How to Make a 3D Topographic Map

Updated July 19, 2017

A topographic map describes the terrain of the ground using contour lines. Contour lines connect points of similar elevation so that all points on a given contour line have the same elevation value. A three-dimensional topographic map, often called a raised relief map, allows easier visualisation of the terrain features. However, in creating a three-dimensional topographic map the vertical exaggeration of the map is often increased. Vertical exaggeration refers to a difference between the vertical scale and horizontal scale of the map. This distortion allows terrain features to be accentuated.

Select the terrain feature or section of a topographic map to be constructed three dimensionally.

Find and count the contour lines of the selected terrain features. A copy of the topographic map will be needed for each contour line.

Glue each copy of the section of the terrain map to be modelled onto cardboard. The thickness of the cardboard will determine the vertical exaggeration of the model.

Cut each map glued to the cardboard along a different contour line using a precision knife. There should be a different cutout for each contour line on the map.

Stack the map cutouts on top of each other. The lowest elevation cutout should be on bottom. Each cutout will have the contour line for higher elevations printed on it allowing easy alignment of each successive cutout. Glue the cutouts in place.

Smooth the edges between the contour lines using modelling clay. A smooth slope should be formed with the clay from the edge of one contour line to the edge of the contour line above and below it.

Things You'll Need

  • Multiple copies of a topographic map
  • Modelling clay
  • Precision knife
  • Cardboard
  • Glue
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About the Author

David Chandler has been a freelance writer since 2006 whose work has appeared in various print and online publications. A former reconnaissance Marine, he is an active hiker, diver, kayaker, sailor and angler. He has traveled extensively and holds a bachelor's degree from the University of South Florida where he was educated in international studies and microbiology.