Thursday, July 14, 2011

Transparent Overlays

I had a fat encyclopedia as a kid that illustrated the human anatomy with stacked, transparent overlays.  The top was an illustration of a man.  Pull it back and it was the muscles.  Pull it back and there were the arteries and veins.  Pull it back and see the bones.  It captivated me.

What if we used a similar idea on maps?

The problem is that the home printers we're using are limited in the colors they'll print and they aren't capable of a truly solid color.  My encyclopedia used something more like cell animation, with layers higher in the stack, meant to obscure, painted solid.  Screenprinting could do this, if the ink would stick to clear vinyl and if the vinyl would hold up to the 350 degree F curing my plastisol inks require.

But we might still be able to make something cool with just black line printing on transparencies.

Think of your campaign map, any extra "layer" of information you would like to incorporate could become a literal layer overlaid: trade routes, trade goods, demi-human demographics, religions, climate zone, etc.

Or, at a closer scale, a transparent overlay might be handy for a dungeon/location that goes through changes that are hard to keep track of.  Time travel.  The players get a hold of some way to travel through time and you can flip your overlays of the manor and surrounding region to show how things get built up as they bounce back and forth.

Or, here are two ideas that are exciting me the most 1) an overlay to use on my hex geomorphs to represent a special, like a stream crossing the geomorph 2) the sinking dungeon at various water depths.


  1. This is extremely easy to do in either Photoshop or Illustrator. In fact, is the how most people are actually drawing it in the first place.

    There is a floor layer, a walls layer, text layers, icon layers, etc.

    You could then export to PDFs and then print them on transparencies.

  2. The 1st Forgotten Realms boxed set came with maps with no hexes- the hexes were printed on clear acetate sheets and went over the map.

  3. Greg, if I understand Telecanter correctly, the problem is that home printers can't saturate transparencies sufficiently to make some areas opaque.

    You might try printing the transparencies double-sided (with a reversed image on the opposite side) to double the opacity. It might be hard to get them to line-up exactly....

    The only other thing I can think of is to glue printed paper cut-outs to the transparencies, but obviously that's not practical if you intend to produce more than one or two sets.

  4. I bet it would be fine if you send the file to kinks or something similar

  5. Thanks, for the comments.

    @Anonymous, thanks, I never owned the FR set. But now I vaguely remember seeing that overlay. That's kind of cool that players could see the map without having the modern exact measurments. I wonder how it worked in play.

    @Greg: Maybe at Kinkos, but my laser printer won't be able to produce white to hide a feature on white paper.

    @Paul: or paint with ink, but then that's getting prtty complicated. Or . . . white out. I started working on a way to do it with white out and transparencies, but got bogged down in designing the dungeon that would benefit from being revealed in 4-5 slices.