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From topo map to terrain model

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Image of Mt. Sopris Photo courtesy of

Living close to the mountains in Carbondale, Colorado, Aaron Mindt grew up with Mt. Sopris often in view. He knew the terrain well, and was familiar with the rise of its summit and fall of its surrounding valleys. Before his experience with I2P, however, Mt. Sopris was only a distant peak.

Aaron was recently able to create a geographically accurate 3D terrain model of Mt. Sopris at the I2P lab. While some gadgets created in the lab can be found on a free website called, Aaron designed his print-ready 3D image by hand with elevation data, a topographic map, map coordinates, and his own knowledge of the area.

“I designed the model in to comfort of my dorm room around mid-October and brought it in to the lab to print the next day,” Aaron said. In no time at all, Aaron had a replicate of one of his favorite mountain peaks.

Sopris Final

Mindt’s 3D printed terrain model of Mt. Sopris

However, Aaron explained how difficult it is to make this type of model from black and white topographic maps without knowing the area well. While his model is in its final stage of development, he may want to try developing different types of terrain. Aaron shared some ideas for creating future models like the one of Mt. Sopris.

“For this model, for instance, it was easy to locate important areas because I live so close to it when I go home. The first step before I create more models is to go out and experience different peaks and get to know the terrain better,” he said.

For Aaron, creating the terrain model was purely a learning experience, and gave the model to his mom to share the possibilities of 3D printing.

Like so many others, Aaron’s experiences in the lab were overwhelmingly positive, and he was thrilled to learn about 3D printing technology.

“After I go experience more of the terrain in Colorado, I’ll be back for more,” Aaron said.