3D terrain map production


Does anyone know how I can produce a 3D terrain map suitable for a 3D printer. I have imported the Google earth data but the terrain information is very poor. There is a tutorial on the web for other products but is very complicated for my tired old brain.I can’t believe it cant be done in Sketchup or the Pro version


If you are able to get some topo lines (e.g. trace a map), you can use TopoShaper to generate the terrain.


If you use Geo location and after you have grabbed it and its in sketchup in its flat state ,then go back to Geo location and select show terrain,That should give you the contours



Describe what you would deem to be “suitable for a 3D printer”
Is the terrain of interest a 640 acre tract of land or a little 1/2 acre lot?
What level of detail/resolution are you trying to achieve?

Post a link to what you speak of. Maybe we can help you understand and accomplish what you want.

Again, you need to accurately describe what the “it” is you have in mind.
Many here are proficient with SU terrain modeling; mindreading, not so much.

By nature, contour data is generally rather low resolution.
Converting contour geometry to a quad-mesh TIN makes the geometry neater and easier to work with.
However, it will not create a more accurate model of the real world.

The 3D model can only be as accurate as the data used to create it.
What actually lies between 3d coordinates of a points cloud or between contour lines is an unknown.
And the more the known data is simplified/altered, the less accurate the model becomes.

You might be interested in this Trimble solution to terrain mapping:
The Trimble UX5 has the ability to capture data down to 2.4 cm (0.94 in) resolution.



Good point about the mind reading!!

We live right up on a hill at Edgehill in the UK, the site f the first battle of the Civil War. I am looking to get a 3D terrain map printed of the area as it s quite interesting. UK postcode OX17 1DH

I have tried using the get location function is Sketchup but as mentioned it is quite low resolution.

I have tried following this tutorial but got lost around step 7

The http://earthexplorer.usgs.gov site seems to have available data and produces two TIFF files of a very large area. I was wondering if this is higher resolution that the Google maps or basically the same data set…

I am not an experienced Sketchup user and it may not even be the best product for the job. I am open to advice




Hi Norman,

I gather you want to map a rather small geographic area in high detail.
For discussion purposes let’s say your model will portray and area 1.5 miles x 1.5 miles = 2.25 square miles.

Notice the area in the referenced Instructables Tutorial is quite large vs. what you wish to model.

L 28.035° - L 27.649° = 0.386° of Latitude = a North/South distance of ~23 Nautical Miles = ~43km.
Also notice the author chose an area of dramatic height contrasts … Mt Everest!

The referenced Instructables Tutorial suggests using the AsterGlobalDEM data from USGS.
Notice the Information Icon in the USGs interface wherein the resolution of the data is revealed.

Here’s the AsterGlobalDEM Info Link: https://lpdaac.usgs.gov/products/aster_products_table/astgtm

ASTER is capable of collecting in-track stereo using nadir- and aft-looking near infrared cameras.
Since 2001, these stereo pairs have been used to produce single-scene (60- x 60-kilomenter (km)) digital
elevation models (DEM) having vertical (root-mean-squared-error) accuracies generally between 10- and 25-meters (m).

The Info page goes on to state… Pixel Size = 1 arc-second = ~30m

You certainly can model the level detail you want using SketchUp.
SketchUp Make and Pro have a powerful set of dedicated terrain modeling tools.
SketchUp Sandbox Tools — SketchUp Help

Obviously the USGS AsterGlobalDEM data is far too coarse for your needs.
It seems to me your greatest challenge is finding height data of sufficient resolution.
This article relates what file types you can import directly into SU.
What kinds of files can I import into SketchUp? — SketchUp Help

Plugins, like Cloud v8.0bx can import CSV files of x,y,z points data from a land survey or LIDAR survey.
The imported points are then connected with lines (triangulated) thus creating the terrain surface.
Here’s a list of mapping resources:
SketchUp Sage Site > Resources Research & Web Services > see Maps

A related Instructables tutorial seems more akin to what you want to create.
Neighborhood Terrain Model — Instructables

Tracing a contour map as Cotty suggested is another option.
Topographic map contour intervals vary, usually depending upon the scale of the map.
Whether such maps are refined enough for your needs is something for you to investigate.

Here are some examples from past discussions:



exacttrak: Attached is what I pulled into sketchup using your UK address info above. II don’t have any ref points to even know if this is correct location/ It appears the it maybe 30 meter data. That is bought form the spacecraft guys and althought I am sure they have higher res. data Google buys and they are not going to spend $$ on high res data. If you open In Google earth there is a time slider so you can go back in time but quick look does not look better. You can use cutting planes to create contour data but it will probably be course. My first go at applying an interpolation filter to create a more dense mesh had a program crash , edge hill.skp (1.3 MB) but may try again also with some Poisson interpolation. 3D printers do not print large areas, at least small $ ones, plus it needs to be a solid so not sure what your expected output is?


The data provided above was made more dense by adding ~8 additional edges in each of area of the attached mesh, but that does not change the resolution and wiill probably not provide any better contour info so will not post. The Ordnance Survey is the controlling entity in the UK similar to the USGS here in US for data. They do have free GIS software and may have better resolution data but pursuing that may waste of time until we hear from you.