Travel Destination Maps for a Magazine


Herbarella is a quarterly gardening, travel, and lifestyle magazine. I’ve been working with Gianni Bombèn, the publishing editor at Lichterpark GmbH in Switzerland, for several years now.

Gianni spends a couple of months planning, travelling, and taking photos for each issue, then contacts me to create a small travel destination map. These are from recent issues.

map of Vorarlberg for Herbarella magazine
map of Umbria for Herbarella magazine
map of Aargau for Herbarella magazine

The Need for a Custom Map

A couple of years ago I had a lovely talk with Gianni about his publishing process. When he realized he needed maps to help readers understand the destination highlighted in each issue, he started creating the maps himself. But he found that making a professional-looking map needed specific skills and know-how.

As the publishing deadline for each issue approaches, there is usually a time crunch and content can change late in the process, so he decided to look for someone else to make the maps. Until he found me he didn’t know there was someone with my specialized skillset.


Every 3 months Gianni emails me a PDF showing the area and locations for the next map.

Google Map image of Provence with locations circled to add to custom map

As he travels to research the article, he takes geotagged photos of places in the article, then plots them on a Google Map in Synology Photo Station – a very cool feature I didn’t know about until he told me! Then he adds labels, circles the places he wants, and saves the image as a PDF.

Gianni puts a lot of work into preparing that PDF – that’s part of why our process is so quick. I also have a template in Illustrator with the required artboard size, and colour swatches and fonts he prefers. The template also has character styles for each label category, and graphic styles for each line type. These have changed over the years, but with them I can provide a first draft within a couple of days.

Cartographic Design

When Gianni sends me the PDF, I load an OpenStreetMap base layer in qGIS and create a vector layer, adding points for all the places circled on the PDF.

adding cities in qGIS

Then I use QuickOSM to download OpenStreetMap data layers for roads, water bodies, rivers, and parks.

I use MAPublisher to load those datasets into Illustrator and set a pleasing map projection. Then I load Natural Earth datasets for the area: country borders, lakes, rivers, and sometimes roads. At this point, it just looks like a mess of black lines and points.

layout draft with all data layers unstyled

When all the data is in Illustrator I start editing the roads layers. We only need major roads, which in OSM are categorized as trunk, motorway, and primary. I do a bit of cleanup of category types to make sure there are no major gaps in the road network, since some connecting roads might be classified as secondary or tertiary. Sometimes I use a combination of Natural Earth and OSM roads layers.

Then I apply the styles previously set up in the template and add labels.

adding fill colours and road styles

Most maps also have a small inset showing where the travel destination is located within the country.

adding labels

Because we’ve worked together so long there are usually very few revisions – mostly some colours, or adding a new location or labels.

Even though these are simple overview maps, there are still dozens of layers.

map layers in Illustrator

The Results

map of Provence for Herbarella magazine

The final product is a print-ready PDF for Gianni to provide to the printer. The map used to be included within an article in the magazine, but in recent issues Gianni moved it to the front in the table of contents. It’s easier for readers to get a clear picture of the destination at a glance as soon as they open the magazine.

Gianni told me that the reason he keeps coming back is because I’m consistent and fast, and my maps are “perfectly created, much better than what he imagined based on his drafts, well balanced in the proportions of the layout and smartly adapted to the depicted regions”. One other thing he told me that stuck in my head is that I “dance with maps”. I love that!

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