Tips for Stunning Coastal Effects

Coastal effects can add interest and texture to your map of land, water, and island areas. These effects help develop a visual hierarchy between land and water areas, an important cartographic principle providing clear separation and focus to the land areas. In addition, such effects lend to the overall style of your map design whether contemporary or historic in nature. Here’s how…

Prepare Your Map for Coastal Effects

Add a new layer to your map called “Land Area.” Begin by drawing coastal and island features.

Join and Close Paths


Along coastlines, paths that meet end-to-end should be joined into single paths for coastal effects to be applied evenly. Select paths and choose Edit > Paths & Tracks > Join from the main menu or use the CTRL-J keyboard shortcut. For stand-alone polygons, such as small islands, the paths should be logically closed. Choose Edit > Paths & Tracks > Close from the main menu. We can see from this example that coastline effects will look uneven when applied to paths which are not closed (top image).

Combine Objects


If you have multiple objects in your map, such as small islands along the coastline, combining the objects will ensure the coastal effects are unified. For example, we see when objects are separate (top image) this waterline effect overlaps among adjacent island. To combine objects, select them and choose Graphic > Combine > Append from the main menu. As needed, the objects can be broken apart later for further editing, then re-combined.

Duplicate Active Layer

To apply a variety of coastal effects, duplicate your Land Area layer to use it as a coastline layer. Choose Edit > Duplicate > Active Layer from the main menu – all features from the active layer will be duplicated in place to a new layer with the default name “Copy of —“. Click the name of the copied layer in the Layers list and rename as desired, for example name it “Coastlines.” Drag the coastlines layer to be under your land area layer in the Layers list. Make Coastlines your active layer and select the features. You are now ready to apply the coastal effect of your choice.



Waterlining, used on many historic maps, was a popular effect achieved by talented engravers. Waterlining has proved less-so today due in part to the relative difficultly to reproduce digitally, particularly among traditional GIS mapping software programs. With its robust Style Inspector, Ortelius makes waterlining straightforward.

The effect here uses style “Waterline” available in the Ortelius default symbol set. Note the even application of waterlines around islands and inlets.

Coastal Vignette


Referred to as “coastal vignette,” a glow or blur applied to the coastline is a common technique used by cartographers. It provides a striking contrast between land and water areas.

This effect uses the style “Grey Blur” available in the Ortelius default symbol set. Note the even application around islands and inlets. This is quite similar to adding a simple shadow to your fill style with minimum shadow distance and maximum shadow blur. Other available styles, such as “Gaussian Blur – Outer Glow” provide similar effect with slight differences, such as more concentrated color around bays and inlets. The key here is it’s incredibly easy to change styles to see what works best in a given situation. And remember, you can always have fun experimenting with new effects and Clones of existing styles.

Waterline Wash


A color-wash along the coastlines is a more natural looking effect than waterlining, offering subtle variation and texture. Here, we use the style “Waterline Wash” available in the Ortelius default symbol set. Because it uses semi-transparent colors, this particular style also provides a pleasing effect when the Coastlines layer is on-top of the Land Area layer rather than under it. For another interesting effect, try hand drawing a highly simplified version of the coastline with this style, applied over a more detailed land area.

As with all Ortelius default styles, you can Clone the style and edit it to suit your purpose, such as changing the color or transparency of the strokes and fills.



An alternative to a separate coastline effect, a shadow can be applied to the main Land Area polygons’ style proving striking visual appeal that makes the land areas “pop” off the page. To add a shadow to an existing style, select the feature and open the Style Inspector – Simple pane. Click the “Clone” button. You’ll now be modifying a clone of the style without altering the original. Check the box to add a shadow to the fill. Adjust the rotation angle, distance, and blur using the controls, and change the color and transparency as needed.

white shadow on coastline map - no offset

Try adding a simple shadow to your fill style and make the color white, with minimum shadow distance and maximum shadow blur. When you apply a solid blue (water) fill style to a New Border Layer you can achieve lovely results.

If desired, click the Expert pane in the Style Inspector to name and save your new style to the Library.


Many styles are available or can be created to enhance the visual appeal and hierarchy of coastal elements on your map. When selecting a style, consider the overall look you wish to achieve and how your coastal effect should blend or contrast with other map features.

Note that some of the coastal effects presented here (as well as ones you make on your own) may be graphically demanding and can slow performance with large and detailed files. For example, highly detailed coastlines imported from GIS shapefiles can slow performance when these effects are applied. One way to overcome this is by first simplifying your map data on shapefile import or using an external application such as

Object and Symbol Point of Origin

Ortelius has many subtle methods for fine-tuning your cartographic work. One of these niceties is the point of origin, or center point, around which objects and symbols rotate and snap. Adjusting an object’s point of origin is simple and direct. Here’s how…

Point of Origin


The point of origin of shapes, symbols, grouped objects, and images is represented with a blue “target” originally rendered at the center of the object. To change the point of origin, simply hold the Command-key then grab onto the blue target and move it to any location within the object’s bounding box.

Object Rotation Pivot Point


The direct rotate knob is represented with a purple handle offset to the right of the object’s center. Simply grab the rotate knob and move to rotate the object. The rotation pivots around the object’s point of origin. To change the point of origin, simply hold the Command-key then grab it and move it to any location within the object’s bounding box. Object rotation will now pivot around the new point of origin.

Resetting the Bounding Box

After rotating and/or adjusting the point of origin of an object, you can reset the bounding box to perpendicular and return the point of origin to the center of the object. Select the object and choose Graphic > Reset Bounding Box from the main menu. As expected, the object’s appearance does not change, just its bounding box.

Point of Origin on Symbol Adornments


When symbols are created, they retain the point of origin of the original object on which they are based.

Symbols are placed on tracks as a “adornments,” and are snapped to the track at their point of origin. Typically a symbol is centered on the path with its central point of origin. In some circumstances, it may be useful to have a point of origin that is off-center. For example, for floor plans, doors are placed to show the door opening outward from a wall. When placing a door symbol (available in the Ortelius default symbol set) on a wall drawn with a track tool, a door must be offset to one side of the wall. If you look closely at a door symbol while it is not snapped onto a track, you will see this is accomplished with an off-center point of origin.

Before the symbol is created, adjust the point of origin. The symbol retains this point of origin. When snapped to a track, the symbol adornment is offset based on its point of origin. The side of the line the offset symbol appears on is based on the drawing direction of the track. The adornment can later be rotated by right-clicking it and choosing the desired rotation setting from the context menu.

Ortelius 1.0.9 for Cartography

04.13.10 Mapdiva, LLC is pleased to announce Ortelius 1.0.9, the latest update of their cartographic design software for Mac OS X. Ortelius is a vector-based cartography application that helps you create high-quality custom map graphics, plans, and scaled drawings. Ortelius 1.0.9 contains a number of bug fixes and other changes for added stability. For a full list of changes, please see the release notes. This is a free update for existing users and is offered automatically if you have enabled Ortelius to check for updates, or manually by choosing Ortelius > Check For Updates.