Putting Colored 3D Printing on the Map: Topographic Maps

Posted by Conner Lohens on 12/2/19 9:54 AM
Conner Lohens
Find me on:


Re3DTech: Lake Tahoe Topographical Map

Putting Colored 3D Printing on the Map: Topographical Maps

   Have you ever traveled somewhere where the scenery or landscape had a profound impact on you? Chances are you have been somewhere with terrain that catches your eye and really puts your life into perspective. Have you ever desired to go back to that place on our beautiful earth, so you can see it with your eyes again? If you have traveled anywhere in the world, you know that our planet has some natural beauty that will result in your jaw on the floor. 

   When you are deciding a location to print a topographical map, try and pick a place that has a lot of different elevations. To get a more dramatic model, you must pick a place with Dramatic terrain and landscapes.


   The location I chose to print is Lake Tahoe, a beautiful mountainous region with one of the highest, in terms of elevation, freshwater lakes in the US. When I started to develop this application I had just gotten back from my bachelor party in none other than Lake Tahoe. I experienced firsthand the beauty that Lake Tahoe has and it is quite a scenery because of the bowl shaped mountains and a large freshwater lake smack dab in the middle. 


Lake Tahoe

Scouting locations on Google Maps

   The next step is scouting your location via Google Maps. As I look at the terrain and landscape of Lake Tahoe in particular on Google Maps I was astounded by what I saw from a natural beauty standpoint.

   After I found the dimensions of what I wanted to print, I opened up Photoshop and the 3D Map Generator - Atlas plugin by Orange Box. The first data points that you need is the height map of the terrain you would like to print, and that starts in the map view on Google maps not the satellite imagery.

lake tahoe 2

Location Found, Now What?

   Once you find the area in the map if you were it is as easy as copying the Google maps URL, and plugging it in to the atlas plug-in, which generates the height map of the intended landscape.

Height map data generated by the Atlas Plugin

   Next, you should save the height map as a PNG, into a folder to prep the program for a 3-D model of Lake Tahoe. From Google Maps the atlas plug-in takes into account all of the heights of the particular landscape and replicates them into the 3-D model to capture all the dramatic features of Lake Tahoe. 

   Upon getting the height map data, go back to Google Maps and view the satellite imagery maps on Google maps and screenshot the same landscape so you can overlay the satellite imagery onto the 3-D model. When you view the satellite imagery the next step is to take a screenshot of the whole Google Maps screen, and save it in to the corresponding folder with the hike map data.

From Google Maps to Photoshop 

Now that you have saved all the data from Google maps that you need you must open Photoshop and open the PNG for the height map data.

lake tahoe 9

Once that is open the next step is to copy the satellite imagery and paste it directly onto your Photoshop screen.

lake tahoe 10

When this is done you must position the satellite image over the height map, and position it so the features of the height map are overlaid with the correct coordinates of the satellite image. 


This is where the Atlas plug-in takes over, but first you must rename the satellite image as texture, so the program knows to overlay the satellite image onto the height map data properly. 

lake tahoe 12lake tahoe 13

Next hit "Create New Terrain", as this will prompt the plug-in to generate the 3-D model, while also overlying the Google satellite imagery onto the model, which starts the process for making the topographical map.

lake tahoe 14

After the atlas plug-in generates the model, it is ready for export, and in my experience the best file format to generate your model is a 3MF file which should be saved when you’re satisfied with what the model generated. And there you have it, your custom topographical map, in this case Lake Tahoe.

lake tahoe-last

   Pending you added some thickness to the model and colored it according to your liking, you are ready to export the file. When exporting the file you should consider the size of the model and how big the file is, and export it in either a .3MF, .WRL(.VWRL), or a .obj. 

   Now that you have your 3-D file exported, you are ready to upload your parts into our 3-D build manager software for printing. Really build manager is a software program developed by HP, that allows you to add parts for printing across all HP 3D Printing technologies.

   The next step is orientation of your parts in HP's SmartStream Build manager software. Orientation plays a critical role in 3-D printing and in specifically the 584 color printer. Depending on how you orient your part in the build you could see different results for different orientations. Let’s cover what the best orientation practices are:

Smart Stream Topograpghical Map

HP multi jet fusion technology is a layer process in which your parts is built layer by layer in both directions. In regards to best practices, one should consider an orientation in which will optimize the color on the part and this can be done with regards to some criteria from HP themselves.

Orientation is Key

The quality of color on your print is directly affected by the orientation, for which should be oriented with the following guidelines:



   When looking at Lake Tahoe Topographical map, I oriented the landscape towards the bottom of the build for best quality of color.

   After you are comfortable with your part orientation, you are ready to send the billed to the printer. Before you print your part you must sure that the printer is properly cleaned and refilled of agents and powder for the printing process. After your machine is clean and restocked of all necessary materials, you’re ready too...

Hit Print!


HP Jet Fusion 580 Full Color Printer 

Here are the results

Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada, US




Yosemite Valley, California

Yosemite Valley Topographical Map

Yosemite valley topographic map


Torres Del Paine Mountains, Argentina



Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

Rio De Janerio_ Topo map 2_p

Rio De Janerio, Brazil_Topo Mappp

Horseshoe Bend, Arizona

Horseshoe Bend_AZ_pHorseshoe Bend_AZ_2_p


Mt. Vesuvius, Italy

Mount Vesuvius_1

mount vesuvius 2

Subscribe to LAYER3D AM Blog

Topics: Learning & Tips, Application, How To


The LAYER3D is a Blog that dives deep into everything 3D Printing

Join us as we peel back the layers of the 3D Printing industry, and explore all topics relating to Additive Manufacturing

  • Explore the amazing applications of 3D Printing
  • Get Industry Insight into the 3d Printing Industry
  • Analyze the new and emerging technologies, ad the impacts on the Industry as a whole 

Subscribe Here!

Recent Posts