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Hexographer – A Review

Every now and then I check out our advertisers, to see who we’re associating with. (Or to put it more accurately: ‘who is being associated with us’.)

And every now and then, my curiosity is truly rewarded.

I love gaming maps; they are one of the things that drew me into the hobby. But I do not enjoy the time spent creating them, and the steep learning curve of most mapmaking software aggravates me. I’d rather clean public toilets (or use Excel [1]) than spend hours learning to use a glorified replacement for pencil and paper.

So I took a look at Hexographer [2], and was floored. Within 15 minutes, I had drawn the terrain for my current campaign. In under an hour, the towns, roads, and rivers were added. The intuitive interface really made things simple, and the maps had an ‘old school’ vibe that reminded me of the original maps from the 1980s World of Greyhawk campaign setting.


This map is admittedly fairly basic, although some of the samples [4] are a bit more involved. The true value of this program is how quickly and easily maps are created. Open a blank page, choose a terrain type, and start clicking and dragging across the hexes à la Microsoft Paint. That’s literally it.

If you’re lazy (like me), just draw a squiggly line of mountains, some hills alongside it, a streak of plains, and a few dots of forest, and then run the Terrain Wizard, and let it fill in the blanks. Your CAD-based software is still loading, and I’ve got a ready-to-go map.

For the truly lazy, there is a random map generator, but the key word is ‘random’, as in ‘you’ll probably see some nonsensical geography’. It can make a good starting point for a map, especially if you’re ‘drawing a blank’.

The Details

Hexographer is a Java-based program, so check to see if you need to upgrade your computer’s Java version first. A note [5] on the forum indicates that you should have at least Java 1.6 update 10. Test and upgrade your Java for free here [6].

Speaking of Java, the Hexographer code is currently unsigned, so there will be an “Are you sure?” popup when you first run it.

Hexographer comes in two versions: Free and Pro (or ‘paid’). The free version is launched from a browser window, and has most of the features of the pro version, including the ability to export a map as a PNG file. The free version works fine for creating a quick map and getting a feel for the software, although it requires internet connectivity and is a fair-sized download. It should be all that cheap-assed frugal gamers need.

The Pro version costs $31, but is currently on sale for $25.  Going ‘Pro’adds a number of features:

There is also a one-year Pro license for $11 ($9 currently), if you’re torn between the two. It will stop working after a year, but maps created with it can still be viewed and printed with the free version.

As noted earlier, there is a fairly active forum [7], and the author of the program is a regular and helpful presence on it.

I haven’t yet used Hexographer to chart the spaceways or create battlemaps (as seen on the home page [8]), but it does seem to support these. Maybe when I get that wide-format printer. (“Honey, can we get a wide-format printer?”)

Conclusion: Within two days of stumbling on it, I forked over $25, and now own the pro version of this software. It’s been a couple of weeks, and I still love it.

Caveat: I did exchange emails with Joe Wetzel, the author of the program, but only after I had stumbled upon it, tried it out, and posted on his forum. Nothing was exchanged for this review.

Comments, questions, or a different opinion? Sound off on the comments and let us know!

22 Comments (Open | Close)

22 Comments To "Hexographer – A Review"

#1 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On March 26, 2010 @ 6:41 am

As I’ve said elsewhere, I love my expensive cad-based mapping program and I wouldn’t use anything else. BUT you’re 100% right about the time invested in the learning curve, and the fact that my program of choice is currently ~ twice the price of hexographer.

To anyone making the decision between the two, I’d say:
Look at the picture above. Does that suit your needs? If so, you don’t need an expensive and complex map making program.
Conversely, if you have a need for professional maps that look like the stuff you get in high-end modules, you might need a high-end mapping program, but then be prepared to tackle that learning curve.

One feature that I see you didn’t mention that I couldn’t live without is layers. Minimally, a “GMs Secret” layer can allow you to toggle on and off certain map features (like hidden dungeon locations, enemy bases, secret landmarks, etc…) and print out a “player’s copy” and a different “GM’s copy” of your maps without making and keeping two separate maps. Does Hexographer support this functionality? If not, please send them the suggestion. It’s a highly useful function.

#2 Comment By SowelBlack On March 26, 2010 @ 7:45 am


Yep, any feature (icons for dungeon, cave, castle, ruins, city, etc.) or line or text on the map can be tagged as “GM Only” by clicking a “GM only” checkbox next to each of those drawing tools. Then you go to the “Show/Hide” menu to turn on/off the “GM only” items.

There are also Political, Infrastructure, and Natural “layers” which are essentially invisible to the user when creating a map. You can then likewise turn on and off some lines and text based on these properties so you can save a version of the map without political boundaries or a map that is only the natural geography.

Thanks for the review! –Joe

#3 Comment By Tommi On March 26, 2010 @ 7:46 am

A word of warning: [10]

#4 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On March 26, 2010 @ 8:11 am

[11] – That is no longer an accurate review. The lifetime license terms have changed: [12] See [13] in particular.

I’ll let the above reviewer’s comments (bblackmoor on that thread) speak for him.

#5 Comment By SowelBlack On March 26, 2010 @ 8:34 am

As mentioned in Telas’s link, all of the criticisms in that review have been addressed. Hopefully most will agree. In short:

1. The free version may no longer be available if something happens to the author/company: Another person has been identified to maintain it or otherwise make it so everyone can keep using it.

2. The 1 year version stops working after one year: This is becoming a common way to offer an inexpensive option to use software or a web site. (Dungeon a Day, D&D Insider, ESPN Insider, World of Warcraft, etc.) And for about 1/3 the full price you can’t expect the terms to be so similar to the full license. But the text about the license was clarified. And if you still don’t like the license, there’s no reason not to use the free version or get the full license.

3. The full license wasn’t ideal administratively: I now do exactly what the reviewer wanted by sending a license that lasts indefinitely instead of a series of no-extra-payment 1-year licenses.

If anyone has any further constructive advice, please say so, but I think my approach is fair.

#6 Comment By Gamerprinter On March 26, 2010 @ 1:21 pm

Well for the average GM using a app like Hexographer in an hour’s time is useful. However, I can create photorealistic maps in under an hour as well, but my maps are better than many found in published settings. Though I tend to spend more time than that to get really detailed, but still most maps in less than 2.5 hours – but then I’m really fast.

Still I prefer my hand-drawn maps, which take much more time.

#7 Comment By Scott Martin On March 26, 2010 @ 2:55 pm

[14] – That does sound amazingly fast. What’s your trick?

#8 Comment By Toldain On March 26, 2010 @ 3:16 pm

Alas, my experiences with Java apps on my Mac haven’t been all that great. They work, yes, but poorly. They seem to look worse, run slower, and hang and crash somewhat more than on Windows. Am I alone in this?

#9 Comment By BryanB On March 26, 2010 @ 3:20 pm

I’d love to check this out. I usually hand draw my maps and that takes a crazy amount of time. So I steal most of my maps, which doesn’t make them original at all. Not that most people notice.

I tried Campaign Cartographer and could not manage to get past the very basics of it. I needed an easy map maker not a CAD program. CC was really overboard for what I want. Nice maps though, if you can “get with” the program. 🙂

#10 Comment By Gamerprinter On March 26, 2010 @ 3:56 pm

[15] – Xara Xtreme Pro 4.0 is a very fast and powerful vector drawing app, similar to Adobe Illustrator or CorelDraw, but with a very fast drawing engine, that isn’t a memory hog like Photoshop.

I’m a pro fantasy cartographer, believe me I know.

I’m a senior member at the Cartographers’ Guild – which is a site dedicated to maps of fantasy, that someone here should make a write up on, excellent resource for gamers and publishers with tutorials, hundreds of free downloadable maps for games, some fan created versions of published maps, etc. etc.


Checkout my portfolio:

All my maps I use Xara Xtreme, though the hand-drawn stuff on there, takes longer, but four hours for most, rarely 10 or more for super detailed stuff. But I’ve got many maps that are 1.5 – 2.5 hours to create.


PS: look at my login name – I run a digital printshop for gamers and publishers, and ship worldwide.

#11 Comment By Gamerprinter On March 26, 2010 @ 4:03 pm

PS: I sent Martin an image of a gnome thieves guild vault map that is linked on my site, which he said he’d include in his next RPG Roundup, but he has yet to dig up enough content for the next roundup, so I’m eagerly waiting, but the community should see it eventually.

Here’s a link to my latest map – a contest entry at the Cartographers’ Guild, winner will be published in an upcoming Open Design Project adventure…


This one is mostly hand-drawn, though all colors, bevels and shading was done in Xara. This one took more like 8 hours to create – but as I said, hand-drawn stuff takes me longer and publishers seem to prefer the hand-drawn maps.

#12 Comment By Gamerprinter On March 26, 2010 @ 4:05 pm

Whoops, wrong URL…


Sorry about that!


#13 Comment By SowelBlack On March 26, 2010 @ 4:06 pm

Most of the development for Hexographer is done on a Mac, so the experience should be about the same as with running it on a Windows machine or Linux or whatever. I’ll generally see any Mac platform issues immediately. That said, I do run it on Windows frequently and I know a couple of the most dedicated users run Linux.

Plus, I’m actively supporting it and regularly putting out fixes based on feedback. In fact a test version of next release was just posted via the Hexographer forum linked in the main review.

#14 Comment By Plotter On March 26, 2010 @ 4:10 pm

One question: How does it compare to HexMapper? (google it)

#15 Comment By Nojo On March 26, 2010 @ 4:44 pm

I wish it supported making planetary hex maps, like used in Traveler and GURPS Space. These maps can be folded up to represent the planet as a icosahedron (d20).

#16 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On March 26, 2010 @ 4:51 pm

[21] – Off the top, the Hexographer logo is much more legible, and the website is more descriptive and illustrated. The two do seem to diverge at the “drill down” level, which seems to be HexMapper’s forte.

I’d have to test-drive it for sure, but that’s how Hexographer roped me in – the test drive elicited one of those “This. Is. Cool.” moments.

#17 Comment By Nojo On March 26, 2010 @ 4:53 pm

[22] – Doh! It does! OK, I love it.

#18 Comment By SowelBlack On March 26, 2010 @ 5:00 pm

[23] – Don’t be surprised if Hexographer does have a way to create a local area map from a portion of a higher level map in a few months. That’s been on my radar and I’m 98% sure that feature will be added, just not exactly sure when. It is a balancing act to decide what’s next. I try to estimate the demand vs. the difficulty-to-implement vs. criticality vs. do-I-have-a-good-usability-approach of the possible new features.

#19 Comment By Gamerprinter On March 26, 2010 @ 11:10 pm

Not to hog the Reply posts, but I realized I didn’t really explain my “trick” which is this:

1. Whatever software you use Campaign Cartographer 3, Hexographer, Xara Xtreme or whatever – “Know your software.” Understand all the tools, their capabilities and limitations. Know various techniques in using your software to achieve the terrain features, walls, etc. in getting the map to look right in the end. This means using the software, making different kinds of maps – practice makes perfect.

2. Have a very good idea on what the final map will look like in your head, which means planning. Even though a final map will often change due to tweaks, new ideas and lucky accidents than what is in your mind’s eye. Knowing what you want ahead of time really makes it a quick process to get where you want to, as long as you “know your software” (see #1).

That’s my trick! Pretty simple, huh?


#20 Comment By Scott Martin On March 28, 2010 @ 4:51 pm

[24] – Well, that’s not a trick that’s easy to steal, but it makes sense. Hard work and expertise pays off in almost everything.

And that Iwazumi map is amazing. Simply amazing.

#21 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On March 28, 2010 @ 7:45 pm

[24] – You are making some impressive maps. Muchas kudos!

Me? I’m just trying to give everyone an idea of what the world looks like, in as little time as possible.

Thanks for the comments, everyone.

#22 Comment By Yeoman On April 3, 2010 @ 10:56 am

Is there anything like this that does squares instead of hexes?