Often times in planning projects, a hand drawn, sketchy look is desirable in order to convey the preliminary nature of a project.

Is anyone aware of any utilities/plugins for desktop GIS software (ArcGIS, QGIS etc.) that enable the user to apply a hand drawn, sketchy look to feature symbology without modifying the geometry?

Here is a product called M-Color for AutoCAD that does the sort of thing that I am looking for but it is of course CAD centric:


This sort of thing can also be achieved in SketchUp using styles. The best solution would be one that would eliminate intermediate steps, allowing the user to stay in a single software environment and avoid any intermediate export/import steps.


3 Answers 3



Asger Petersen shared some pencil line styles for QGIS v3.x. They are:

Based on marker line with random displacements from a normal distribution.

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In 2014, MapBox released a style called Pencil to emulate hand-drawn base maps. They mentioned the style was based on real hand-drawn lines. Paper textures were also added to achieve nice effects:

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Looking at the past, in 2010 Microsoft published Destination Maps, an on-line utility to automatically generate map sketches, allowing users to indicate how to access a certain point.

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Everything seems to go back to Agrawalas's work (2001) on generalization and distortion of route maps for improving usability.

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It would be marvelous to have similar styles in GIS software. I think distorted maps would be more a sort of image product, not something to interact with. I remember that generating a destination map used to take a while on the Microsoft platform.

  • Cheers for the info! I recently checked out MapBox's impressive Pencil style. I have experimented a bit with vector drawing editors like Inkscape. Inkscape has some interesting vector path tools such as the sketch and hatch tools : verysimpledesigns.com/vectors/… I have tweaked a couple of PDF maps using these tools to achieve some interesting "hand drawn" effects. This option requires extra export/import steps but it is definitely worth checking out. Feb 27, 2015 at 20:17
  • Thanks @BrentEdwards for sharing information on the topic. Feb 27, 2015 at 20:57

After searching a lot all over the internet for a solution to this I made my own DIY sketch style.

This is the result (see the building layer):

enter image description here

To create this style I did do the following steps:

1 - Export the vector layer to excel (or just create a CSV file that you can join with the layer). Give every object a random number from 0 to 1 ( in excel =RANDBETWEEN(0;1000)/1000 )

2 - Import the csv and join it to the original layer

3 - Set the first symbol layer to a gradient fill with a dark color to a greyish semitransparent color. In the example I did use a radial fill. Then I did set the first reference points x-value to the random number assigned to the polygon and the second reference points y values to 1- the random number. This is to create the random feeling of a sketch (all strokes are different).

4 - Add a second symbol layer on top of the first one. This one you set to a shapeburst fill where the outer color is transparent white and the inner color is white. Set shading style to "Shade to a set distance" with a value that is the desired width of the "strokes". In the example I did use 0,35 mm.

5 - Enjoy. I have noticed that the strokes can be hard to see when you are working with the project (graphic bug). But when exported to a map the style is working great.

I just came up with this solution so there is certainly a lot of adjustment that can be made to make it look better.

  • Thanks for sharing your workflow! What software are you using - QGIS/ArcGIS? Oct 27, 2017 at 14:04
  • I'm using Qgis 2.18.11. Just let me know if you have any other questions. Oct 30, 2017 at 16:48
  • 2
    In QGIS 3 you could also use the function rand(min,max) to get a random line width. That way you can do everything within QGIS and it's easier to fine-tune your results. May 25, 2020 at 8:04

there is vector action pack here for photoshop, maybe it works who want to convert their symbology to vector art....it is only $5.. there is video here, about how can use it..


i hope it helps you...

  • Thanks for the link. Personally, I find these styles a bit too cartoon-like. Unfortunately, I do not have access to Photoshop/Illustrator. May 16, 2012 at 12:59

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