Importing Cartography Data (SHP)


One of the features we added with the first release candidate was the ability to import real cartographic data (SHP format) into Other World Mapper. This lets you start your map from real world maps, continental maps or local maps.

In this tutorial I’ll walk you through importing real maps into Other World Mapper and show you just a few things you can do with them.

SHP Format

The shapefile format is a popular geospatial vector data format for geographic information system (GIS) software. There are many sources, free and commercial for SHP data.

For this tutorial we’ll use maps from Natural Earth,

Their terms of use are very friendly and their maps public domain. There are many sources of SHP files and Other World Mapper should be able to work with most.

Note: If you have any issues importing an SHP file let us know!


We start by downloading a world map in a 1:110m scale. Note that Other World Mapper can import more detailed scales (i.e. 1:50m) but having more points the map will require more computer resources.

It will be a zip file and you’ll need to extract its contents. Make sure to keep all the files in the folder since the SHP format uses multiple files.

Start Other World Mapper and close the Start Up Dialog. From the File menu, select Import–>Shape File. Navigate to the folder created when extracting the zip file (should be ne_110m_land) and select the ne_110m_land.shp file.

The import window will let you choose the item type and scale for the map. There are additional options in the window and I’ll go through them later in the tutorial.

In this case, you want to start with the layer type as Landmass and a scale that will make the map large enough, at least 500%. Remember that since SHP files and Other World Mapper are vector based, no resolution is lost form scaling.

Import SHP Window
Import SHP Window

From there, the new map window will let you choose a theme and change the size of the canvas if you want to make it larger than the default. For instance, you can chose the soft color theme as I did below.

Imported SHP.
World map imported into OWM.

Working with the Map

At this point, working with the imported map will be just like working with a map you created from scratch. You can change the properties of continents, add regions to continents, add bodies of water, roads, features and more.

If you want to break apart one of the continents to work with it separately, note that you can use the partition tool. You can also simply work by adding regions to the continents.

For the map below I set the landmasses to have no fill and used boundaries to create a game board style SciFi map.

SciFi Map
SciFi map from a world map.

Additional Layers

Other World Mapper also supports importing other SHP data as layers, such as boundaries and bodies of water.

For this tutorial I downloaded the Rivers and Lake Centerlines shape file, as well as the Lakes + Reservoires

1:110m Physical Vectors

And I also downloaded the countries data

Admin 0 – Countries

Starting from the original map, select File–>Import and Shape File for each of the layers, and change the Target option to Current Map instead of New Map.

Make sure you change the layer type to Boundary for the countries layers. For rivers and lakes, Other World Mapper will let you chose open path layers when the data is open path (i.e. a river) and close path layer when the SHP data is closed path. Chose rivers and water respectively.

Imported SHP layers
Multiple world map layers.

Advanced Options (Offsets)

The Start Offset option lets you offset the map so that it’s centered in Other World Mapper and will be in latitude and longitude values. For most maps Other World Mapper will be able to do this automatically, but in some cases you may need to do this manually if the imported layers appear to be outside the canvas.

You can do this by matching the X and Y offset to the Start Offset shown or once you imported the layers you can use the Layers window to cut and then paste the layers centered on the map.


  1. Greetings,

    Is it possible to enlarge certain portion of a such map and save the enlarged portion as a separate project?


    1. Nick,

      Very much so. You can, for instance, select a continent and then go to “File” –> “New From Selection” to create a new map based on it. You can also scale it up, so for instance you could select an island and create a new map scaled 500%.

      Note that scaling doesn’t cause any “pixelation” because the core item data is stored as vector information (of course, if you are importing a shape file, I suggest if you plan to do something like that to start with a shape file that has more points/data).

      Thank you for the question! And let us know if have more 🙂

      – Alejandro @Three Minds Software


  2. Hi,

    I’m having trouble importing a second shapefile of rivers or lacks over the landmass boundaries. When I do so, the rivers or lakes are not aligned in the right place. Is there some tweaking required to the offset to achieve the alignment? I’m using the same scale


    1. Hello!

      OWM should do it automatically, but it appears there is an issue with V0.9.3.

      To get around the issue, write down/copy the X and Y offsets auto-detected when importing the land data (bottom two text boxes) and use the same offset when importing other layers.

      Note: you don’t have to start over, you can just go to import the land data and once you write down the offsets, cancel out of the window.

      Thank you for bringing this issue to our attention!!

      – Alejandro


  3. Thanks for the quick reply. That worked for me.


  4. After reading this tutorial, I visited Natural Earth website. Unfortunately, my McAfee program said the site was trying to load script from unauthenticated sources.

    I have the option to allow the script to load, but I’m uncertain how safe this would be, to do so.

    Does anyone get this warning when they visit Natural Earth website?


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