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3D Models with QGIS

Creating Stunning 3D Models with QGIS: A Step-by-Step Guide

QGIS is a powerful open-source Geographic Information System (GIS) that offers a plethora of tools for spatial data analysis and visualization. One of its impressive features is the ability to transform 2D maps into interactive 3D models. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the process of creating a 3D model using QGIS.

If you are working with QGIS you should be listening to our podcast!

1. Preparing Your Data

Before diving into the 3D modeling process, ensure you have all the necessary files:

  • A raster file (often referred to as a Digital Elevation Model or DEM).
  • A boundary file (e.g., a watershed or region of interest).
  • Additional layers (e.g., river networks, roads) for enhanced visualization.

2. Clipping the Raster

To focus on a specific area:

  1. Open the processing toolbox in QGIS.
  2. Search for the clipping tool.
  3. Use your boundary file to clip the DEM, ensuring it fits within your area of interest.

3. Styling the Raster

A well-styled raster can significantly enhance the visualization:

  1. Adjust the colors of the DEM using the properties panel.
  2. Opt for a custom color ramp with varying shades to represent different elevations. This helps in distinguishing between highlands, flatlands, and lowlands.

4. Diving into 3D Modeling

For the 3D transformation, we’ll leverage the QGIS to three.js plugin:

  1. Install the QGIS to three.js plugin via the plugins manager.
  2. Adjust your project’s coordinate reference system to a projected system for better accuracy.
  3. Launch the QGIS to three.js exporter.
  4. In the exporter window, select your DEM and adjust settings like clipping, resampling, and resolution for optimal visualization.

5. Navigating the 3D Model

Once your model is generated, you can:

  • Zoom in or out using the mouse wheel.
  • Move the model by pressing the right mouse button and dragging.
  • Rotate the model by selecting a pivot point with a left-click, then dragging the mouse around that point.

6. Enhancing the 3D Visualization

To make your model more interactive and visually appealing:

  1. Increase the vertical exaggeration for better distinction between different elevations.
  2. Add additional layers, like river networks, and adjust their appearance for better visualization.
  3. Experiment with advanced visualization techniques, like turning a river network into a raised wall for a unique effect.

7. Exporting and Sharing Your Model

Once satisfied with your 3D model:

  1. Export it as an HTML file, making it easily shareable.
  2. Ensure the viewer can run locally so that anyone can view the model in a web browser without needing QGIS.


Creating 3D models in QGIS is a straightforward process that can significantly enhance spatial data visualization. By following this step-by-step guide, you’ll be able to transform your 2D maps into interactive 3D models, making your spatial analyses more engaging and insightful. Whether you’re a GIS professional or just a hobbyist, dive into the world of 3D modeling with QGIS and explore the endless possibilities!

Frequently asked questions about creating 3D models with QGIS

Data Preparation:

  • What types of raster files are compatible with QGIS for 3D modeling?
    • QGIS supports a wide range of raster formats including GeoTIFF, ERDAS IMG, and ESRI Grid. The full list can be found in QGIS documentation under raster formats.
  • How do I ensure the quality and accuracy of my DEM?
    • Ensure your DEM is sourced from a reputable provider. Check the resolution; higher resolutions typically offer more detail. Also, look for metadata that provides information on how the DEM was created and any accuracy assessments.
  • Can I use other boundary types besides watersheds?
    • Yes, any polygon shapefile or vector layer can be used as a boundary, as long as it aligns with the area of interest in your raster.

Clipping the Raster:

  • Why is it necessary to clip the raster?
    • Clipping allows you to focus on a specific area of interest, reducing file size and improving visualization and processing speed.
  • What if my boundary file doesn’t align perfectly with my DEM?
    • You can use QGIS’s vector editing tools to adjust the boundary or use the “Snap to Raster” function to ensure alignment.
  • Are there any potential errors or issues to watch out for during the clipping process?
    • Ensure there’s no data loss around the edges. Also, ensure that the clipped raster maintains its georeferencing and coordinate system.

Styling the Raster:

  • How do I choose the right color scheme for my DEM?
    • It depends on the data and the story you want to tell. For elevation, a gradient from green (low) to brown (high) is common. QGIS also offers a range of predefined color ramps.
  • Can I import custom color ramps or use predefined ones?
    • Yes, QGIS allows you to import custom color ramps and also offers a variety of predefined ones.
  • How do different color schemes affect the final visualization?
    • Color schemes can emphasize or de-emphasize certain features. They can also influence the viewer’s perception and understanding of the data.

3D Modeling:

  • Are there any prerequisites or system requirements for the QGIS to three.js plugin?
    • You need a compatible version of QGIS and sufficient system memory for rendering. Always check the plugin’s documentation for specific requirements.
  • How do I troubleshoot if the plugin doesn’t work or if there are compatibility issues?
    • Check the plugin’s documentation, forums, or GitHub page for known issues. Ensure your QGIS version is compatible with the plugin version.
  • Why is changing the coordinate reference system important for 3D modeling?
    • A projected coordinate system ensures accurate distance and area measurements, especially important when working in 3D.

Navigating the 3D Model:

  • Are there keyboard shortcuts to help navigate the 3D model more efficiently?
    • Yes, QGIS provides shortcuts like holding Ctrl while dragging for rotation or using the arrow keys for panning.
  • How can I reset the view if I lose orientation while navigating?
    • There’s usually a “Reset View” or “Home” button in the 3D viewer toolbar.
  • Can I set specific viewpoints or angles to quickly jump to specific perspectives?
    • Yes, you can save camera positions or viewpoints and quickly jump between them.

Enhancing the 3D Visualization:

  • How do I decide on the right level of vertical exaggeration?
    • It’s subjective and depends on the data and desired visual impact. Start with a factor of 1 (no exaggeration) and adjust as needed.
  • Can I add other types of layers, like buildings or vegetation, to the 3D model?
    • Yes, QGIS supports adding various vector and raster layers to the 3D view.
  • What are the best practices for visualizing multiple layers without cluttering the view?
    • Use transparency, adjust layer ordering, and consider simplifying or generalizing some layers for clarity.

Exporting and Sharing:

  • What file formats can I export the 3D model to besides HTML?
    • The QGIS to three.js plugin primarily exports to HTML, but other plugins or software might allow exports to formats like OBJ or COLLADA.
  • How large will the exported file be, and are there ways to compress it?
    • File size depends on the model’s complexity. Compression can be achieved using standard file compression tools or by simplifying the model.
  • Are there any privacy concerns when sharing the 3D model, especially if it contains sensitive or proprietary data?
    • Yes, always ensure that shared data doesn’t violate privacy regulations or reveal sensitive information. Consider generalizing or anonymizing data before sharing.

General Questions:

  • How does QGIS’s 3D modeling capability compare to other GIS software?
    • QGIS offers robust 3D capabilities, especially for an open-source tool. While commercial software like ArcGIS might have more advanced features, QGIS is a powerful and cost-effective alternative.
  • Can I integrate or overlay other data types, like aerial imagery or LiDAR data, into the 3D model?
    • Yes, QGIS supports a wide range of data types, and they can be integrated into the 3D view for richer visualizations.
About the Author
I'm Daniel O'Donohue, the voice and creator behind The MapScaping Podcast ( A podcast for the geospatial community ). With a professional background as a geospatial specialist, I've spent years harnessing the power of spatial to unravel the complexities of our world, one layer at a time.

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