Satellite photography, GPS and 3D visualization has made the study of geography an interactive classroom experience. Zooming around locations in software like Google Earth provide students a powerful tool for exploring landscapes.

3D printing models of these landscapes creates powerful classroom manipulatives. Students can use 3D printed models to explore concepts in geography and geology or in English and social science classes to understand how the terrain may have influenced a story or a battle. Unfortunately, the conversion of 3D mapping data to a 3D printable model is currently an involved process that require numerous steps and specialized software. There are a few sites that allow for easier creation of 3D printable terrain models of specific areas. These sites are hopefully part of a trend that will soon allow for 3D printing models of anywhere on Earth.


3D print a slice of Norway thanks to Terrafab and the Norwegian Mapping Authority

-Go to http://terrafab.bengler.no and then click OK, Got It
-Choose a location in the drop down or use the selector tool to select an area.
-Click Get This Model 3D-Printed

Select Region

-Click the Download 3D-Mesh (.X3D) button and save the model to your computer.
-Unzip the file.

Terrafab Download

-Open Netfabb Basic (Available for free at http://www.netfabb.com/downloadcenter.php?basic=1)
-Click Project –> Add Part and select the .X3D file you downloaded then Click Open
Netfabb Add Part

-Click Part –> Rotate
Netfabb Rotate

-Click the X axis radio button and Click 90 then Click Rotate
Netfabb Rotate Screen

-Click Part –> Scale
Netfabb Scale

-Click in the Target Size X field and enter a value that is less than the maximum print size of your 3D printer (50mm is a good start for a small test piece.)
-Click Scale
Netfabb scale

-Click Part –> Export Part –> STL
-Save the file
Netfabb Export STL

 

You now have a 3D printable STL that can be loaded into your slicing software and 3D printed.  Here is a sample STL file ready for 3D printing. Norway Terrain Terrafab (STL) The samples in this tutorial were sliced in Slic3r with a layer height of 0.3 mm on a Printrbot Metal Simple.


3ders.org offers a tutorial on using a site from the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan (GSI) to 3D print terrain maps of Japan. The tutorial is here and the site (in Japanese) is available here.

Here is a 3D print scaled to 50mm x 50mm with a layer height of 0.3mm printed on a Printrbot Metal Simple.

Japan Terrain

Mount Tsukuba http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Tsukuba


If you know of any sites or tools to allow easy 3D printing of terrain for students and teachers, please leave a link in the comments.