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This tutorial explains how to create a very simple map highlight effect in After Effects. It can be done with a solid layer, a mask, one built-in effect, and a layer style. Here’s how:

Highlighting a Map in After Effects

Getting Setup

Import your map into After Effects, create your composition, and place the map inside the comp. If you have questions on how to do these drop a comment otherwise I’m going to skip over these super beginner steps.

In the comp, create a new solid. You can do this by using the keyboard shortcut Command+Y if you’re on a Mac or Control+Y if you’re on Windows. Make the solid the comp size. Next turn off the layer visibility.

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Masking the Map Area You Want to Highlight

Hit the “G” key to activate the Pen Tool. With the solid layer selected, use the Pen Tool to create a mask. This will be the boundary of the map highlight. In the video above this takes place around the 2:00 mark if you want to see it in active. If you have questions about the Pen Tool leave a comment please.

Now turn the visibility for the solid layer back on. With the layer selected, hit the “M” key twice in a row to show the mask’s properties. Change the Mask Opacity property to 50% or somewhere around there that looks good to you. You probably still want to see the map image beneath this highlight. Reminder: Mask Opacity is different than a layer’s Opacity property.

Mask properties on solid layer that will be the map highlight
Set the Mask Opacity down to ~50% so you can see through the highlighted area onto the map

Creating the Border for the Map Highlight in After Effects

We just highlighted the area of the map. Now we want to create a border for the highlight so it stands out.

Find the Effects & Presets panel. Type in “stroke” and apply the Stroke effect onto the layer. Now in the Effects Control panel, set the Color and Brush Size to what looks appropriate to you.

Stroke effect properties for the map highlight in After Effects
Apply the Stroke Effect and set the color and brush size to create the border

Next, right-click on the solid layer and under Layer Styles choose Bevel and Emboss. And…that’s it!

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Finishing Touches

I often will keyframe the layer’s Opacity property (reminder: this is different from the Mask Opacity) so I can fade in and fade out the map highlight. And if the map needs to be moved or scaled or something like that, just parent/child connect the solid layer to the map layer. Then you can manipulate the map layer without having to adjust the solid layer.

I sincerely hope that this tutorial helped you. If it did, please consider subscribing to my email newsletter. Do you have thoughts about how to highlight a map in After Effects? Leave them below in the comments!


– Josh