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Reprinted from February 1997 ELECTRONIC IMAGING MAGAZINE

River Deep Mountain High

If you've ever tried to create a map from scratch, you'll know how fraught the process can be. John Tinsley evaluates two pieces of software which are guaranteed to provide some light relief

Mountain High Maps

This package contains 74 base maps in bitmap form in two resolutions - 300 dpi for image setting and 72 dpi for screen display for multimedia presentations. Each map was originally modeled using many thin layers of material before smoothing. The height of each contour layer was exaggerated, and the model photographed using directional light to give a dramatic effect, and both land and sea bed contours are included. Each photograph was then scanned to give grayscale TIFF images to form the base for editing and manipulation.

Each map has a number of component files. The base image gives complete land and ocean floor relief, while the land relief image gives only the land relief with oceans and lakes masked in white. Both of these files are provided in grayscale form so that coloring can be applied in the application program. An important feature of this program is the provision of a number of masks. These are used in Photoshop to create selections which can be independently manipulated or colored, and can also be used in page layout and drawing applications like QuarkXpress and FreeHand for laying flat tints of color.

A number of masks are included for each base map to enable specific areas of the map to be selected. Oceans can give a selection useful for coloring land areas and inverted it is used for coloring oceans. In DTP packages like Pagemaker and QuarkXpress this mask can be used to apply a flat color to the ocean area if used as opened, and if reversed it will apply a tint to the land relief areas only. Coastline

is a mask that can be used to put a keyline around land areas, useful if the difference between land and ocean colors is weak. Borders defines country boundaries with a line, and Rivers will apply rivers to the map. Cities/towns contains circular dots for major towns and cities, while the Illustrator and FreeHand files give the place names as well. Graticules applies lines of latitude and longitude, and Countries/states/provinces gives a separate mask for each political area, useful when one country needs emphasis among a group of others.

A number of projections are used in the Mountain high Maps, and these include Mercator and Gall cylindrical projections, Lambert's azimuthal projections and equal area, conformal and equidistant conic projections, terms no doubt familiar to cartographers. The base maps provide a level of relief information which can be either emphasized or toned down depending on whether a dramatic or subtle background is required for a particular map.

Creating a Map in Photoshop

The heart of this program is the use of the masks within Photoshop to create selections that can be independently manipulated or colored. Masks are used as a means of selecting intricate areas of an image, and in Photoshop, one of the vest ways to do this is with the alpha channels command. This can create and store any number of selected parts of the image, each of which can be manipulated independently of other channels or the overall image. These channels can then be combined to form the final image.

The first action is to load the base image for the area concerned. This loads as a greyscale file, and one can work in low resolution first to try out manipulations quickly, reverting to the high resolution images later. If a color image is needed, the mode needs to be changed to RGB. It is possible to change immediately to CMYK, but this increased the file size initially, and the conversion is best left to the end of the manipulation, unless of course RGB images are needed for screen presentations.

The base color for the land area is introduced at this stage, and one of the best ways to use Adjust-Hue/saturation command, ensuring that the colorized box is checked. When this has been done, a new channel needs to be opened for the first mask to be used. This is done by selecting Palettes-Show Channels, and selecting New Channel. If an ocean mask is going to be used to separate the land and ocean areas, this channel can be named Ocean mask. This mask now has to be opened from the CD-ROM, and appears on the desktop as a 1-bit black and white silhouette. All of this mask now needs to be selected, and copied to the clipboard using the Edit-Copy command. Once the mask is on the clipboard the mask window can be closed. The mask can then be pasted into the new blank channel in the normal way. Clicking on the RGB button in the channels palette will bring up the colored base image, to which the mask selection can be added. This is done by choosing Load Selection from the Select menu, choosing Ocean Mask, selecting the Invert box and clicking OK. Now, the Hue/Saturation menu can be used to choose a color for the ocean.

This process can be repeated as many times as required to select and manipulate parts of the map. The EPS vector files can be converted to a raster image if place names need to be added, and although this step can be done in Photoshop it is better to do this in EPS in Quark or Pagemaker.

If the map is to be used for purely illustrative purposes, colored contours can now be added to both the mountain and deep ocean areas of the map. For this, selections are best made with the lasso tool, with feathering selected to taste - the larger the pixel figure, the more gradual the color transition. Whilst colors can be defined in the Hugh/Saturation menu, a set of Photoshop colors are stored on the CD-ROM for each land and ocean contour level, and these give consistency to this kind of map. When all relief coloring is complete, the mode can be changed to CMYK, and the map is ready for image setting.

Where less creative and more informative maps are required it is possible to work in FreeHand or Illustrator. The Macintosh version of Illustrator allows layered operation, and opening the Illustrator file gives access to coastlines, borders, rivers, cities, names and graticules, simply waiting to be selected and merged. In this mode, only plain uniform color tints can be applied.

Mountain High Maps is a flexible program for map creation, and it includes globe views as well as flat and for this kind of money, it could show more local detail. There is no road information, for example. Surely providing a mask for the European autoroute/motorway system wouldn't have been too severe a challenge? There are no town plans, either. The license also is limited - a designer may only use ten of the images client in certain circumstances, for example, so it pays to read the small print.

Mountain High Maps costs $95 and all images are fully royalty free.


CoolMaps is a collection of finished world maps on two CD-ROMs in both JPEG bitmap and EPS formats. They are fully colored world maps and globes, all fully editable. Volume 1.1 contains EPS files, each with Illustrator and FreeHand layers which allow coastlines, fills, rivers and graticules to be turned on and off as desired. There are 2D and 3D plan, perspective and globe map views, complete with a number of special effects, including drop shadows and vignettes.

Volume 2.1 contains TIFF images in JPEG compressed form, and these open at around 17Mb, allowing images around 10" x 7" at 300 dpi. These files have fixed special effects which include the use of special materials and textures.

These files are useful from a graphic design rather than an informative point of view. The designs include world map views on parchment, stained wood and polished metals, and whilst some of them are somewhat OTT, the collection is attractive enough. The two CD-ROM set is priced at $19 and either the EPS or JPEG discs are available individually at $29 each. These CD's are excellent value for money.

For more information, call 800-800-8560 or write Digital Wisdom, Inc., Box 11, Tappahannock, VA 22560.


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