3D Printing Topographical Maps

Grades 9-12
  • Art Art
  • Math Math
  • Social Sciences Social Sciences
  • Interdisciplinary Interdisciplinary


One powerful application of 3D printing is the ability to create tangible objects that help students visualize information.

While not a simple process it is much easier to process topographical data and convert it to a 3D Printable file on a PC than a MAC. For information on how to do this on a PC see Maps to 3D. The process becomes a bit more complicated on a MAC. This tutorial's purpose is to provide a workable option for MAC users.


  • Be able to create topographical maps on a MAC.


  • 3D printer
  • Access to the internet
  • Applications: Browser, QGIS, OmNomNom, Photo Editor, OpenSCAD, NetFabb, a Slicer


  1. Download heightmap2STL
  2. Navigate to earth explorer.
  3. Create an account or sign in. You will need to be signed in to download files.
  4. Enter an area for Search Criteria.
  5. Zoom into to selection.
  6. Under Coordinates click on the red X, then click on the map to create a selection.
  7. Navigate to Data Sets and click on Digital Elevation and select Aster Global DEM.
  8. Navigate to Results
  9. Download the files.
  10. Agree to restrictions:

  11. Once downloaded, created another folder to hold just the DEM files.

  12. Open QGIS
  13. To open the DEM files click on the Add Raster Layer icon.
  14. Click Directory then Browse under Source and select your DEM directory:

  15. You will need to merge your multiple DEM files into a single file. To merge raster files, click on Raster→Miscellaneous→Merge.
  16. Select the folder with your raster files for input
  17. Save your output file on you computer with the tiff extension.
  18. Click OK.
  19. When the process is completed close the popup windows.
  20. Select Layer→Properties
    Change Min to 0
    Set Current to Extent
    Set Contrast enhancement to Stretch to Min/Max
    Set Load to Min/Max
  21. Select Project→Save Image As and save the image as a JPEG.

  22. Open the jpg file in Photoshop or another image editing application.
  23. Crop out the white border and save
  24. Open terminal.
    java -jar path to  heightmap2stl.jar path to imagefile height of model height of base
    Arguments: 'path': Path to the heightmap (png, jpegs,... ) 'height of model': Z scale of the model. Height of the max elevation. 'height of base': Height of the base, the model stands on.