How to Create an Abstract Topographical Map Icon

Land-icon09Transform a simple geometric shape and wavy lines into an abstract topographical map icon in minutes!

Tutorial Details: How to Create an Abstract Topographical Map Icon

  • Program: Adobe Illustrator CS6 – CC
  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Topics Covered: Design Theory, Shape Building, Rendering
  • Estimated Completion Time: 20 Minutes

Final Image: Abstract Topographical Map Icon

how to draw a topographical map illustration tutorial

Step 1

Let’s start with a simple geometric shape. I’ve drawn a hexagon with the Polygon Tool (P). Round out the shape by pulling its Live Corners toward the center. Rotate (R) the shape to its side if you with to match mine below.

topographical map icon tutorial

Step 2

Using the drawing tool of choice, draw some wavy stroked paths across your geometric shape. I opted to use the Pencil Tool (N) with its Fidelity set to Smooth. Select all of your lines and frame shape and hit Divide in the Pathfinder panel. Now your geometric shape will be separated into sections.

topographical map vector tutorial

Step 3

Decide on your color palette. Since this is like a map, you may want to consider different colors found within terrain. I decided to go for grass, sand, and water which translated to greens, oranges, and blues. Each shape will be a Linear Gradient shape, so choose light and dark colors for each.

how to create an abstract topographical map icon

Step 4

Once you’ve set your shapes to gradients, it’s time to make them pop from the rest of the design. Select a shape and in the Appearance panel go to Effects > Stylize > Inner Glow to add aglow with the following attributes:

  • Mode: Multiply
  • Color: Orange (or yellow)
  • Opacity: 75%
  • Blur: 5 pt
  • Edge

Play around with inner and outer glows on these shapes. Add multiple instances to one shape or simply add one. Here’s another Inner Glow alternative:

  • Mode: Multiply
  • Color: Orange (or yellow)
  • Opacity: 50%
  • Blur: 2pt
  • Edge


abstract topographical map icon tutorial

Step 5

After you’ve added inner glows to each shape, you may want to add more dimension to the map. I Copied (Control-C) and Pasted (Control-V) each shape, set their Blending Modes to Overlay and reduced their transparency in the Transparency panel. I then offset each shape so it looks like each shape has a second plane and it slightly 3D.

abstract topographical map icon

Step 6

You may want to simply draw gradient shapes to add a cast shadow onto each map shape. I used black and white Linear Gradients whose Blending Modes were set to OverlaySoft Light, or Color Burn depending on how it looked. Play around with these Blending Modes to created the rendered icon that looks best to you!

Group (Control-G) these rendering shapes together. Redraw the original hexagon created in Step 1 of this tutorial. Select the group and the hexagon and create a Clipping Mask (Control-7).

how to make an abstract topographical map icon

Step 7

Finally, select your icon group and add a Drop Shadow (Effect > Stylize > Drop Shadow) with the following attributes:

  • Mode: Multiply
  • Opacity: 3%
  • X Offset: -5 pt
  • Y Offset: 6 pt
  • Blur: 1 pt
  • Color: Black

I created three instances of this Drop Shadow within the Appearance panel. Doing so created a multi-level drop shadow that mimics the look and feel of the icon design itself.

abstract topographical map icon


Great job, you’re done! Share your completed icon in the comment section below. Consider creating different kinds of terrain for your icons: deserts, oceans, forests, mountains, and more!

Land icon tutorial

Author: Mary Winkler

Mary works under the brand Acrylicana® and has illustrated and designed for companies like Disney, Jakks Pacific, Jada Toys, Envato, and more. Check out for artwork, tutorials, and more. Follow Acrylicana on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter!

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