How to Turn 2D Typography or a Survey to 3D Terrain in Sketchup

Featured Image_how to turn 2d typography or survey to 3d terrain

From survey to 3D, this tutorial will take you step by step to transform a 2D typography into a 3D terrain in Sketchup. There are quite few steps so let’s jump in!

Importing the Image

File > Import. The first step is to import the image that you want to convert from a 2D survey to 3D terrain. Select “import” from the file tab. In the lower right dropdown menu, make sure that “supported image type” is selected. Make sure the image you are using has a graphic scale so you can scale it properly in Sketchup. Select the image you wish to import and click “import.”

Survey to 3D import

Scale Image. Click to place your image and roughly scale it to the correct size. To scale it accurately, select the tape measure tool and click from one end of the graphic scale to the other. Using the original image for reference, type in the total distance the graphic scale represents. In this case, 200 feet.

Resize Model. A message will appear asking if you want to resize the model. Select “yes.” Make sure you do this before you begin modeling anything.

resize survey to 3D model

Camera > Parallel Projection. Next, change the view from perspective by navigating to “camera” and selecting “parallel projection.” Then select “camera” > “standard view” > “top.” This will give you a flat view that will be easier to trace form.

survey to 3D typography

Trace the Typographgy

Trace. Begin by tracing the perimeter property line and then trace the topographic contour lines within the boundary. To do this, I recommend using the line tool.

Delete Faces. To quickly select all of the faces, press “b” on your keyboard. Select a color and triple click on the faces to select all of them. Use the bucket to paint them all the same material. Right click on one of the faces and click on “select” > “all with same material” and then hit “delete” on your keyboard. At this point, you can also delete the imported image if it is too pixelated to read accurate measurements from.

survey to 3D materials

Convert Survey to 3D Model

Edit > Make Group. While holding “ctrl” on your keyboard, click and drag your mouse to select the property boundary lines. Then click on “edit” > “make group.” Now that the property line is grouped, you can separately move each topographic line.

To move the 2D contour lines, select one and press the “up arrow” on your keyboard so that it is locked on the z-axis. Type in the appropriate height for each line. You may have to refer to your original typographic image to get the measurements.

move survey to 3D contour lines

Draw > Sandbox > From Contours. Now is the time to transform the 2D survey into a 3D model. Highlight all of your lines and deselect the property line. Navigate to “draw” > “sandbox” and select “from contours.”

If you view the current terrain from the top, you will notice that the 3D model does not extend all the way to the edge of the property line. This is because we do not have information for the terrain beyond the property line. Unfortunately, we will just have to take a guess at how the terrain continues. A good way is to assume that the contours will continue in the same direction.

Roughly draw additional contour lines beyond the property line that replicate the other contours. Select each line and change the height to correspond with the decreasing increments of the original contour lines you drew.

adding contour lines survey to 3D

Select all of the contour lines again, be sure to deselect the property line, and navigate to “draw” > “sandbox” > “from contours.” If you go the top view, you will see that all of the contours now cover the entire site.

survey to 3D draw from contours


Trim Contours. Now that all of the contour lines are drawn, you want to trim them so that they are in the shape of the actual site. Select the property line group and copy it above your contour lines. Make sure the group is completely closed off.

copy survey to 3D property line

Use the offset tool to create an offset of the group that is large enough to cover all of the terrain. Select the inside face and hit “delete.” Press “p” to pull the group down to cover the terrain. Next, hit “ctrl” + “x” to cut the outlying box we just made. This will get rid of our geometry, but also save it to our clipboard.

offset copied survey to 3D property line
pull down offset of survey to 3D property line

Edit > Paste in Place. Enter into your terrain group and select “paste in place” from the edit tab to bring the shape you just cut back into view within the terrain group.

Intersect Faces > With Selection. Select both models and right click to select “intersect faces” > “with selection.” Make sure the box you are intersecting with your terrain is a group or things are going to get messy! After you cut the terrain, delete the group you used to cut with and the shape you created.

intersect faces of survey to 3D contours

Hide Linework. Select all of the lines and use “ctrl” > “shift” to deselect the contours. Select “hide” from the edit tab. You can also delete them or put them on a separate layer.

hide survey to 3D linework

Now you have an accurate terrain model that you transformed from survey to 3D. What kind of projects do you need to create 3D terrains for? Let us know in the comments!

final survey to 3D terrain

Be sure to check out all of our Sketchup tutorials here. Happy Hacking!


  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 #


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


  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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