. I find that it helps the finished piece feel more realistic, and it give the maps an antique quality. Details like this can enhance a reader’s or player’s experience with a fantasy map, so it’s worth taking the time to get the edging right.

You can download and learn more about my brushes over on Free Stuff page. I currently have ten sets available with more on the way. As with 18th Century Coastlines, these are also distributed with a CC0 license. No attribution required!

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