Step 5: Create the 3D Model in Blender

The data we just saved does not have any thickness yet, and so it cannot be 3D printed. It also does not yet have a graphic overlay that shows where you hiked. To do this, we can use Blender.

Blender is an open source software package for 3D modeling. You can download it for free at http://www.blender.org.

Note that there is a learning curve for this very powerful software! I will try to walk you through it, but you will probably want to have a reference book like "Blender for Dummies" (http://www.amazon.com/Blender-Dummies-Jason-van-Gumster/dp/0470584467) and you may need to spend a little time learning the the basics of this program in order to use it well.

After running Blender, select "File" -> "Import" -> "X3D Extensible 3D (.x3d/.wrl)" and then navigate to your .x3d file and select it.

Some useful Blender navigation commands:
  • Use your mouse wheel to zoom in and out.
  • Press and hold the middle mouse button while moving the mouse to rotate the image in 3D.
  • Left click to move the cursor cross-hatch.
  • Press ALT-Home to recenter the image wherever the cursor cross-hatch is.
  • SHIFT-c to center the image.
  • If the sub-window region that shows the image ever changes to another mode (if you accidentally hit the "Render" button on the right, for example), click in this sub-window and press SHIFT-F5.
On the left side, you will see a list of items such as camera, cube, and lamp. By clicking on the "eye" icon next to them, turn them all off except for your ShapeIndexedFaceSet. Also turn off the camera icon for those items.

Near the bottom of the screen, select "View" -> "View Persp./Orth"
Press SHIFT-c to center the image.
Select "View" -> "Top"

You should now see your map as a rectangle, probably with South at the top and North at the bottom. We will flip the graphic overlay later to match.

Save often!


We need to add a light source to the model. This will illuminate it later so that we can see the .JPG image that will be placed on the surface.

To do this, press SHIFT-A. This will bring up a menu on the screen. Left-click on Lamp, then Sun.

A sun icon will appear on the screen. Click and drag the red and green arrows to center it over the landscape. You will need to rotate the model a few times to see that it is centered. Then, click and drag the blue arrow to move it high above the surface.

On the far right sub-window, you will see the word "Sun."  Turn off the "eye" icon, as before. Leave the "camera" icon on.

We are now ready to prepare the color graphic that will be printed on the top. This will give the 3D printout the surface color of the terrain, and optionally, the path of your trek.
<p>This is an awesome instructable, thanks. It's motivating me to learn blender. But I'm having a little, strange problem. When I use 3DEM to stitch 2 map tiles together (of a region I'm very familiar with), the result is stretched, so that later, when I'm playing with the uv_grid.png file, the proportions don't match. I tried redoing the whole thing from the start, but, same thing. The result that I get out of 3DEM is stretched, resulting in a stretched x3d and blender file which doesn't match the proportions of what I get out of google earth (actually using &quot;Google Satellite Maps Downloader&quot;). The thing is, I've already run through this tutorial several times with a different region (tweaking this and that and trying different specific areas, etc) where I only needed 1 map tile (so no stitching tiles in 3DEM) and there was no problem at all. Any insight would be greatly appreciated!</p>
<p>Great tutorial. Just wondering if you knew how I could make the bottom of the model flat? </p><p>Something like this: <a href="http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:267130" rel="nofollow">http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:267130</a></p><p>Thanks,</p>
<p>I wish I knew! However, doing so would consume a lot of material = $$$. I really like the stand I made, which added very little to the cost. I even found that making the walls (of the stand) thinner reduced the cost in meaningful ways. As far as &quot;how to make the stand&quot; I extruded lots of rectangles that touched each other, and then moved the top nodes of each of the extruded triangles into the body of the model (the extruded topography) . I hope that helps.</p>
<p>I ended up flattening the bottom by selecting the bottom face and scaling it to zero. </p>
<p>Can you please explain that a little more to a blender newbie?</p>
<p>Great information! Thanks for letting me know.</p>
Hi, this is a great instructable, However I'm having trouble with the if mapping. I have managed to create a png file and overlay the image my problem is getting it back into blender. you say select shapeinsertfaceset is that the model itself? because I can't see it say that. when I select the checker icon it just says global or texture. I can add the image but then I can't find the section under mapping that says coordinates to switch from generated to uv?? I'm using a stl file would that make a difference?<br><br>kind regards<br>Andrew
<p>I have pretty much got this done, but whenever I render it in blender, the preview doesn't render it just comes up with a black box! any ideas? I've attached a screenshot</p>
<p>It appears that your light sources (lamp, sun) have been turned off. Turn them on, and re-position as necessary. This looks like you've done a great job otherwise! Congrats!</p>
<p>I followed the steps, but I am not confident enough to submit my own work for printing. Is there anyone that would be willing to help me out with it?</p>
I'd be happy to look at it and tell you what I see. email it to engineering_type@@yahoo.com. (email it using only one @ in the address, of course.)
<p>Is it possible to &quot;wrap&quot; this texture around a surface? Like to make a bumpy sided mug?</p>
<p>I think this is awesome! </p><p>Looked at Terrainator.com, but no color, and a bit pricey. Neat as sculpture though, modern-looking I suppose. I like yours better, thinking of undertaking it for a favorite bit of terrain.</p><p>I have a question:</p><p>Approximately how much did it cost to have this printed?</p><p>Thanks for posting this,</p><p>Casey</p>
<p>The piece in the photos cost something like $170 in color sandstone. It could be made thinner or smaller which would reduce the cost proportionately.</p>
<p>Thanks drhatch for this instruction ! Can I ask you a question ? </p><p>It all worked fine for me, until I wanted to import my .dem file into </p><p>AccuTrans3D. After selecting the .dem file for import, either nothing would happen (on my XP virtualbox on Linux Host) or , after a few seconds of time, I get the message &quot;file type not supported&quot; (on a real WIN7 machine). My .dem file is 150 MB, but have also tried a smaller one, same result. Have you any idea ? Thanks a lot, Thomas </p>
<p>I never had a problem with this step. All I can think of is to double-check that the &quot;save as&quot; type and &quot;import&quot; type are exactly as described in the text. Maybe check the patch operation as well? Sorry I don't have any better suggestions.</p>
<p>It was a matter of size ! A smaller area is working now ! Anyway it makes no sense to print out half of Austria :))</p><p>All the best, Thomas</p>
<p>Okay got a quick question, likely without a quick answer. I'd like to take an area and process it so I can print it with my monochrome printer (Afinia H479). I think I've got this through step 3, but since I don't need the color data or the map overlay I'm not quite sure where to go from there. Any help would be appreciated as I'm kind of new to the whole 3D scene.</p><p>Thanks</p>
<p>You can take an easy shortcut!<br>Bring the .DEM file into AccuTrans3D. (First part of Step 4.)</p><p>Click the &quot;3D&quot; button. (On the left. Has a mountain icon with an arrow.)</p><p>Set the Vertex Interval so that number of triangles is under 200,000. Click OK.<br>Now click the &quot;Extrude&quot; button. (Near the &quot;3D&quot; button.)<br>On the right, type in a &quot;Thickness&quot; value. (See the Z &quot;min - max&quot; values to give you an idea for an appropriate value.)<br>Now do a File -&gt; Save As, and save it as an .STL file.<br>You can probably directly print it from that. (Or send to Shapeways, and pick a material to print it in.)<br>Good luck!</p>
<p>Yay for the easy shortcut! Blender was about to defeat me....hehe.</p>
<p>Never Surrender! :-)</p><p>All CAD tools have a steep learning curve, and the more powerful the tool, the harder it is to learn. But Blender can do some great stuff, so it might be worth it to work hard to learn it, or some other CAD tool. I am going to try Fusion360 because I tend to like all of AutoDesk's tools.</p>
<p>drhatch, what would be the best way to scale this down using the shortcut? Set a higher vertex interval? Using &quot;2&quot;, with triangles at ~172K works, but creates a huge file that is too big to print, even scaling down in Slic3r....suggestions welcome! By the way, this instructable rocks!!</p>
<p>Thank you. I am glad you find it useful.</p><p>I think by saying &quot;scale down&quot; you want to &quot;make the .STL file smaller,&quot; right? The only way I know of is to reduce the number of triangles. <br> Try selecting 4 or even 8 to see if you can find something that works. <br>172k, as you found out, is a LOT of triangles! Maybe fewer will work. <br>Good luck, and I would be interested in knowing what you discover.</p>
<p>Thanks, I had no idea it would be that easy. I'll go download AccuTrans#d and give it a shot.</p><p>Curt</p>
<p>The nice thing about importing into Blender is that you could extrude it so that it has a flat bottom (extruding in AccuTrans leaves a rippled bottom side). Also in Blender you could create a stand like shown in my photos. But Blender takes some time and patience to learn, so it's a trade-off.</p>
<p>How durable is a print with these dimensions? Would this survive as a tactile hands-on piece in a museum? Does it feel sturdy?</p>
<p>It feels fairly sturdy. Tough enough to, say, pass around if the people are reasonable. (No dropping, no intentional attempts to snap it, etc...) I haven't tried to break it, so I cannot say for sure. I think the surface would eventually wear, if people were always touching it it the same spot. The good thing is that the color goes all the way through, but the sandstone would eventually exhibit surface wear, I think.</p>
<p>Thanks a lot! It sounds like feasibility depends on the type of interaction. I'm looking into epoxy coating of models for added durability now and will let you know if we try this with a larger print: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqeSI0z41QI </p>
does anyone knows/ has a tip to do this for a complete country? i have been to new zealand and want to print my road trip.
Nice post! Thanks. <br> <br>When I try to import my x3d file into Blender, nothing happens! I go to File--Import--then I locate the file in the top bar and click &quot;Import x3d/vrml2&quot; and nothing happens--just the empty x-y-z grid. No map. Any ideas?
Yes, I had this problem. Zoom out. That will make it appear. If that does not work, the scale of the piece is too large. Re-size the model to be smaller, then re-import. Both of these things caused this problem for me in the past.
Awesome! Have you been able to print this yet?
Yes, I just added pictures. It turned out great!
This is a really neat way to display your travels... <br>But i wanted to suggest another alternative. <br>In Google Sketchup (Free from Google), you can directly import the 3D structure of the earth, from the different regions you want to print out, and overlay your trek details.. <br>And best part is that you get the exact data.. <br>all you do is give it some thickness, and print the model.. <br>Kudos to your trek though..
Buena idea, pero s&oacute;lo el 'Sketchup Pro' puede exportar a formatos de impresi&oacute;n como: .obj &oacute; .collada. Blender es m&aacute;s profesional pero es confuso al principio.
ok.. I had no idea, that only Sketchup Pro can save in that format.. coz i have Sketchup Pro, and have been using it to make my Professional Drawings and models..
Thank you for the idea. It would eliminate the hardest step, which is aligning the image to the terrain. I might try this, along with figuring out how to add the GPS data, later. Someone should do this and create an Instructable out of it!
you're welcome.. <br>
The only problem is that if its 3D then it will take up more room in your pack, otherwise thats pretty cool
About how much does it cost to print them?
It depends on the size and how thick the extrusion is. At the very largest size (around 7&quot; x 9&quot;), with a thick extrusion (plus a base), it can cost around $170. For a smaller version, it can be as low as around $20-to-$40.
If on a pc Windows has the Snipping Tool built in. It is one of the first things I pin to my Start Menu when I set up a pc.
How did I not know about the Snipping Tool?!? It works great, is free, and can be used in place of SnagIt. I will update the instructions to include a reference to this. Thanks!
Cropper is infinitely better - check it out
Marvelous. I've always loved those 3d maps I saw as a kid - also reminds me of a rotating driving dame from the 70s with a circular map and cars on magnets - could be one for an Instructable by someone more clever than me(off to find a link/picture...)
You could make a modern 'Matchbox Steer n Go' with much better terrain <br>http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NcDnNIWUm_Y
I love this idea. Great for planning scientific treks with a group or for visualizing collected data. Thanks.
Awesome project! I recognized the region immediately! Too bad you didn't go to Gokyo Lakes, it would have been really worth it. When did you go there? I was there in 1998, just before the civil war...
This a stunning use of the 3D printer. Incredible idea. Thanks for sharing.

About This Instructable




Bio: Hardware by training, and a software amateur.
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