Inkarnate is a free fantasy cartography/mapmaking software with a premium paid subscription option. While this may sound like a niche market, there’s quite a bit of competition here, and a lot of it comes from development teams much larger than Inkarnate’s two-person squad. So how does the software fair up against the competition?
Inkarnate is a software for those who need a quick map on-the-fly. It’s best suited to creating maps of small towns or cities such as the ones featured here or here, maps like these have the ability to better take advantage of Inkarnate’s unique and very smart use of partial “building” assets that are totally consistent and easy to distinguish. Stick with the free version; If you’re committed enough to want to upgrade to pro, you’re committed enough to get more serious about fantasy cartography and use something like GIMP or Adobe Photoshop.
Inkarnate is a very-much-work-in-progress cartography software that can be used by beginners to advanced mapmakers alike for the purpose of constructing a map in a game in such an amount of time that won’t utterly devastate a user’s life and sleep schedule.
At least that’s the idea. But for those as obsessive as I am, your sleep schedule will die regardless. In theory, however, it accomplishes that goal rather well.
The program was created by one of the team’s current two (yes, only two) members whose names I could not find, but are identified under usernames (or perhaps surnames) Sterling and Igmar on their own website. One of the two authored this Reddit post, which talks about their struggles in finding a sufficiently decent map editor online leading them to develop their own program. It’s a cool story, and fairly accurate: While there are quite a number of programs that can get the job done for you, Inkarnate offers the first free option of a fairly high quality that runs in-browser.
The video featured in the post is a very early version of Inkarnate, a program which is having new features and improvements added to it on almost a monthly basis. And although Inkarnate’s landing page did not impress me, the user interface did: It was entirely self-explanatory, which was good because there was actually no explanations or tutorials on offer.
So what’s Inkarnate good at?
Small to medium-sized maps, usually portraying cities, small villages, or ancient temples. Here are a few examples from some people who are really, really good at the software, to give you some idea of what Inkarnate maps might look like…
It is also possible to do maps of larger, scaled-back countries and such, but maps like those usually require a higher resolution as you’ll want to zoom in to catch all the details. And here’s where Inkarnate’s biggest problems lie: Premium Ain’t Worth It.
I bought a bit of premium myself and played around with it for a good while. It does offer a fair amount of features, such as more assets, a higher total number of maps a user can use, and 2x the standard resolution, but it also happens to fall out of Inkarnate’s niche audience.
Inkarnate caters to a very specific group of people. Most of its tools excel as they allow you to make a very good map in a very, VERY short amount of time. And this is a good niche, but there are other options for those who want to dive deeper into the art of cartography. The issue is that one of those options, a free software called GIMP, offers a much higher skill ceiling than does Inkarnate. And it’s still quite easy to learn.
So the premium kind of falls flat. In the spectrum of levels-of-commitment with free and paid cartography tools, Premium Inkarnate sadly fails to compete with other options on the market.
In summary? It’s free. It’s free as heck. You can roll up there with zero experience and make something that doesn’t look half bad. But in a range of toolsets this diverse, I can’t recommend the premium version, as it is sadly overshadowed by other tools already available.