How to Create 3D Terrain Using Google Maps

The situation in which you are trying to recreate the real terrain around the house in your digital project is very common for Live Home 3D users. This how-to will help you with building 3D terrain based on the real elevations in your location. Live Home 3D offers the opportunity to build the landscape you need with the required elevations and pits. And, the terrain map type in Google Maps will be a perfect assistant.

A villa on a picturesque cape near the sea designed in Live Home 3D.
Designed in Live Home 3D.

Turn On the Terrain View in Google Maps

Open the Google Maps website or the Google Maps app on your phone or tablet and find the needed location. Then turn on the Terrain view by clicking the Layers icon in the bottom left corner. Place the necessary area in the bottom right corner as close to the scale as possible. A sample of such an area is marked on the map below. The area shouldn’t be larger than 3,000 feet along any side. This is important for keeping the size of the 3D model within reasonable limits.

Google Maps browser with the terrain map view in Safari for Mac.

Make a Screenshot of the Map

Make a screenshot of the area you need, or crop the map in case of a full screen capture. Make sure the map scale seen in the bottom right corner is included in the screenshot. This will allow you to match the project scale to the real map scale in Live Home 3D.

These instructions will help you make a screenshot on any device supported by Live Home 3D:

Switch to Site Level of Live Home 3D Pro

Open Live Home 3D with Pro features unlocked. If you haven't unlocked them yet, visit our Store page for more information. Create a new document. Press the Site icon in the Toolbar in the Mac and Windows versions, “+” button > Site tab in the iPhone / iPad version. You will be offered the opportunity to switch to the site level. Сlick the “Go to Site” button in the dialog that pops up.

Live Home 3D Pro app for Mac with the Site terrain editing tool marked in the toolbar.

Select the Terrain Rect or Terrain Poly Tool

Click the Site icon and select the Terrain Rect or Terrain Poly tool. The Terrain Rect tool is used for adding rectangular terrain, while the Terrain Poly tool will assist with creating polygonal terrain.

Live Home 3D Pro app for Mac with the Site > Terrain Rect tool selected in the toolbar.

Mark the Terrain Area

Mark the area of the document where you want to create terrain elevations and pits. You can double click any side and drag the handles to modify the area, and even turn straight lines into curved ones.

Live Home 3D Pro app for Mac with the terrain area added in the 2D view.

Add the Terrain Map Image

Add your terrain map image to the document by selecting the “File > Import” menu in the Mac version; tap on the “hamburger” button and choose “Import > From Photos” or “Import > From File” on an iPhone / iPad; click the “hamburger” button and select “Import > From File…” in the Windows version. Import it as a 2D image. Make sure that the “Maintain Aspect Ratio” option is activated in the Inspector. You can adjust the opacity of the terrain view and remove this map later when you have finished with the elevation lines.

Live Home 3D Pro landscape design app for Mac with the imported Google Maps image.

Match the Scale of the Document With the Map

When you add the screenshot of the landscape into Live Home 3D Pro, make sure to match it to your document scale. For this, measure the length of the scale mark in the bottom right corner of your map with the help of the Dimension tool, which can be found in the Auxiliaries menu in the toolbar, or “+” button > Auxiliaries tab of the iPhone / iPad version.

Next, activate the “Affect underlying objects” option for the Dimension tool in the Inspector, type the required length into the Size field and click Enter. Now the map and the project are perfectly matched.

 Matching the scale of the document and the terrain map in Live Home 3D Pro for Mac.

Adjust the Project Scale

You may need to modify the predefined scale to be able to view the whole project after rescaling. To zoom out, 1:200 or a larger scale will do. The project scale can be changed under the “File > Project Settings” menu of the app (Mac version), “hamburger” icon > Settings > Project tab (Windows version) or “hamburger” icon > Settings > Project tab (iPhone / iPad version).

Measurements tab under the Project Setting menu of Live Home 3D Pro landscape app for Mac.

Add Elevation Lines

Repeat the terrain elevations using the “Elevation Line” or “Elevation Spline” tools. For straight lines, use the Elevation Line tool, while the Elevation Spline tool resembles a freehand tool in graphics software and creates a curved line.

You can edit these lines later. More information on working with the elevation lines and splines: for Mac, for iPhone/ iPad, and for Windows.

Mark the top point with the help of the Elevation Point and underground parts using the Pit Rect and Pit Poly tools. The negative numbers entered into the Elevation Point field create the lowest underground point. The Pit Rect tool is great for creating rectangular pits, e.g. swimming pools, while the Pit Poly tool is used for creating more advanced shapes.

Please note that all operations with elevations are performed in the 2D mode only. You will be able to work with your building in the 2D and 3D modes and switch back to terrain editing any time under the Object Properties tab of the Inspector, or by clicking the layers button in the bottom left corner of the 2D view on iPhone and iPad.

Terrain editing with the Elevation line tool selected under the Site menu of Live Home 3D Pro for Mac.

Remove the Terrain Map Image

Select and delete the image with the map you used as a basis for your project.

In this way, you can make true-to-life 3D terrain based on Google Maps terrain view! Here are some samples of terrain created in Live Home 3D.

A beach villa at daytime created in Live Home 3D Pro.
Designed in Live Home 3D.
A beach villa next to the hill at dusk created in Live Home 3D Pro.
Designed in Live Home 3D.
A villa with a pool with the hills in the background created in Live Home 3D Pro.
Designed in Live Home 3D.
A cottage house with the designed landscape created in Live Home 3D Pro.
Designed in Live Home 3D.
A sun terrace with the sun chairs with the hill in the background designed in Live Home 3D Pro.
Designed in Live Home 3D.

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Published: October 2021