How to Generate a Contour Map with Sketchup

Featured Image_how to generate a contour map with sketchup

This tutorial is going to cover how to turn contour lines into a 3D terrain contour map in Sketchup. Before we get started, one thing to note is that we will be using tools and methods that are pro-only features!

Add Location. To add a map, go to “file” > “geo-location” > “add location.” From the map you can either type in a specific location or scroll through the map until you find an area you want to use. For this example, we are going to select a location that is steep so you can easily see how the contouring works. When you find an area you want to use, click “select region” and then hit “grab” and it will import into your Sketchup model.

add location to contour map
grab location for contour map

File > Geo-location > Show Terrain. To see what the 3D terrain looks like, navigate to “file” and hover over “geo-location” to select “show terrain.”

3D terrain of contour map

Creating a Contour Map

Make a Plane. The next step you want to do is make a plane to work from. To do this, hit “R” and then press the up arrow on your keyboard to make a rectangular plane on the blue axis. Drag the mouse to create a rectangle that is a bit larger than your terrain. Select the plane and hit “M” on your keyboard. You may have to turn on hidden geometry to see where you want to snap the plane to. Go to “view” and select “hidden geometry.” Then select the lowest point in the terrain to snap your plane to.

create plane over contour map
move plane on contour map

Copy. First, copy the plane you created and place it anywhere above the original. Contours are typically set at 1′, 2′, 5′, 10′, etc. increments. Then, select an increment that you want the contours to increase by. You may have to experiment to pick the best increment. In the “distance” box in the lower right corner of the screen, type in the number you want each contour to increase by. The more sloped your terrain is, the higher the number you may want to choose.

choosing increments for contour map

Multiply. Once you have an increment you are happy with, type “ * ” into the “distance” box. Then type the number of times you want the planes to multiply. Again, you may have to experiment until you get enough to cover the height of your terrain.

select increments for contour map

Make Group. Select all of the planes and right click to select “make group.” Then hit “ctrl” > “X” on your keyboard to cut the planes. At this point, you can go back to “view” > “hidden geometry” to deselect the hidden geometry lines to save loading time on your computer.

make group for contour map

Unlock Terrain. Right click on your terrain and select “unlock.” Then, right click again and select “edit group.”

Edit > Paste in Place. Click on “edit” and select “paste in place” from the dropdown menu. This will place all of your planes that you just cut over the terrain.

paste planes in place for contour map

*Make sure you save before the next step!

Intersect Faces. Next, click “ctrl” > “A” on your keyboard to select all. Right click and select “intersect faces” > “with selection.”

intersect faces with contour map

Select > All with same material. You may want to delete the original topography map if you just want to see the contour lines. To do this, right click on the terrain and click “select” > “all with same material” and then hit “delete.”

delete terrain on contour map

Now you have a completed 3D contour map! You can use a plugin to flatten the map if you wish. Just go to the Extension Warehouse and search for “flatten.” Most of the time when you get information from a surveyor it will be in three dimensions, so keeping the map in 3D may be better depending on what you need it for. If you have an existing survey document, check out our tutorial on how to turn 2D topography into 3D terrain here!

finished contour map

What sort of terrain will you make a contour map for? Let us know in the comments!

Happy Hacking!

25 Comments

  1. karlmistos May 14, 2019 at 10:41 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this. I’ll definitely share this with my classmates at de la salle zobel.

  2. classboat01 October 17, 2018 at 7:37 am #

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  3. mikemoreno September 5, 2018 at 3:48 am #

    thank you very much, verry helpfull…

  4. jogesh12345 August 14, 2018 at 1:55 am #

    Very effective and informative article.Thanks for sharing such an important tutorial.

  5. FLMIMA August 11, 2018 at 9:20 pm #

    Really helpful website

  6. Rumi July 15, 2018 at 7:16 am #

    I feel very grateful that I read this. It is very helpful and very informative and I really learned a lot from it.

  7. RJennings April 28, 2018 at 6:12 pm #

    Thank you for this website. The practice questions are helpful.

  8. Scott March 22, 2018 at 1:50 pm #

    Taking this test on Saturday. Last 4.0 exam to complete for the trio, then on to 5.0. This site is my go-to place when organizing what materials I’ll be studying

  9. shozab January 30, 2018 at 2:22 pm #

    Hi , very good article.

    thanks for sharing, keep up the good work

  10. dyba January 27, 2018 at 1:08 am #

    Good advice. Best of luck to all!

  11. KendraShirley January 16, 2018 at 4:04 pm #

    This is my favorite site for practicing for my tests! Great advise and super helpful.

  12. reximagetrim January 16, 2018 at 10:37 am #

    Nice post to read. A complete guide that can help all of us.

  13. tylerstockholm December 17, 2017 at 9:37 pm #

    Nice one… very helpful! Thanks!!!

  14. Aartiwalvekar November 21, 2017 at 8:56 am #

    Nice post

  15. Aartiwalvekar October 9, 2017 at 9:45 pm #

    Great post!

  16. Tony August 30, 2017 at 7:07 am #

    In the NCARB ARE 5.0 handbook they reference Fundamentals of Building Construction: Materials and Methods in both of their example questions for cost estimating. Unfortunately there isn’t a specific chapter on cost estimating, it’s woven throughout the content.

  17. Spencer August 30, 2017 at 1:15 am #

    What is the best reference for cost estimating for PDD.

  18. Amy July 26, 2017 at 3:24 pm #

    Thanks! Great advice

  19. Tony June 29, 2017 at 7:23 am #

    Deciduous trees should only be used for shade (especially in temperate climates). Deciduous trees lose their leaves in the fall and will have little protection against wind in the winter when it is most needed. Likewise, the leafless trees allow solar heat gain in the winter when it is desired, and shade in the summer.

    Coniferous trees are only to be used to block wind and views. Since they don’t lose their needles, they work great for these two items year-round.

  20. Shahid Logan June 28, 2017 at 4:50 pm #

    Hello. My name is Shahid. This comment is for anyone who would like to reply. On the Siteplanning test. To block the wind, can you use a Deciduous tree or must you use a Coniferous tree?

  21. Mike January 4, 2017 at 11:04 am #

    Hi Tony,

    I need to take 5.0 PPD & PDD. Do you plan on posting notes such as “Caroline’s Notes” that you had posted for the various 4.0 exams for either of those sections? I found those notes to be some of the best resources in studying for the 4.0 sections. If so any idea when? Thanks

  22. Stephen October 17, 2016 at 9:30 pm #

    Hi Tony,
    Any updates on the SS exam ? If there’s an expected release date ? Thanks

  23. DesignerHacks October 4, 2016 at 12:11 pm #

    Paige,

    We are releasing practice exams for the SS exam later this fall.

    Best,
    Tony

  24. Paige October 4, 2016 at 11:34 am #

    Will you have SS questions on here at some point?

  25. Daniel September 9, 2016 at 8:47 am #

    Great post, very helpful with the lists of suggested materials, I just passed CDs in July and am taking PPP in November so I definitely needed the list.

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