Shore and Ocean Effects for Overland Maps – Part 4: Beaches and Drop Shadows

Welcome to part 4 of the Shore and Ocean Effects for Overland Maps series.

The example map for this part may already be familiar to you, since it is Arumnia, which was used in Part 3 to demonstrate Rhumb lines.

This time I will use the same map to show you a fast and easy way to add beaches, and a couple of alternative ways of using a drop shadow effect.  The FCW file for this version of the map will be available at the end of the article.

Adding beaches to your map

Over time I have seen several forum threads discussing beaches and how to create them and many different solutions.  What is offered here is a quick and easy way to create beaches in approximately the right places that works well enough if you don’t have time to draw each one in by hand.  I do not claim that this is the only way to create beaches – only that it is probably the only way to create beaches which involves very little or no drawing work at all.

Before you start hide all but the LAND and COASTLINE sheets (the latter if you have one in the style you are using) and use the SIMPLIFY command with a factor of 1 or less, just to get rid of all those unnecessary complications of nodes that are too close together.  I always do this to my maps just to make sure the polygons are good and clean of defects – especially if I am passing the map onto someone else to work with.  If you haven’t done it before just type SIMPLIFY on your keyboard and hit the Enter key.  The command line will then ask you for a Simplification distance.  This is the minimum distance you want to have between nodes and is measured in map units.  The default is 1, but you can type a different number and hit Enter again.  The command will accept the new number and ask you to Select Path to Simplify.  At this point select your land mass and coastline polygons one by one until they are all done.

Create a new sheet called BEACHES just above the LAND sheet in the Sheets and Effects dialog, then hide all but the LAND sheet and OK back to the drawing.  I have left the BACKGROUND sheet visible in this example image just to make sure that you can see what I am doing.

Right click the Sheets and Effects button on the left and pick Copy to Sheet.  Use this tool to copy the land masses to the new BEACHES sheet.

Hide all the sheets except the new BEACHES sheet, which should now contain an identical copy of your land.  Use the Change Properties tool to change the fill to something more suitably beach-like.  In the case of the example I had used a dark version of the land texture to make the island, so I used the lightest version of the land fill for the beaches.


Beaches don’t have to be bright yellow or perfectly coral white.  They look much better if they relate in some way to the colour of the land, so you could use the same fill as the land but add a sheet effect to the BEACHES sheet to make the beaches paler.

Type SIMPLIFY again and use a new factor this time that is approximately 10 times bigger than the one you used earlier on your LAND and COASTLINE sheets.  Because I used 1 for mine I will use 10 this time.  If you used a smaller number than me for your land you will need to use a factor that is 10 times larger than before.  So if you used 0.5 on the land you will need to use 5 on the new BEACHES sheet.


If your land wasn’t already smooth lines (it didn’t have to be so don’t worry if it wasn’t), right click the Fractalise button and pick Straight to Smooth from the popup menu.  Pick all the shapes on your BEACH sheet and Do It.

If you have a COASTLINE sheet move it up the list of sheets until it is above the BEACHES sheet in the list of sheets, and then show the rest of your map to check the result.

The shape on the BEACHES sheet has been simplified and smoothed, so that it should show mostly in the inlets and bays, and not be visible where the headlands poke out.  If it is not then something may have gone wrong at one of the earlier stages.

If it looks nothing like it should it might be easier to delete the shapes on the BEACHES sheet and start again since the process is relatively simple.  This time try a different factor for SIMPLIFY when you do the BEACHES polygons.

When you get the general appearance of your beaches right, there may be small details that you want to change.  You can do this using the node edit tools on the left.  For example, I decided that the major river in the centre of this extracted image needed an estuary, while the smaller stream on the right could vanish in the sand.

Whether you chose to modify the beaches or leave them as they are will depend on your personal choice.


Using a drop shadow effect

A drop shadow can be used to lift the land very slightly from the sea, or it can be hugely exaggerated to increase the impact of a poster map.  Sometimes, if you use one with a broad blur it can even appear to contour the nearby ocean floor.

Some of the effects in this series can be used in harmony with each other in the same map, while others cannot.  For instance I wouldn’t try to use ocean contours with edge striping or rhumb lines, but this file contains both beaches and a drop shadow effect, which seem to work quite well together.

Choosing a sheet effect

There are two sheet effects you can use to add a drop shadow to your map.

Drop Shadow

A Drop Shadow effect has Offset X and Offset Y boxes that control which way and how far the shadow falls from the objects on the sheet where it is applied.  So if I used the Drop Shadow effect (shown left) the shadow would be offset to the right and down by 10 units in each direction.

You can change the length of the shadow by increasing the offset by the same proportion in both boxes, or you can alter the angle of the shadow drop by changing one relative to the other.  Negative numbers in these boxes cast the shadow in the opposite direction.

The Opacity % of the shadow affects how visible the shadow is, and the Blur Radius controls how blurred the edge of the shadow becomes.

Wall Shadow, Directional

You can also use a Wall Shadow, Directional sheet effect to do the same thing by checking the little box for Draw as drop shadow.  The advantages of using this effect are that you can make the shadow any colour you like, and it is possible to fine tune the angle directly by unchecking the Global Sun Direction and inputting your own local Sun Direction in degrees.  The only disadvantage this effect has is that it doesn’t work very well if you have an Edge Fade, Inner sheet effect above it in the list of effects for that sheet.  The Drop Shadow copes with this much better.

The example map doesn’t have an Edge Fade, Inner on either the LAND or BEACHES sheets, so I can put the same modified Wall Shadow, Directional effect (shown above) on both these sheets and hide whichever one I don’t want to use.  That means I can have the same drop shadow with or without the beaches.

FCW file

Here is the FCW file for this version of the Arumnia map.

Once again, I hope you enjoy playing with the things I’ve shown you in this article.

Have fun! 🙂

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