This has been RE-POSTED on my new collaboration site, Petrichor.Studio. That’s where I’ll be posting for the foreseeable future. This site will soon be retired. Thanks!

I’m currently working on a map that I’m intending to incorporate Victorian (and maybe a little bit of steampunk) visual influences. For inspiration, I was initially looking at a lot of beautiful Victorian-era (roughly 1830s-1900, some say a little later) sketches of contraptions, including some diagrams of intricate devices that went nowhere.  Then I started to investigate common styling techniques used in maps that were made during the Victorian era. The USGS Historical Topo Map Explorer was a great resource for this investigation. I really wanted to incorporate the sort of concentric shoreline effect that was evident in all the earliest USGS topos, and elsewhere. Check out these cool mid-late 1800s maps in the slideshow that use this effect:

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This effect on a linear open path like my coastline couldn’t be accomplished with the Offset filter, but the Offset is great for a closed path like lakes. So, I attempted this effect on my meandering coastline with the blend tool for about 30 seconds before realizing it would not be the right solution for this effect. Instead, this effect can be accomplished using Object –> Expand. 

Step 1 – Make a copy of your waterbodies and coastlines that you want to apply the effect to.  

Select the layer(s) or select the individual paths, and CTRL+C or CMD+C or Edit–>Copy.  For this sample, I am only using the coastline, but you can do this with your closed paths like lakes, and even river polygons.


Step 2 – Paste the copied artwork into a new layer or new AI file

If you choose to paste your copied artwork into the same file in your current map, then paste it in a new layer, and lock the rest of the layers. I am pasting mine into a new AI, and will later add it to my current map.


Step 3 – Copy the line. Make the new copy’s line point size bigger than the last. Repeat until desired width.

With each copy I made, I named the new path to be the point size’s number (see image below). With each copy, I increased the line point size to make it wider. After every few lines, I would increased the difference between the point sizes. For example, the first few lines increased by 5 points (5, 10, and 15 point); the next increased by 6 points (21, 27, 33 point) and so on. This will eventually result in an effect where, as the lines are closer to the shore, they are also closer to one another. The image below shows the lines I created from a 200-point width to a 750-point width.


Below is the resulting series of lines created in step 3. It looks like one fat line because they are all stacked atop each other.step_03b

Step 4 – Select all lines and Object –>Expand

With all your new lines selected, go to the Object window and select Expand. The Expand dialog should look like this. Click OK.


The result should look something like this, except of course, with your shorelines:



 Step 5 – Remove Fill Color & Add Stoke color

Remove the fill color of your newly expanded shoreline shapes, and add a stroke color. You’ll start seeing the concentric effect.


In the image above, my coastline is going westward out to sea (good) and inland eastward (not ideal). The next step, which is also the last, will fix this.

Step 6 – Delete the anchor points that go inland.

The explanation for this step is longer than actually performing it! So a small dose of patience while reading this paragraph, and you’ll soon be on your way to making trippy antique shorelines! Whichever method you feel comfortable with, delete the anchor points from the new pretty concentric lines you made that go inland, or that cover land. My current method of choice is to use the direct select tool (white arrow) and select the anchor points. This helps ensure I don’t delete anchor points that I want to keep. Since these are geometrically concentric, one little anomaly can create a visual jolt that impacts the whole flow. A quick way to do this step is to:

  • Delete one anchor point per each concentric ring nearest to the end of your shoreline, making sure not to delete parts of the line that sit on your water in your map.
  • Do the same thing for the other end of those lines: select one anchor point at the end and delete it. Now you should have a set of unattached lines that sit above land that you want to deleted.
  • With the regular Select tool (black arrow) select all these newly unattached lines and deleted.

Now you have concentric shorelines!






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