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Visualizing GIS Data on 3D Topographic Models

A banner representation of the projection system and data onto a model of Salt Lake County - part of a data visualization project on exhibit in ProtoSpace.


By Justin Sorensen

What do you get when you combine the power of GIS, 3D modeling and 3D printing? That’s just what you will discover in our latest project now on exhibit in ProtoSpace (located on level 2 of the Marriott Library). For this week’s Map Monday release, I’ll be introducing you to a new way of visualizing geospatial data by merging digital and physical content into a powerful and engaging presentation.

    The Salt Lake County 3D Model printed for projecting GIS data. The Salt Lake County 3D Model printed for projecting GIS data. The Salt Lake County 3D Model printed for projecting GIS data. The Salt Lake County 3D Model printed for projecting GIS data.

For some time now, I’ve been exploring new uses for elevation data in research projects – in particular, the output of Digital Elevation Models (DEM), an elevation dataset representing a terrain’s surface 3-dimensionally. As I began exporting various models of different geospatial locations throughout Utah, the idea of printing these terrain models and projecting various types of geospatial data onto them quickly peaked my (as well as my colleagues) interest – that’s where this prototype comes into play.

After developing a process for quickly exporting 3D DEM’s and converting them into printable .STL files, I began working with my colleague TJ Ferrill to print the Salt Lake County model currently on exhibit using the 3D Gigabot printer. I would like to say that this process was easily accomplished, but in fact we ran into many challenges printing this model at such a large-scale that resulted in many failed prints and a great deal of fine-tuning to get everything just right – (special thanks to Sebastion Jenson for his help fine-tuning the Gigabot). Once the model was successfully printed, I set out to generate the sample GIS data currently being projected onto the Salt Lake County model, running it on loop via a projector and a Raspberry Pi operating system. While the current display is a non-interactive visualization experience, an expansion to this project is currently underway that will give users the opportunity to interact with the projected data, possibly visualizing their own data on this (and other) 3D topographic models.

So what types of geospatial data would you like to see projected onto this or future 3D models? Let us know through the following Google form:

Also, if you are interested in learning more about the process of developing these 3D topographic models, let us know…a future workshop offered through Creativity & Innovation Services / GIS Services could be in the works. We always enjoy learning about new projects individuals are developing and how we might share our skill sets with others. You can reach me at:

Learn more about the early developments of this project in the following blog posts:

Interested in developing a similar project? Reach out to GIS Services to learn more.

About Map Monday from GIS Services:

Throughout the semester, GIS Services has released bi-weekly maps on a variety of topics, demonstrating ideas and uses for incorporating geospatial technology into research and projects you are developing. To view our collection of maps, projects, or to learn more about the geospatial services offered through the J. Willard Marriott Library, please visit the GIS Services website @

Happy Mapping!

Justin Sorensen | GIS Specialist
Creativity & Innovation Services / GIS Services

1 Comment
  • Alison Regan
    Posted at 03:17h, 28 November Reply

    How great is this? Wow!

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