I’ve previously posted about Inkarnate and how it is an excellent free cartography tool. I’m not an artist by even the loosest definition and it has allowed me to make great looking world and city maps almost effortlessly. I’ve updated that post since I originally wrote it back in 2015, but the program has changed quite a bit. In April 2017, Inkarnate added a subscription model for a new version called Inkarnate Pro.
This subscription is $5 per month or $25 per year and gives you access to a lot of extra features as well as larger maps. The subscription also grants the user commercial use of the maps they make using Inkarnate.
After Inkarnate Pro was announced some changes were made to the free version’s offerings. Because of these changes, I had begun to use the program much less. However, I recently got a Visa gift card from work and decided to try out a year’s subscription as it’s so cheap. My conclusion? Very pleasantly surprised.
Changes to the Basic Plan
As I’ve mentioned, awhile ago Inkarnate made some changes to its Basic Plan. Specifically they replaced the original object assets with new and more detailed versions of themselves. The original Inkarnate brush paints and terrain patterns were also changed after this update. These changes made the world maps I made much more detailed, but my city maps looked quite awful. Icons that would originally resemble a single house now had 3 or 4 groups of houses together.
City and Town Maps
Above this paragraph is an example of a city I made using the old assets. Below this paragraph is a city I made using the new assets. Granted, these are almost 2 years of maps apart, but the Old assets allowed me to make that enormous capital city with great scale. These new assets forced me to focus on creating much smaller cities and towns or else the map would be extremely cluttered. There was simply too much detail in the maps now for any small-scale maps!
That being said, these new assets and terrain patterns are awesome for creating world maps! The additional detail in all of the assets made for great looking large-scale terrain-focused maps. My map below this paragraph is an example of this. The world maps that I’ve made in my spare time for fun look awesome compared to some of the original world maps I’ve made like the one above this paragraph.
Besides the changes in the map assets, the difference in the water texture also makes a huge difference for these maps in general. I didn’t mention this earlier as I don’t believe that it detracts from the smaller city maps in any way, it’s just an overall upgrade.
To summarize, my bigbest complaint about the free version of Inkarnate was that while the new assets were more detailed, they were not great for representing maps of a smaller scale like a city or town map. The old version was very versatile because its assets were so basic.
There are three main perks that the site lists for purchasing the pro plan. These perks are: larger maps, 400 more assets than the free version, and a commercial use license.
The size increase for the map is certainly a nice perk. The maps have always been pretty big and have fit fine in my Roll20 games. For me the increased map size and quality has not been a major selling point.
However, image size is primarily an issue for printing. It’s generally better for the quality of an image to shrink it rather than make it larger. If you typically use Inkarnate to create maps and give out physical handouts, I’d say this is certainly a selling point if you’re looking for a better-quality image.
The assets are really what makes Inkarnate Pro so great in my opinion. The color pallet for the brush textures for painting terrain has been expanded considerably. The free version consists almost entirely of white, yellow, green, and brown. Inkarnate Pro has brush textures ranging from all kinds of colors – purples, black, red, etc. It’s made making fantasy maps in unnatural biomes a lot easier as I no longer have to load in my own brush textures.
The terrain patterns pallet saw an enormous amount of growth. The free version has three types of trees, a hill, and a mountain for its terrain patterns. The pro version has many different types of trees, different types of hills and mountains, volcanos, and even actual buildings. Admittedly it’s not a feature I used often due to how limited it was, but the new variety of options has made me experiment with it a lot more.
This should go without saying, but the objects pallet has a ton more options. There are also buildings like walls that have never been in Inkarnate before. Inkarnate Pro also brings back the old 2-D low detail map icons that I loved, albeit in a different style. I have a lot more choices and options for making cities which was important to me. I can now make those large capital cities again.
The commercial license is something only a few people will care about. Regardless, it’s still a decent perk especially considering how cheap this is compared to a lot of software licenses out there.
Verdict: It’s good!
After making some maps for my Apocalypse World campaign with Inkarnate Pro I concluded that everything I hated about the free version of Inkarnate was fixed. I then spent a few hours this week making new maps and remaking old maps for fun! So fun that I even began redoing old maps that I may not ever use again, like the one below.
There is a much larger pool of assets to choose from, and the assets are more diverse. As you can see from the examples I’ve shown in this post, I’ve been able to make a pretty great looking major city again and the new assets really help bring out more details in my world maps.
The high-definition pro maps are a nice feature, especially if you are printing these maps out. However, the main selling point for me has been the plethora of assets that are exclusive to Inkarnate Pro.
One feature that I would have loved to have seen was a conversion tool that would allow you to convert your old free version maps into Inkarnate Pro maps that you could then edit. I have a bunch of old maps that I’d like to be able to edit quickly with all of these new features. This is a nitpick if anything and is probably not something a large amount of the community would use more than a handful of times.
All-in-all I’d say it’s well worth the money for me. Speaking of which, let’s talk money.
Thoughts on Pricing
I opted for the more economical $25 per year subscription fee. The yearly subscription is the same price as 5 months of the regular $5 per month fee. I felt that this was too good of a deal to pass up.
Speaking of the monthly subscription, I don’t feel it’s worth the $5 per month based on how often I normally used Inkarnate in the past. On average, I will create 1 map per month, so I wouldn’t consider myself a frequent user. The ~$2.50 a month cost from purchasing a year upfront hits that sweet spot for me as an infrequent user. If you’re one of the few people who the commercial license applies to I’d say the yearly subscription is a no-brainer.
If you enjoy using the free version of Inkarnate and find yourself frustrated with some of its limitations I’d highly recommend trying Inkarnate Pro. My advice would be to pay no more than 1 month of the $5 monthly fee. At the end of that month either go all in and purchase a year’s subscription, or cancel it. The monthly subscription is a great way to try out Inkarnate Pro. However, I wouldn’t get hooked on the more expensive plan for longer than it’s worth.
If you enjoyed what you read be sure to check out my ongoing review for all of the official D&D 5e books!
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