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Here's a super easy way of making a 3D topographical map of anywhere in the world: you could literally be laser-cutting a map within 10 minutes of reading this instructable. I've always liked maps like these and there are some great tutorials out there... but the complexity had always put me off. But I recently learned how to use 123D Make, a free program that slices up STL files into pieces that you can stack together and make a 3D model. So I figured all that I needed was a utility that converted terrain into an STL, and happily, there exists one in Terrain2STL.

Step 1: Select Your Area of Interest

Go to the wonderful Terrain2STL utility. You will be greeted by an interactive Google map. Navigate to the geographical area of interest by zooming and dragging, and click "Center To View". Go next to Model Details, and use the Box Size slider to make the red box large enough to incorporate the feature you want. Be aware however that the larger the feature you select, the bigger the STL file you will end up downloading. To start with, I suggest you pick a box size of 1080 or smaller. Under Water and Base Settings, set the Water Drop to 2 mm (to ensure that the shore is clearly demarcated) and the Base Height to the minimum 2 mm. You're ready to make your STL file! Click Create and Download.

<p>MeshMixer runs awfully slow when you're trying to work with a mesh that has almost 6 million triangles.</p><p>Uhh, not that I'm trying to do a whole state or anything.</p><p>Honestly at this point I'm just happy the computer hasn't burst into flames.</p>
<p>And yes, I should have done a size or two in between instead of jumping from a tiny map straight to this.</p>
<p>a whole state... yeah, ambititous </p>
<p>I was originally trying that on a ~4 year old PC, I switched to a ~1 year old Mac and the speed difference was like night and day. So that let me &quot;reduce&quot; (simplify) the model and trim off the unnecessary bits.</p><p>123D Make reluctantly opened the (still large) file and produced a stack with... 1,540 pieces! Too many tiny peaks and valleys.</p><p>My current attempts at trying to smooth the model just make Meshmixer crash immediately. So I haven't completely given up on a whole state, but it's on a backburner for now.</p>
<p>But in the mean time...</p><p>One is my &quot;I don't have a laser, but I can do this with scissors&quot; attempt.</p><p>The other is &quot;I just got a laser, let's see what happens&quot;</p><p>You don't really notice until you see one without, but the burnt edges left by the laser really add another layer of depth to these things.</p>
<p>Nice! Yeah, slow computers do seem to struggle with these big files. Interesting to see the contrast added by the burning.</p>
<p>This is a fantastic tutorial! My students will love it and get a much deeper understanding of topography by doing this. I've tried a few times, and I keep getting &quot;mesh could not be imported&quot; when bringing in the stl file into 123D Make. 123D Make has been working fine with other stl files that I have. Any thoughts? </p>
<p>Hmm, strange. Does this happen with all sizes of map? Grabbing a very large piece of terrain leads to monster STLs that 123D Make might be balking at. </p>
<p>Thank you for your fast reply! I did use a 1080 box size, resulting in a 5.71 MB .stl file. I successfully imported a different stl file that was 23MB (was a tinkercad sourced file). I've tried on different computers and uninstalled and reinstalled 123DMake. I very much appreciate your thoughts. </p>
<p>odd. If a big TinkerCad file works, it might be something about the stl format 123D Make doesn't like. Perhaps try opening the stl in another program (Meshmixer I used to trim the Terrain2STL files) and resaving?</p><p>Note: 123D Make is very buggy - Autodesk stopped supporting it soon after launch, and its functionality is supposedly going to appear in Fusion360 in due course. I will update this project when it does.</p>
<p>I did something similar, but with a different approach. I used topo maps and a drawing program to extract all the contour lines and then cut them. Here's how it ended up. This is Mt. Diablo in the SF Bay area.</p>
<p>What drawing program did you use?</p>
Corel Draw X5
<p>I would LOVE to know how you did this with Corel Draw! </p>
<p>Thanks.</p>
<p>Beautiful! Premium membership on its way.</p>
<p>Hi Makendo, thanks for this great tutorial !!</p><p>Here's the &quot;Puy-de-D&ocirc;me&quot; an ancient volcano in the center of France, where I was born. No as impressive as the Taranaki which had the chance to visit, but a very beautiful place ;)</p>
<p>You're welcome! Looks great, I like the contouring in color. Premium membership sent.</p>
<p>thanks !!</p>
<p>Great work. Thanks. Do you know if there is something like 123DMake for Linux ? </p>
<p>&quot;Do you know if there is something like 123DMake for Linux ?&quot;</p><p>I second</p>
<p>Not a Linux user, sorry. I imagine there are other tools out there for you, though perhaps not as user-friendly.</p>
<p>Makendo, my terain stl thing wont work and this is for a school project so yeah i was wondering if you could help me and ive been trying for 3days!</p>
<p>What's the problem?</p>
<p>nvm its working its just that new york isn't very topographically intresting</p>
<p>Try 1. exaggerating the vertical scale 2. ensuring you have a decent sized water drop.</p>
<p>oh and its downloading now that i refreshed my comp</p>
<p>Makendo, you're amazing I think your really cool and I reallyy could use that premium membership but yeah it's expensive but i could 3D print it? That ok too?</p>
<p>sure</p>
<p>OK! Thank you so much! I will make great use of it</p>
<p>Fantastic Scott, you are such a prolific maker with a very fresh perspective, i'm a fan!</p>
<p>Thanks Alex!</p>
<p>The Challenger Relief Map. This was the first (and favourite) topographical map that I remember as a kid. This was at the Pacific National Exhibition in Vancouver BC, Canada. It was huge and is in real danger of being destroyed. Keep up the good work!</p><p>http://basementgeographer.com/megamaps-in-peril-part-ii-the-challenger-relief-map-of-british-columbia/</p>
<p>It's amazing all right. Shame if it never sees light of day again</p>
<p>Does anyone know what map is that for the main image? for me it looks like Walden Pond.</p>
<p>it's an island. See step 5</p>
<p>The area i live made out of cardboard.</p>
Fantastic! Thanks so much for posting. Premium membership on the way
i just want a laser cutter so bad
<p>Can't download the pdf of this. It runs to about 90% and then stalls. been trying for two days.</p>
<p>Weird, works fine for me.</p>
<p>Weirder still - I just tried on 3 different machines, on 2 different browsers, with and without using a download manager and logging in each time. None of the download attempts would complete.</p><p>In the end, I did &quot;View all Steps&quot; and then print-to-pdf.</p><p>I've had the same problem intermittently (but very occasionally) on other instructables (maybe once in 6 months)</p>
<p>I really like this project. I have always loved topo maps as well, but they have always been a lot of work. I'll have to give this a try some day!</p>
<p>Give it a shot. Good fun</p>
<p>Thank you very much for this.</p>
<p>you're welcome</p>
<p>Very nice.</p><p>Google doesn't offer enough detail for what I need (a contour map/model of my next property down to 1 metre elevation slices)</p><p>I bought the Pro version of this a while back;</p><p><a href="https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=gr.stasta.mobiletopographer&hl=en" rel="nofollow">https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=gr.s...</a></p><p>- but have only played with it a bit so far</p><p>If you ever grab it and can produce a step by step for a non tech head ... drop me a line!</p>
<p>Thanks. Not likely I'll do it, as this method does most everything I need. 1 m slices is pretty fine resolution! Terrain2STL is 90 m.</p>
Damn! ;)<br><br>It really is a pretty cool tool (and from memory I only got the (cheap) Pro version because I thought the developer should be rewarded - the free app would probably do all you need.<br><br>90m? I'm not looking for land that is even half 90m top to bottom! :)<br><br>Thanks anyway.
<p>A friend and I were wondering about doing this a while back. It seems that our assumptions were right. Getting a topographical map to 3d files is pretty easy. A cnc isn't <strong>too</strong> hard or expensive. It's a laser to cut plywood that costs you.</p><p>Very cool instructable.</p>

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Bio: Analog maker dabbling in digital manufacture
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