How to easily make a pirate map

With the popularity of all things pirate since Johnny Depp introduced us to Captain Jack Sparrow, my kids are obsessed with pirates, swords and swashbuckling. So on the day of going to visit some of their friends for a play date, I gave them each a copy of a map I had “found” in our yard. It was a real pirate map!! Complete with skull and crossbones and “X” marks the spot.

Pirate Map

Pirate Map made from Yahoo Map

My kids were very surprised to find out that following the map took them to their friends house which was the “treasure” on the map. They were very excited about having a map to follow and never questioned that it had street names on it so they could look out the window of the van and watch for the signs.

What I had done was take a screen shot of Yahoo maps showing a reasonably large view of our neighborhood and cleaned it up of stray information in Photoshop.

Basic  Map from Yahoo Maps

Basic Map from yahoo Maps

Then I started on some basic ‘shopping of the map. I added an old paper texture to the map. The paper I got from MK Designs Little Pirates package and it worked really nice. An alternative for any of the elements in this project is to search Flickr or Google for Creative Common’s licensed elements or public domain elements. There is not any need to steal any of these, they are everywhere to be had as freebies.

I used a very simple method of just using Grab (I have OSX so use ther screen capture software of choice) to get a screen shot as a TIFF, opening that in Photoshop, then I flipped it to grey scale and added a curves layer to get nice dark blacks since I need them to show through the paper. I then opened up the paper and dragged the paper onto the map image. Then I dropped the opacity to about 60% and used a curves layer to bump up the black point.

I now have my simple textured “map” ready to add various elements to in order to make it “real”

Map with Paper texture applied

Map with paper texture applied

So now we can get on with adding various elements. I added a skull and cross bones and faded it to better blend into the paper. I also used a ragged brush to draw a dotted line route on the map. I used a strong font to make a large letter X then free transformed it bigger and to distort it a bit. I also added a compass to add to the nautical theme but you can go as nuts as you want. You could add burn holes, cuts, blood stains, smudges and more.

Pirate Map with added elements

Pirate map with added elements

The appeal of this map is how simple it is to make and how fast you can make it. Not to mention the points you win from your kids as being a cool parent who can make a pirate map.

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  1. Hidden Worlds December 15, 2010 at 3:31 pm #

    That would be so much fun to make. Good project for the kids to do during Christmas break.

  2. HowToStopTips February 14, 2011 at 2:36 pm #

    This is some of the best instruction I have found on how to make a pirate map, any suggestions for those who cant afford PhotoShop?

    • Mike Sweeney February 14, 2011 at 2:37 pm #

      Sure.. Elements.. about 80 USD and it offers 90% of what photoshop does. Most importantly now it has layers which is the magic to making things like the pirate map.

  3. Kevin Dallas April 9, 2011 at 4:43 am #

    Brilliant ideas I will use this to make a game for my kids.They will love so much

  4. Rug Appraisal Los Angeles May 12, 2011 at 3:01 pm #

    This is perfect. The family went out last weekend to watch POTC4 and my son is now obsessed ever more with pirates. He’s having a sleep over in a couple weekends and think this would be a great idea to do with a scavenger hunt or something. What program did you make the map from? Photoshop? Publisher? Paint?

  5. freebies May 15, 2011 at 11:11 pm #

    I love this kind of stuff. Great thing to do with the kids.

  6. Swords August 7, 2011 at 10:56 pm #

    I will make a game for my boys.Great idea Thank You

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