Better Coastlines with Inkscape

I just came across a very simple method for creating better coastlines in Inkscape: Use the calligraphy tool instead of freehand line drawing.

At first glance, the calligraphy tool seems unsuited to creating coastlines, because it creates an outline and not a line. So I have been using the freehand tool in the past – and it has always been problematic; the coastlines never seem to be “nice” and rugged, and while drawing the color of the line I draw is in a weird shade that I can’t see too well.

Today i was working on some fjords. I created them by drawing the basic coastline, then creating a second shape – the fjord – which I would then subtract from the first path. Let me illustrate with an example:

Better Coastlines: Before (Yes they are just boxes :-)
Better Coastlines: Before (Yes they are just boxes đŸ™‚

This rectangle represents my basic continent. There’s also a colored “ocean” layer underneath, currently invisible to the naked eye.

Okay, it’s a bit boxy. Let’s change that. With the freehand tool, drawing is awkward and difficult to see:

Better Coastlines: Freehand drawing
Better Coastlines: Freehand drawing

With the calligraphy tool, however, you just pick your color and draw away. Set a brush size appropriate to the scale you are working on – for this box I used a 25p brush width. You can immediately see that this is much easier on the eyes, if nothing else:

Better Coastlines. Calligraphy Mess
Better Coastlines. Calligraphy Mess

I tried to draw roughly the same coastline as in the freehand sample. I filled in most of the gaps but did not bother filling all of them in; you will see why in the second. Even so, I ended up with a lot, lot, lot of individual shapes; I created a single shape using the Path -> Union function.

Finally, I subtracted the “fjords” outline from the base continent box using Path -> Difference.

And this is our result:

Better Coastlines: After
Better Coastlines: After

Not only did we get much, much nicer coastlines; the little gaps left by the calligraphy tool created a lot of fairly nice-looking islands.

Of course there is also a disadvantage to doing that; it creates a path with a large number of nodes, so you’ll probably want to optimize this for large maps. Still, I think the results speak for themselves – I will try to create an entire map using this method at some point. And I wonder why I never had this idea before…

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