Last week I reviewed World Anvil, the worldbuilding website but my biggest disappointment was the lack of map making capacity, especially because it featured so many images of maps! So I checked out the list of websites World Anvil recommended for mapmaking and spotted Inkarnate.
Inkarnate is a mapmaking website. It’s advertised as being for making maps for fantasy worlds for game play (like D&D), writing, game design, etc.
There are two tiers: paid and free.
Free version: It’s free! You don’t even enter credit card info. It’s not a trial, it’s always free.
Paid: You can pay monthly ($5/month) or annually ($35) and access the same material either way. The pro version allows you to access more items to put on your maps (like walls or different trees and cities), more frequent art updates, other mapmaking tools (like the advanced mode to specialize and have more freedom during creation), commercial use of your maps, higher resolution map exporting, and allows for your custom art alongside their Inkarnate art.
Either free or paid, your maps are always only visible to you unless you “publish” it on their website. Both versions allow you to export (i.e. download) to your computer and/or save your map to your account.
In the map making itself, there are different styles. They’re broken down into categories: world maps (Fantasy or Parchment style), Regions, Cities and Villages (including the optional Watercolor style), and Battlemaps (which also includes the interior of buildings).
Inkarnate is aimed at fantasy worlds, and by that it’s clear they mean Tolkein-esque fantasy. If you’ve got something set in a non-medieval-Europe world, this is going to be a stretch for you. However, it can still work for zoomed-out big picture maps, which is how I tried to use it for my sci-fi.
There’s a fairly helpful FAQ, but the tool itself can be difficult to figure out. It didn’t even use normal scrolling, so I kept accidentally zooming when I wanted to go right. I’m not exactly the most tech savvy person, but I’m also far from being computer illiterate. I found the learning curve frustrating. It took me three tries to get a map even close to what I’d pictured in my head. In the end (I’d say maybe an hour later) I was very happy with my map. I’d show it, but it’s full of spoilers for my book.
Things you can do: alter the type of land, draw the location of land and water, add trees and mountains, add some basic human-made-items like a city/bridge/windmill. However more options were available for the paid subscription, such as buildings inspired by a small handful of non-European locales (those categories were called Desert and East so don’t get your hopes too high about accuracy or specificity), other types of land, paths, and grids.
You can also add generic markers (I used these to mark where events take place) and custom labels.
I had fun making my map once I knew how to work the system, and it looks much better than the one I made in Paint!
Is It Worth It?
The free version is actually really great, once you learn it. I was able to make what I needed and it looks like an adult made it instead of a child. However, the paid version is very affordable and if you needed to make a map for a self-pub book or other business project, then it would be great for you. If you’re just playing with it or want it for your own reference (or to send to a professional artist as a reference to remake your map in a style that better fits your non-Tolkein-eqsue thing) then I think the free version is great! The biggest investment is the time to learn the tools. And not just read the directions, but actually understand how to do it. For example, there’s no scrolling, and attempting to scroll messes with the zoom. That disoriented me about five times.
Have you made a map with Inkarnate? Did you like the experience, or is there a better option? Let’s discuss in the comments!