ArcGIS Living Atlas

Make this 3D printed globe please

Ah, it’s that time of year when we geographers pour ourselves a steaming mug of hot coffee and place a stroopwafel over it until the caramel is nice and gooey and take the hand of other nearby geographers and sing O Denneboom together.

Say, what’s with all the Dutch references? Oh, that’s because this year I’ve teamed up with polymath Ruben Bruijning, of Esri Netherlands, to bring you a…drumroll…3D printed globe ornament! This is a lithophane of Earth: 

a 3D printed lithophane of Earth's terrain and bathymetry

A lithophane is a backlit 3D object that glows brighter or dimmer depending on how thick the material is. Areas where the ornament is thin, the light more readily shines through, so it appears light. Thicker areas let less light through, so they appear darker. It’s a 3D negative. Conveniently, this is just this sort of reverse-geographic thinking that I like to indulge in, and invite of anyone trying to get a sense for the amazing texture of our planet.

Would you like to print your own lithophane globe ornament? They look so fun! And tactile and intriguing and magical and geographic.

We turn this… 

2D terrain image used to generate the 3D lithophane print.

Into this…

a 3D printed lithophane of earth

Which, when you stuff some lights into it, looks like this…

a 3D printed lithophane of earth with light on

Some resources

Here’s an ArcGIS Pro project with the map layout used for this globe. We used the beautiful TopoBathy terrain and bathymetry image service from Living Atlas, and simplified borders from Project Linework. Feel free to customize!

ArcGIS Pro project package with topography and bathymetry. Follow the link to download it, for customization.

Here’s the resulting map image, ready for the turn-me-into-a-lithophane-sphere app.

2D terrain image used to generate the 3D lithophane print.

Here’s a link to an online lithophane globe maker. This site wraps the 2D map image into a 3D model. The settings are already configured but feel free to play around. This site is not affiliated with Esri and there are others like it if you feel like perusing your options. 

an online lithophane globe maker. there are many like it.

Here’s the resulting 3D printer STL file of the globe. For the print settings, choose an infill of 100% with no supports.

the STL file required by the 3D printer

Here are two STL file options for the cap –the top piece that snaps into the hole at the top of the globe, through which you can string your lights. Choose this STL file for LED lights and this STL file for incandescent lights (a bit thicker). For the print settings, choose and infill of 20% and no supports.

the STL file required by the 3D printer
LED and incandescent light strings

Advice for customizing the map

If you are feeling dangerous and would like to customize the map, here are some bits of advice: 

But I don’t have a 3D printer!

You don’t have a 3D printer? That’s ok, hardly anyone does! I don’t, but my friend Ruben does. You might have a 3D-printing friend you can reach out to, or you might have access to a 3D printer at your local library, college, or maker space. These machines aren’t household items, but maybe you can identify a resource in your community and spread the infectious joy of geography to an unsuspecting populace. If not, here are previous paper-craft globe ornament projects from yesteryear that may be more accessible: 

Enjoy the process of making…and making friends. If you do print a lithophane globe ornament (or any of these previous years’ globes) we would love to see it! Please share photos of your good work wherever you like and tag Esri. We can’t wait to see what you make!

Love, John and Ruben 

About the author

I have far too much fun looking for ways to understand and present data visually, hopefully driving product strategy and engaging users. I work in the ArcGIS Living Atlas team at Esri, pushing and pulling data in all sorts of absurd ways and then sharing the process. I also design user experiences for maps and apps. When I'm not doing those things, I'm chasing around toddlers and wrangling chickens, and generally getting into other ad-hoc adventures. Life is good. You might also like these Styles for ArcGIS Pro:

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