Publication Date: Friday, 07 August 2020

Affinity Photo Map Building Tutorial

Adventure Map Creation with Affinity Photo

Welcome to this Tutorial dedicated to helping you quickly learn how to create your own virtual tabletop adventure maps for role-playing in apps such as Fantasy Grounds, Roll20, Astral, or D20Pro. In this tutorial our artist Tailz will demonstrate how to employ our Map Tiles in the Affinity Photo app available from Serif.

This tutorial is being performed on a Windows 10 computer. Some procedures may be a little different on an Apple Mac computer, or the iPad.

A quick word from Tailz

TailzIf like me, you are watching your budget and can not afford to splash out on an expensive graphics editing app. But still want something that is heavy duty without the heavy price tag. I recommend checking out the Affinity range of Apps by Serif. This particular tutorial deals specifically with the Affinity Photo App, which is available for Mac, PC, and iPad.

Step #1: Setup the Map Document

The first task is to setup the map document upon which you will create your adventure map (think of the document as the canvas upon which you will draw the map). Begin by launching the Affinity Photo App and then on the introduction panel that is displayed, click on the New Document button to display the New Document settings panel. Clicking on option File from the top menu bar, and then New… from the drop down menu, will take you to the same panel.

Affinity Photo: New Document

The New Document panel consists of two major sections. In the middle of the panel is an area filled with Preset Document templates, don’t concern yourself with the templates for the moment. To the right are three menu sections titled: Layout, Colour, and Margins. Those menus are where you will manually enter the document settings, and are what we will use to setup our Map Document.

Before you begin, it is a good idea to take a moment to think about how big you want your map to be. For the purpose of this tutorial I’m just going to create a small map that is 5 movement grid squares in both height and width. You could make the map 10 squares wide, and 15 squares tall, the size is up to you. But having a good idea of a general size in movement grid squares is beneficial to setting the initial size of the map document (it can be changed later if you wish).

Now that you have a map size in grid squares we can begin setting up the map document. In the Layout section, set the Page width and Page height for the map document. You must multiply the number of grid squares for each side by 180 to obtain the length of that particular side in pixels. For example, I’m creating a small map that is 5 movement grid squares in height and width. The math to work out each side is as follows:

180 pixels per grid square, multiplied by 5 grid squares, equals 900 pixels.

5 x 180 = 900

Affinity Photo: Document Setup

Having worked out the length in pixels for each side, enter the number in the Page width and Page height boxes.

Make sure the DPI (also known as Dots per Inch) is set to 72, and that the Document units is set to Pixels. While Orientation determines if the map will be Landscape or Portrait depending upon which button icon you click.

The option ‘Actual size’ zoom should be set to Default.

Continue onto the Colour section, these should already be set to RGB/8 for the Colour format option, and sRGB IEC61966-2.1 for the Colour Profile. Leave the Transparent background option unchecked.

In the Margins section, make sure to uncheck the Include margins option as you will not need margins.

With those settings in place, you can now click on the Create button at the bottom right of the panel to create the map document.

Affinity-Photo: New Map Document

Step #2: Setup Map Document Grid Guides

Now that you have created the Map Document, it is time to configure a set of guides to help us quickly place map tiles onto the document canvas. For this purpose we are going to use a Document Grid that our placed map tiles will snap too for alignment. Using a document grid and snap functionality will speed up map creation.

Begin by clicking on View from the line of menu options, then make sure that Show Grid has a tick. Once ticked the document grid will show up as partially transparent lines on the document. These lines are guides and will not be a part of the finial map artwork.

Affinity Photo: Setting up the Document grid as a Guide

Next click on View again and this time click on the Grid and Axis Manager… option. Doing so will display a menu panel where you can setup the document grid.

First, change the Mode from Automatic to Basic in order to made active the settings options we want to enable. Once in Basic Mode, change the Spacing option to be 180 px, and the Divisions to be 1. Doing this will give our Map Document a grid across the whole canvas, with grid lines spaced 180 pixels apart.

Click the Close button at the bottom right of that panel to close it and return to the document.

Affinity Photo: Grid and Snapping Axis Settings

Now we need to make sure our Map Tiles will snap to the grid lines when we place them onto the canvas. To do this, click on View and then click on Snapping Manager… from the drop down menu.

In the options panel that pops up, make sure that Enable snapping is ticked while lower down the panel the option Snap to grid also needs to have a tick. Without those items ticked, each map tile we place would not snap into position.

Once you have made those settings, click Close at the bottom right of the panel to return to the document.

Affinity Photo: Set Grid Snap

Step #3: Easy Access Map Tiles

The Map Document is ready for you to begin work, but your going to need easy access to your collection of Map Tiles in order to make map building quick and easy. My method is quite simple, I keep a small Windows File Explorer panel open and off to one side. Open large enough that I can see the map open behind the panel when I am searching through my collection of map tiles. But not so big that I can’t see a good portion of the map I am creating behind the panel.

I then use Alt+tab to switch back and forth between Affinity Photo and Windows File Explorer. As I find a map tile I want to use, I drag’n’drop it from the File Explorer Panel onto the Document Canvas to ‘place’ each map tile onto the canvas.

Affinity Photo: Drag'n'drop map tiles onto the canvas

As you drop each map tile onto the canvas, click on the Move Tool in the left hand side panel. With the Move Tool active, you can then click and drag the currently active map tile around and into the position you want it. The map tile will span into position because of the grid we setup earlier.

Note: This tutorial is meant to give a quick and nasty guide to how I use Affinity Photo to build adventure maps. Thus I am not going to cover topics such as Drawing Tools, Layers, transform Tools, or any other features which belong to specific learning geared towards maximizing the full potential of Affinity Photo. Thus at this point I am going to recommend browsing the tutorials over at the Affinity web site so you can learn how specific tools work.

Affinity Photo: The Move Tool

Step #4: Saving the Map Document

Once you have spent a while working on your map document, you are going to want to save a copy of it. There are two versions of every map document that you will need to save.

  • Working Layout Document: This is the most important version of the map document that you will need to save. As the name implies it is a working copy of the map layout, saved in the Affinity Photo file Formate in order to retain all of the working layers that you have just edited.
  • Game Ready Map: The next version is a Game Ready copy of the map that you can import into whatever virtual tabletop role-playing App that you wish to use. This version has flattened all of the layers and compressed the file for low data speed connections.

Step #4A: Saving a Working Layout

The first thing your going to want to do is save a copy of your working map layout, complete with layers and whatever artistic effects and material intact in an editable form – so that you can open the working layout again later and continue making changes or add more detail.

To do this click on File in the top menu line, and then in the drop down menu panel click on Save As…

Doing so will open a panel asking you where you would like to save the file on your computer’s hard drive, plus also giving you the option to name the file. The name of your file will look something like:


Affinity Photo uses the .afphoto file extension, these types of files save all of the information relevant to your working document. Thus when you open the .afphoto file again in the future with Affinity Photo, the program will have all of the working layers and artwork there ready for you to continue editing.

Affinity Photo: Saving a working copy.

Step #4B: Saving a Game ready Map

Once you have saved a working copy of your map document, you are going to want to save a compressed game ready version of your map. This is done by clicking on the File option in the top menu, then click on Export in the drop down menu that appears. This will display the Export Settings panel.

Affinity Photo: Export Image Settings Panel

We want to save out a compressed flattened JPG image of the map that we can import into a virtual tabletop App. Thus in the settings panel, highlight the JPEG option from the row of icons at the top of the panel. Next check the Size settings to make sure they match the size of the map you created.

Next us we need to set the file compression, this is done by selecting a profile from the Preset list. I like to use the JPEG (Medium Quality) profile. This profile provides good file compression while maintaining artwork quality. The Preset profile will set the options for Resample and Quality for you.

Next up, make sure that the Area option is set to in order to export the whole document as a JPG image.

Once all of that is set, click the Export button below. The program will then prompt you for a File Name and where you wish to save the image into your hard drive.

Thank-you for your Support

That is pretty much all you need to do. We hope you have many hours of fun building maps and then letting your players explore them, while being chased by a pack of crazy goblins! If you have any questions or just want to join the discussion about our map tiles, you can join our artist Tailz on Patreon where you can get updates and supporter only material. Plus Dungeon Master tier supporters gain access to everything we make during a month plus access to our entire project library.

Happy map making!