Archived copy for reference only


Graphic Design / Interactive Design / Fine & Applied Arts / Parkland College

Graphic Design Exercises
Illustrator: Map

(Archived from 2019)


To learn to use Adobe Illustrator tools by example. To learn design principles by recreating the map above.



Maps are a specific type of infographics. Infographics by definition are designed to present visual information quickly and clearly. Therefore, the best maps are minimalist in style and stripped of all decorative elements. In addition, directional location maps often sacrifice geographic accuracy for clarity.

Tips for making maps:

  • edit out all non-essential information
  • carefully choose only a few select elements for emphasis
  • go for simplicity (clarity), avoid complexity (creates confusion)
  • maximize visual unity by repeating the same typographic elements (i.e. use as few typefaces as possible, use a limited number of weights, don't change type sizes unless absolutely necessary)
  • organize information by layers (more layers are better than less)
  • during production, lock all layers except for the current layer
  • create a gray scale map first to work out the contrast issues
  • adding color later will allow you to focus on color harmony

Prepping for the exercise

  1. download starter files
  2. examine downloaded files
  3. launch Illustrator
  4. file > new (profile=print, letter, landscape); save as ""
  5. practice Illustrator navigation shortcuts (space=hand, space+cmd=zoom in, space+cmd+opt= zoom out; cmd zero=fit in window)
  6. Illustrator > preferences: general: scale strokes & effects=yes
  7. expand dock
  8. file > place "map-original.jpg"; scale image to fit page
  9. rename "layer 1" as "template", make layer a template layer (double-click icon)

Drawing the gray scale map

  1. new layers: bg, buildings, parking, streets, symbols, type, type white, mask
  2. go to "bg" layer (lock others): draw box, fill=10% gray
  3. "streets" layer: draw streets with pen tool (stroke=white, weight=20pt)
  4. select "broadway": object > path > outline stroke, swap fill/stroke, stroke weight=15pt
  5. "type" layer: file > place "map.txt"
  6. spec: ITC Franklin Gothic Book Condensed 14/15
  7. make select type Demi Condensed; make title 20pt
  8. move select type to "type white" layer
  9. change select hyphens to en-dashes or bullets
  10. "parking" layer: draw parking lots, fill=20% gray
  11. "building" layer: draw building shapes, fill=40% gray, museum=black
  12. "symbol" layer: draw label box, fill=80% gray; draw title box, fill=black
  13. download bus symbol from
  14. scale, position; copy and modify for parking symbol
  15. draw triangle for "north" symbol (polygon tool)
  16. "mask" layer: draw white boxes to mask out unneeded art
  17. unlock all layers: scale/position for printing
  18. add your name and exercise number on new layer (restack to top)
  19. save, save as ""
  20. artboard tool: duplicate current artboard (opt-drag)
  21. add color per sample

Tips for adding color

  • use as few colors as possible
  • minimize contrast for similar objects
  • maximize contrast only for important elements
  • save colors to the swatches palette (global=yes)
  • make use of tints or transparency
  • unite shapes if needed (window > pathfinder)


  1. save, save as "map2.pdf" ("smallest file size" for web publishing)
  2. print both the b&w and color pages for grading
  3. file your graded proofs in your Process Book for individual review
  4. publish "map2.pdf" as a link from your Process Page

Last updated: 5/7/21