3D Topographic map w/ photo transfer

Good Morning,
I’m a little hesitant to post this because it’s literally my first attempt with a little success and there are so many well-polished projects here, but I’m excited about the potential and wanted to share.

I ordered my Glowforge at the beginning of the year because I wanted to make 3d topographic maps with it. I’ve had a 3D printer for awhile and made maps with that as well, but I don’t really find the medium aesthetically appealing. Since then, I’ve spent a ton of time trying to get my map imagery to engrave clearly without any great results.

I got tired of burning through wood trying to get maps to work, so I started learning how to use Inkscape and tried a few different styles of wall art for projects that we have at work:

GrandeRonde-1 GrandeRonde-2

A couple of nights ago, I made my daughter a Moana puzzle by converting an image from the movie with a sketch filter. It turned out decent, but the engraving was tough for her to see in some lighting so I figured I’d try a lazy man’s photo transfer (just gluing an image to the wood instead of transferring the ink/pigment) and ended up with this:

Seeing how easy that process was with some 3M Super77, I wanted to try 3D maps again. I ended up making a quick & dirty test map with Global Mapper over this area of the Columbia River Gorge (mainly because a surveyor friend lives here and I thought it would make a cool gift)

I cut out 7 9inx10in sheets first and glued a (way too dark) printout to each before loading it back into the laser and cutting out the contour lines. There’s quite a few things that I will change before the next attempt, like masking the imagery and making the contour lines almost invisible instead of white, but overall I’m happy with the process and how easy it was to maintain an accurate scale when moving between global mapper, inkscape and the glowforge interface.


A good mix of techniques. I’ll be curious to see how you develop the idea.


The map is beautiful. The rest are all great as well.


That view of Cascade Locks is pretty dam awesome.


Beautiful stuff!

If you get a grayscale elevation map you can do a good 3d engrave of the area as that is what variable power uses to assign the power to a point along the way. It leaves only 256 levels but that is usually enough,


I tried that earlier in the year, but I couldn’t get it to maintain an accurate scale and I didn’t have a good way to get the imagery on top of it afterwards.

I do photogrammetric mapping for an engineering/surveying firm and everything I do revolves around inagery, so I really wanted to figure out how to make that work.


It is pretty funky but I have a Win95 Program that can create such imagery, and managed to make the funky a “style” and made them for the virtual folks.
Dragon’s Treasures | Kitely

I think we talked about this ~6 months ago because I remember seeing your site before.

I didn’t have issue getting the imagery or the terrain, it was just getting the imagery onto a physical 3D model that was the tough part. I can create the digital models, but I like having mapping-related art around the house and office.

Here’s a few of my mapping projects:


I like the topo technique you used. Very cool.


Yes! I have been thinking about that for many things. The Win95 program will make videos, and the virtual places you can run about on virtually (the Kitely site is a good way to give your customers a way to virtually run about on the site as they like), but getting a physical model is hard. I have a lot of non landscape 3d stuff (like my avatars) that I would like to color as well.
A quick gray…

I’m going to give this one a go tonight…


I wish that level of survey detail was available to the general public, but companies (like yours, I assume) make a living from gathering and selling it, so it’s not surprising. I certainly don’t expect something for nothing! I make use of what I can find.

The party (!!??) site linked above provides something like 100m resolution, which is useless for local topo work.

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The stuff I’m actually using for the contours (so far) is actually public data. With the files I make, I only “clean up” the data to make a clean surface on about 30% of our projects and it doesn’t actually fill up the entire map window on most of them…so I’m using US Geological Survey layers. There’s a couple subdivisions we’re working on right now that are built on the side of a mountain with terraces that I think will be good projects for me to do this one, since there’s a lot of relief and I’ll be mapping 3 adjacent properties. I’m just waiting for them to be completed before I make one of these for those.

The public data is great for a lot of stuff like this, though, especially large areas where the lower resolution surfaces (1ft to 100ft) look fine at this scale. I think the main issue is just knowing how to use the programs that can really digest that public data and prepare it into a map. GIS is not known as a new-user friendly software in most cases, but qGIS is a free & open source program that can access all of that free public data. I use ESRI products as well, but Global Mapper is $500 and one of my favorite programs to use. Well worth the cost if you’re regularly working with stuff like this, imo.


I’ve never sold anything, so paying for data isn’t appealing! :rofl:

I’ve been working (now and then) on a map of a small private lake community for a couple of years, the topo is significant and USGS data doesn’t accurately map to the roads, which is significant. As I said, I don’t sell anything, although I have dreams I might if I could finish this!

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Feel free to send me a location, polygon, lat/long & radius, etc if you want me to take a look.

Not a good sign if USGS data is sparse in there, but I could check for county lidar pretty easily, too. I like seeing different parts of the world. :wink:


I think this has a free period if you use the time intensively, I got a few pieces from it but did not realize it was so time-limited.

Very interesting progression of technique. Thanks so much for sharing your write up and photos.


Don’t know why you were hesitant, It all looks fantastic.


This is what I got from that location on the Columbia River. Given that this was about the first company out of the gate when they realized that landscapes were fractal its not too terrible.

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Great work! You shouldn’t have been concerned about sharing. It’s all great!