3D Printing Topographic Maps from Google

Published 07/20/2015

By Chris Richter l Customer Support Manager/Application Engineer 

STL Generator File I’ve been wondering if it would be possible to export 3D data from Google Earth in order to print terrain similar to topographic maps.  After some searching on the web, it seems there is not an easy or straightforward path to accomplish this.  I came across a tutorial on youtube which shows how to import GoogleMap data in to Google Sketch-Up and then export the data for importing into Rhino.  Since I do not have access to Rhino, this solution was a dead end.  I then experimented with importing the Google Sketch-Up data into Meshlab, a free mesh editing utility, but this only worked some of the time.  I then stumbled across a very simple website called “terrain2stl”.  http://jthatch.com/terrain2stl 


This website allows you to position a box around the area you want to capture.  The box area can be defined by dragging a slide bar and the position can be adjusted by panning the map.  Clicking the “Create STL File” button will generate an error free STL file most of the time.  There are areas of the map with incomplete data, such as the Grand Canyon and I suspect the issue is due to the extreme shape of the topography.  Most mountain ranges I have tested seem to work well, although I noticed the Z scaling needed to be decreased by about .78 to create a realistic model.  I was able to create an STL file of Mount Washington which is located in New Hampshire and I then 3D printed the file on a uPrintSE Plus.  Here’s a photo of the resulting print with a 2” X 3” footprint:

3D Printed Map

I’d love to know if there are any other methods to create STL files from map data and it would be really fun to 3D print the 3D cities that are now available to view in Google Earth.  Feel free to comment if you have any suggestions!

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