Printing 3D Topography Maps
Here's an example map of Mt. St. Helens.
While the print files for this item are not available for download, it gives you an idea of what you can do with a 3D printer.
Terrain2STL allows you to easily create 3D STL models of the surface of Earth.
Zoom into the area you want to model and click on the Center To View button. Go to the Model Details area and change the size and rotation of the model area. Vertical Scaling can be set to 2 to amplify smaller features. Click on the Create and Download button when set.
The resulting .stl file can be used with your 3D printer or printing service to print out the terrain model.
Hint: If your model includes both land and water, set Water Drop to 1 mm to outline where water and land meet.
For many locations, maps have already been digitized and posted to Thingiverse. If you have a particular location in mind, try searching for it.
Making 3D prints from LIDAR Data
This video shows you how to make incredibly detailed 3d landscape models from publicly available LIDAR data. While not simple, the workflow uses free or very cheap software.
- YouTube URL
Creating a 3D print and need a grayscale height representation of anywhere on earth? Check out this resource.
The resolution detail varies depending on where on earth you're looking, but it's detailed enough you can see the piers along the waterfront if you zoom in to San Francisco, CA.
When using the site, make sure to have the "Controls" open and auto-exposure checked. Include ocean data will allow you to see the sea floor (check out under the Golden Gate Bridge). The Map Lines and Map Labels options make it easy to zoom in, but remember to turn them off before clicking export.
This is a 3D topo map of Yosemite's Glacier Point showing two of the trails which connect Glacier Point to the valley floor, the 4-Mile trail and the Ledge trail. It was created by the author of the Making 3D prints from LIDAR Data video.
The 4-Mile trail is a steep and strenuous hike. The Ledge trail is an insane scramble over dangerous steep terrain, so dangerous that the trail was officially closed years ago following a number of fatalities. You can still climb it (people climb far sillier rocks in Yosemite) but don't say you weren't warned.
The model was made using Lidar data collected originally to study rockfall. The author suggests you keep that in mind if you are considering the Ledge route.
Want to create your own .STL files? In just 22 "simple" steps, you too can print a 3D topo map of anywhere.
While it can take a while, you do end up with a unique view of your world.
This article from 3DPrint.com explores the different options for producing a 3D "STL" model from topographic map data and explains why Terrain2STL is so special.
Don't have access to a 3D printer? The Terrainator is an alternative to Terrain2STL that allows to to select a location and have them print it for you.
Uses a simple Google Maps type interface -- not obvious from this thumbnail -- that is interesting to see in action. No purchase or sign in required to see it in action. Terrain2STL is probably a better bet if you can print out .STL files.