Looking for a desktop application that lets me draw on a sphere with my mouse, which I find very much needed for geography on a whole planet. With a world grid and showing coordinates and all, depending on where my mouse is.

Google Earth has both features, you can draw polygons and lines and place icons, you can measure distance easily, but unfortunately you can't (or I think you can't) do so on a blank sphere. Other problems are that you can't scale your globe to any radius, and you only have Mars and Moon as alternative "skins" (and radius).

I nearly can't imagine that something like this does not exist?! Does anyone know?

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    $\begingroup$ Do you require the software to run on any particular platform? (Windows, Linux, Mac, BeOS, ...?) Are you willing to pay money, or are you only interested in free-of-charge software? Please edit your question to include these details. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Dec 9, 2016 at 23:26
  • $\begingroup$ The accepted answer to my mapping question has a useful link to a online map converter. I was fooling around the other day and found I could draw on my flat 2Dmap and then the globe version would have my drawing lines. I don't know if it would work straight on the globe though and if it has the other features you are looking for. Still useful though. (actually thinking about it, I think I drew onto the globe and then the flat 2D map updated!) worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/57506/… $\endgroup$ Dec 9, 2016 at 23:47
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling I would pay if I find something that checks certain boxes, but probably not more than 30 Euros. Win or Mac does't matter. I don't think editing is necessary because "software" includes both, paid and free. $\endgroup$
    – Polarelch
    Dec 10, 2016 at 0:47
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    $\begingroup$ @Polarelch He's saying that you need to be specific in the question: what's your price range? What's your platform? If you're limited to free software, that will probably strike a lot of potential answers off the list (such as mine). If you need it to be Mac- or Linux-compatible, that also limits the options. If you're free to spend $1000, on the other hand (a very unlikely proposition), people might also refer you to industrial software of the sort that normally gets licensed to companies instead of individuals. $\endgroup$
    – Palarran
    Dec 10, 2016 at 1:45
  • $\begingroup$ Is there a reason you don't want to just use 2D software? That might be a lot easier way to make a map. Maybe start with a longitude & latitude template and then draw it all by hand. That would be the easiest way I know of, but I've never used GPlates. $\endgroup$ Dec 10, 2016 at 2:13

2 Answers 2


I recommend GPlates. Its originally purpose was constructing tectonic plates and showing how they move over time (it was developed by geoscience departments at several universities across the world), so I think that it's ideal for creating continents. It also has excellent documentation, good compatibility with a variety of operating systems (Windows, Linux, and MacOS X).

Here's a quick gif I made showing what the environment looks like (on Windows, at least):

enter image description here

Various features:

  • It can project drawings onto 2-D maps, too, including the Mercator projection.
  • It can show the movement of plates over time, if you want to make the geological features of your world more realistic.
  • You can save various bits of data from features.
  • It can measure distances and track your cursor's coordinates, as you asked for. I haven't played around with non-Earth-sized planets yet (the world I use it for is just Earth, at a different time), but I image you could resize your drawing.
  • It's open source, if that makes a difference to you.
  • It's free.
  • $\begingroup$ Half the time, GPlates doesn't register my mouse clicks for some reason. Which makes making very finely detailed plates really hard and time-consuming. It's not a memory issue. I can still move around on the globe really easily, and I got 16 gigs of RAM. It's really weird... $\endgroup$ May 17, 2020 at 22:08

I'm not sure it's what you're looking for, but I found Fractal Terrains 3 to be quite useful. The full version is about $40 USD plus tax, but there's a free trial available on the ProFantasy website here, so you can get a feel for it without having to pay anything. And if you're curious: no, I don't work for them, but I have bought a handful of their products.

The software itself is intended to draw world maps, and is quite useful for the purpose. It allows random generation of worlds via several fractal algorithms (hence the name), and you can make your own adjustments as well.

Finer detail generally requires supporting software (namely Campaign Cartographer 3, another $45; ProFantasy does offer various bundles if you find yourself interested in their products, but that's dependent on what level of detail you want your maps to have; for just a world map, those two will be more than enough), but it's perfectly capable of editing mountain ranges, coastlines, etc., which is plenty for a full-world map. It can't do tectonic plates, as far as I'm aware, so you might need to look elsewhere for that or else draw multiple maps manually. Fractal Terrains 3 supports some two dozen projections, such as Mercator, equirectangular, etc.; you want to draw on a sphere, so the orthographic projection would be your best bet. It can export to multiple formats, including Google Earth files, so you have plenty of options there.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, this is an interesting solution! I do have FT3 and Google Earth, but I haven't thought of this option yet. I only got back to worldbuilding after a 5 years break, so I lost the overview a bit. FT3 is slooow, but it's nice to play around with and get inspiration from. $\endgroup$
    – Polarelch
    Dec 10, 2016 at 1:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Polarelch Slow? Yes, if you use the highest resolution (which you certainly should). But really, does the slowness matter that much? Maybe you do it differently, but I end up spending more time considering what I'm going to change next than in actually drawing the changes. I find the "slow" part of the equation is usually my mind, not the software! $\endgroup$
    – Palarran
    Dec 10, 2016 at 1:41

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