How to Make a 3D Map of the USA for a School Project

Updated April 17, 2017

A 3D map of the United States can be constructed using materials commonly found at home. When a school assignment calls for demonstrating an understanding of the country's geological shape, impress your teacher and classmates by bringing the project to life with a little time and effort. You can make a plain 3D map, decorate each state, or design a topographic map showcasing America's natural features.

Create an outline of the United States to fit a poster board or piece of cardboard. Consider developing the outline either freehand, or by enlarging a map image in a photocopier, and tracing the outline directly onto the poster board.

Mix one part flour and one part water in a large bowl. Stir together to create a paper mache paste.

Shred newspaper, paper towels or another malleable medium into thin strips. Decide upon the size you want the strips to be, depending on the size of the 3D map you're creating. For smaller maps, consider short and thin paper strips. For larger maps, use thin and long strips.

Dip strips into the paper mache paste, making sure to cover the strips completely. Holding a paper strip by the top edge, place the strip between two fingers, running the fingers down the length of the strip to remove excess paste.

Place the strips directly onto the poster board or cardboard, laying each piece flat against the surface. Fill the outline of the map with the strips, stopping between every two full layers to let dry. Create as many layers as you want in order to achieve your desired 3D effect.

Set the paper mache map in a well-lit and ventilated area to dry. Touch the paper mache gently once a day to check if the map is dry. Depending on the thickness and number of layers, paper mache can take about one day or up to two or more full days to dry.

Paint the map with a white acrylic paint base to cover up possible newspaper text, and to provide the map with a uniform colour. Set in a well-ventilated area to let the acrylic paint to dry.

Decorate your map, if desired, by painting additional colours for each state, or consider making a topographic map by painting the country's major mountains and waterways.


Make your 3D map at least a few days before the due date in order to eliminate the risk that the map will not be finished or completely hardened by the deadline.

Things You'll Need

  • Poster board, or cardboard
  • Pencil
  • Map of the United States
  • Newspaper, paper towels or malleable medium
  • Water
  • Flour
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Paint brush
  • White acrylic paint
  • Additional paint selection as desired
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About the Author

Based in Southern California, Melissa Rogers has been writing professionally since 2006. Her work has been featured in "Popstar! Magazine" and used for the "MTV Canada Special: Miley Cyrus Can't Be Tamed." Her work reporting on the entertainment industry is often sourced by websites such as OceanUp and FuseTV. Rogers has an associate degree in communications from Saddleback College.