In my job, I often create publications and posters. I often have too little time for from-scratch illustrations, but fair-use conventions give me a chance to adapt elements of existing works.
One example is a photorealistic subway map I just designed for the cover of my department’s newsletter.
The job was relatively easy…it took me several hours worth of work to figure out how to do it, but with these steps it’s something you can do in less than an hour, shuttling back and forth between Illustrator and Photoshop…
1. Get a transportation agency’s subway map as a PDF.
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) makes a high-resolution PDF of its system map available.
PDFs, it often turns out, preserve layers. Open your PDF in Adobe Illustrator, and you should find the original layers are editable. (If yours aren’t, sadly you’ll have to consider hand-deleting the original text.)
From there, you can customize the map, replacing stop names with your own text — in my case, faculty and grad students’ names, research themes, etc. (The MBTA, like many transport authorities, uses Helvetica as its typeface.)
2. Apply brushes for a slightly worn look.
Save your file and open it in Photoshop. Use a large charcoal paper brush with the opacity set low. Important: anything that you want to appear on the “paper” of the map should be done before step 3. In my image above, you may be able to tell I incorrectly applied the brush after step 3, giving the appearance more of dirty glass than of worn paper.
3. Create the illusion of perspective.
Save the Photoshop file and open it in Illustrator. Experiment with Illustrator’s rotate tool (Effects > 3D > Rotate) to find a 3D perspective you like.
4. Apply the “tilt-shift” trick.
Save the Illustrator file once more and open it in Photoshop. Follow this separate tutorial on creating the illusion of tilt-shift photography, which gives images with good depth of field the illusion of miniturization, or more precisely that your eyes are just inches away from a set of objects. The tutorial above walks you through making a central swath of the image in-focus and the rest out-of-focus, just as things appear when you look at them up close.
And that’s it! Did that work for you? Leave questions in the comments.