It’s not really a secret, that the software I’m using most for my maps is Wonderdraft (Wonderdraft.net). You can find some Quick Guides on this website about it and I can’t recommend it enough to anyone who wants to start making their own, digital maps. I’m pretty sure that Inkarnate is a great program as well, but I personally favor the style of Wonderdraft maps.
Other software I’m occasionally using is Paint.net (getpaint.net). It’s very easy to use and can do most of the image editing that you need for maps. I use it for example to make black & white maps to import in Wonderdraft or to add an effect to the final result such as the relief effect or a different lighting.
A bit more complicated to master is GIMP (gimp.org). It’s a great free and open source image editor with tons of possibilities, but I must admit, I don’t use it very often. You can get quite lost in the possibilities and any editing I want to do, I can usually do with Paint.net.
Finally, for resizing and compressing images I use RIOT (riot-optimizer.com). Quite regularly, I see people on Reddit or Discord sharing links to their images saying something like: “I had to upload and link it because it’s too large for Reddit/Discord”. Well… when using RIOT (or other compressing tools), I’m pretty sure you can get your map under 8MB without anyone noticing the quality loss. Only my final commisioned maps and the maps you can purchase in my webshop are uncompressed, but any WIP version or map I show elsewhere, is always compressed (and often resized).
For my own world building of the Tales of Asnia, I use LegendKeeper (legendkeeper.com). I absolutely love arranging my maps as a true atlas in there and writing whatever comes up about the different places in Asnia.
The most important piece of equipment is my laptop. An Asus ROG Strix GL503VD-FY208T from 2018. Now I’m definitely not an expert on anything computer related, so I won’t pretend I am. I can just say, that this laptop does a good job in not crashing while using Wonderdraft. Only when I’m using on an A2 size canvas with too many asset packs active, it starts lagging or even crashing. I do put it on a laptop cooling pad, but I honestly don’t know if that’s an absolute necessity or not. I just don’t like taking risks with it…
Besides my laptop, I naturally use a mouse and keyboard, but also quite often my Wacom Intuos M drawing tablet. This greatly increases the speed when placing mountains and trees on your map and can sometimes be useful when shaping landmasses (sometimes also a mouse is more useful for this). Another great use for the drawing tablet is coloring the land. For world and regional maps, I usually stick to the mouse for this (better for low opacity coloring), but for city maps I find the tablet almost a necessity. You need a very steady hand if you want to draw a road with your mouse, while with the tablet it’s a matter of seconds. Also top-down cliffs, hills and other landmark features are much easier with a drawing tablet than with a mouse.
Perhaps it’s because of my poor eyesight, but I just like having a big screen to work on. So, most of the time I have my laptop connected to an external screen (Philips 24 inch full HD IPS monitor).