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Step 9: Create a Locator Map from a Google Map

Go back to Step 8: Graphic Conversion

Once again, an innovation for the CC version of Illustrator has made this tutorial obsolete. Check out the new ArcGIS Maps for Adobe Creative Suite plugin. It makes this process SO MUCH EASIER.

However, if you're still on CS6, you need this tutorial.

Google has become an invaluable tool for creating locator maps. It takes time to build one in Illustrator, but if you have a template with pre-built styles, it's a lot easier.

Get your map

Go to Google (or your chosen map client) and enter your desired address. You'll get a rather zoomed-in version of it. Zoom out so that you can see some identifiable features, such as major roads or highways. This helps to orient your audience. Be sure to give yourself a bit of real estate (pun intended) surrounding your desired address. Do a screen capture of the web page (you can use Grab on a Mac, or Snip on a Windows machine).

Save the map (doesn't matter what format) and create a new Illustrator file using your template. Drag or place the map in a layer at the bottom of your stack. I have created a layer called "Imported elements" just for this purpose. You will need to resize the map down to a manageable size. Don't shrink it down too small, though. It's easier to draw big and shrink down than go small and size up.

Note that I've shrunk it down to fit in about two columns. That's good enough for this purpose. Depending on your map's orientation, you will have to make a judgment call.

I make sure that it's in the "Imported elements" layer and then I lock that layer. This keeps the map from moving around on me, which is important because I'll be drawing a lot of things on top of it.

Drawing roads

First off, let's start with the major highways and interstates. These are indicated in orange on my Google map.

First, I change to a layer I can draw in (because I just locked the layer with the photo). For this purpose, I've created a layer called "Other elements." I change my pointer to the Pen tool and go to the starting point of a major road (in the lower-left corner, in this case) and click, dropping a starting point.

I lift my pen and click somewhat up the road, trying to draw a straight line.

I continue up the road until I hit the other edge of the screencap.

Note that the black line has a white fill. This is our default Graphic Style. With the line selected, change the Graphic Style to Major Road 4 pt 60% Black.

Now I change to the Selection Tool (V)  and click anywhere off the line to deselect it. Now I click back on the Pen tool and start tracing the other interstates. Note that the Graphic Style stays on Major Road 4 pt 60% Black.

As you can see, I have three new paths drawn. I do a Ctrl/Cmd-A to select them all, then group them. I go to my Layers panel and name the group "Interstates Gray." I lock this layer, as I don't want these elements to move. It also keeps me from selecting them accidentally. I then duplicate the layer and ungroup it (because Graphic Styles won't apply to a group).

Note that the three duplicated paths are selected. I go to my Graphic Styles panel and select "Major Road 2.5 White." This turns those three paths white and resizes their line width. I group these three paths and name the group "Interstates White" and lock the layer.

And there it is. Three beautifully drawn interstates.

Secondary roads

Now, I'm going to repeat the above process, but this time I'm going to go to my secondary road Graphic Styles. I'll use "Secondary Road 2 pt 60% Black" for the gray roads, and the "Secondary Road 1 pt White" for the white roads.

However, there's a design problem, at least as far as our style at the E-N is concerned. We don't like the dark lines over our white lines. So we're going to shift the layer with the white Secondary roads up above the Interstates Gray layer.

There, that's better.

Now we need to start drawing the regular roads/streets. This particular map doesn't need too much detail, but we do want to mark the main thoroughfares. This requires a zoom in and switching the Graphic Style to "Minor Roads."

See, all of the major thoroughfares are now marked. That color may be a little much, but we'll leave it for now.

Oh, here's a tip. After you draw each road, lock that particular path. That way you don't have to keep switching tools, and you also don't accidentally pick up the other roads you've drawn.

Now that I have all of my roads drawn, I'll unlock those layers, group them, call the group "Roads" and move the resulting layer underneath the "Highways gray" layer, then lock it.

Other identifying elements

For this map, we want to show the park. So, let's grab that Pen tool again and draw an outline around the park. (Since our last Graphic Style was "Minor Roads," that's what it draws.

With the outline selected, I'll click on my "Fern 3/Parks, neighborhoods" Graphic Style.

There are other parks and water features that we could color in, but this particular map doesn't need that level of detail. However, the nearby airport is a big location marker, so we'll do the same thing with it, but this time we'll color it with something else (Butter 2/Landmarks).

And just so that our roads show up on top of these elements, we'll put these two elements under the "Roads" in the Layers list.

Cropping the graphic

We've decided to make this a 1-col graphic on a 5-col grid. So, let's try drawing a 1-col box over it.

Uh-oh. We've lost a lot of our identifying elements (interstates, half the airport, etc.). We're going to have to shrink this down a bit. But first, we need to get a mile marker measurement. We want to do this BEFORE we shrink it down.

At the bottom right-hand corner of our Google map is a helpful line that shows how long the unit of measurement is for this particular view. For this graphic, it's one mile. Using the Line tool, we're going to start at the left and draw a line exactly (or a close facsimile thereof) on top of it (or underneath or above, whichever suits you).

Now, we'll move that line underneath our drawn box. I'm going to delete that box, because it won't do any good until we get the graphic sized to fit the 1-col width. Next, we're going to turn off the "Imported elements" Layer, making the Google Map disappear. We'll then unlock all of the "road" elements we've drawn up to this point. (Note: if you haven't already, save your graphic now, just in case of a program crash. You will hate having to do all of the above steps over again. Trust me on this.) Do a Ctrl-A (Cmd-A) to select all.

Since I'm using my 5-col grid layout, I will grab the lower right hand handle and hold down the Shift key to keep the resizing proportional. (You can also use the sizing tools - it's whatever works for you.) I'll redraw that 1-col box, but this time I'll make it line up with my left-hand guide.

That's what I'm looking for. It may need some tweaking, but it's pretty close. Now I'm going to move that resized mile marker line to the "Symbols" Layer and then lock the layer. We don't want it to be included in the next step.

Going back to the "Other Elements" layer, I'm going to Select All again and create a Clip Group layer by pasting the map inside that 1-col box by pressing Ctrl-7/Cmd-7.

I'm going to expand that Clip Group layer so that I can see all of my layers underneath it.

Now I'm going to draw a box around the box above, then drag it down inside the <Clip Group> layer until it's at the bottom of the stack. Then I'll switch to my Graphic Styles and change the color to our standard map background color, "Expresso 2/Land."

Now, it's really starting to resemble a map. However, those regular "Roads" are a bit overpowering. Let's denature them a bit by selecting the "Roads" layer inside the <Clip Group>, then taking the gray level down to about 20-30%.

Much better. They were threatening to overpower the other elements we're about to place.


Now I'm going to unlock that Symbol layer and take a look at that one-mile line I drew earlier. After the resize, it runs just over 10 points wide. I'll round it off and say that one mile = 10 points. I go to my Symbols library and drag out my "Scale Miles" symbol. Now, I know that the drawn line is 30 points, so I'm going to break the link to the Symbol, then change the "10" to "3." Now, I'm going to drag it to the corner of the map. The lower-right-hand corner looks good.

Since I need to show my readers where this location is in relationship to San Antonio, I'll pull out my "Texas BW Map w/ SA" symbol, break the link, edit it to show where this location is, and place it on the map. The lower-left corner looks good for this one. I'll also go ahead and add the "North" symbol and the "EN graphic credit" sig.

Hmm ... need a little fill behind that "Detail area" line. I'll draw a box over it, fill it with "Expresso 2/Land" and drag it down under the "Detail area" text and the Texas Map.

Good. Now, I need to add the road signs.

And finally, the identifying text. I don't really need to (or have the room to do so) identify street names, but I do need to do the primary identification and also the airport.

Notice that I had to make a few editorial decisions. The "McKinney Falls" callout box was a little large, so I deleted the "290" highway marker (because it ends at I-10), and moved the "71" route marker over to the other side of "183." I also aligned the "183" and "130" elements, and added a fill box behind the last few letters of "International" so that the road didn't interfere with the reader's ability to read the map. I also shifted the "I-10" marker up so that it appears centered between the Texas Map and the callout box.

For clean-up purposes, I'm going to go and delete that image capture of the source Google Map. The file doesn't need the extra weight, and unless you embed the graphic, the link breaks when you move it elsewhere or delete the source. It can also interfere with some pagination systems and PDF exports.

Next time, we'll build pie charts.

Go to Step 10: Create Graphs - Pie Chart

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