by geofablab, published

TouchTerrain by geofablab Mar 18, 2017

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Grade & Subject




Kindergarten Higher Education


TouchTerrain by geofablab is licensed under the Creative Commons - Attribution license.

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1971Views 188Downloads Found in Learning


GeoFabLab presented their latest creation: TouchTerrain!


TouchTerrain is a new, free, open-source web application for downloading 3D printable terrain models for anywhere on Earth.

Overview and Background

TouchTerrain Details

TouchTerrain utilizes Google Earth Engine and a simplified Google Maps-style interface to access 10m NED elevation data in the US, 30m SRTM data for most of the Earth ±60° from the equator and above sea-level, and ETOPO 1km data for the entire planet (including seafloor bathymetry!).

TouchTerrain can adjust terrain models before they are downloaded in a number of ways. It can exaggerate the Z to bring out the details in subtle topographies. It can tile large areas to be printed on a smaller build plates. It can adjust the resolution of the model so it matches your printer's capabilities. That way you don't overwhelm your slicer or printer with more data than it can handle.

Models can be 3D printed on your own equipment or uploaded to service companies like Shapeways.com.

The models included above represent Crater Lake, Sheep Mountain (In Wyoming near the Iowa State Univ Geology Field Camp) and Ames, Iowa (home to Iowa State University).

GeoFabLab is Dr. Franek Hasiuk and Dr. Chris Harding in the Geology Program at Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, USA. E-mail [email protected] with questions, comments, and suggestions!

Lesson Plan and Activity

3D Print a Terrain Model

  1. Go to TouchTerrain (http://touchterrain.geol.iastate.edu/) on a computer or mobile device.

  2. Use the GoogleMaps-stlye interface to find a part of the earth that is interesting to you. If you can't think of a place just yet, try going to part of the Grand Canyon in Northern Arizona.

  3. Click "Re-center box in current view". This will bring the selection box to where you have traveled to.

  4. Click "Export", which will take you to a new page listing the parameters you have picked for your model

  5. Now click "Submit" and TouchTerrain will build your model. It may not seem like anything is happening, but in a few seconds to a few minutes, your should see a new page that gives you a link to download your model.

  6. Download your model.

  7. Open you model in a program capable of reading STL files (for example, Meshlab, Makerbot, or Meshmixer) or upload it to service companies like Shapeways.com or Viewstl.com.

  8. 3D Print your model.

  9. Use your model to communicate with others about a piece of the earth or to learn something yourself about it!

Materials Needed

Computer, 3D Printer or funds for printing 3D models through a service company

Skills Learned

  • Geography
  • Geology
  • Orienteering
  • Environmental Science
  • Geodesy
  • Love of Earth

Duration of Lesson

Minimum 10 minutes

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Amazing!! Thank you. This would be a perfect tool for architects if it would have better resolution!

This is amazing. Thank you for sharing this.

If you change the Tile width, you get an error.

Just tried this, and it appears to have given me a download for someone else's terrain selection...

Did the model look represent the map when you first open TouchTerrain? If so, you may have not clicked the "recenter box in current view", which will bring the selection box to the current map view.