Printed 3D Models

We can help you 3D print a physical version of your site directly from the 3D digital model we send you – in full colour. The printed models retains all the fine details that Zmapping is known for. For example, a 3D model printed at 1:1000 scale will still show all the chimneys on the rooftops.

Zmapping does not host a 3D printer in-house anymore. However, we can recommend some reliable print bureaus who are familiar with handling our data. There are two types of printers that are most widely used by bureaus for professional grade architectural 3D prints.

The first one uses plaster powder as the base material. This type of printer can print in full colour since it uses inkjet print heads to spays coloured binder fusing together layers of plaster powder. The tile size for example on a ProJet 660 Pro is approx. 25cm x 38cm and can print about 20cm in height. The rough cost for a tile printed at 1:1000 scale, 25cm(w)x38cm(l)x5cm(h) varies between £500 and £600. The bureaus generally price the model according to amount of material used measured in cubic centimetre and hence prices can vary according to how complex the model is and how tall it is.

Example of Zmapping plaster print
Example of Zmapping plaster print.

The other method of printing is SLS or selective laser sintering. The printer melts together layers of pure white plastic powder using laser. The approx. tile size is 30cm x 30cm and 60cm in height. Approximate price from a bureau is £50 per cm of height printed at the 30cmx30cm tile size. For example, if the final model is 5cms tall, the price will be around £250. Although this method can only print pure white, some bureaus can dye the model using various colours. They can also laser cut thin sheets of plastic along intricate shapes and drape them over the model. This method can be used to colour the roads black or rivers blue for instance. Trees can be printed separately, dyed green and inserted as plugs. Similarly, if you need some buildings in a different colour, they can be printed separately, dyed the required colour and plugged back on to the model. SLS models are stronger and lighter than the plaster based 3D prints.

Example of an SLS print
Example of an SLS print.
Zmapping model printed by Digits2widgets for Stiff Trevillion.

Another method called Fused Filament Fabrication melts a thin wire of thermoplastic material to create 3D prints. The printers are themselves much cheaper but the print quality is also generally lower compared to the other two methods mentioned above. For under £1,000 for a printer, it could still be a good option for some initial test prints before sending the final print off to the bureaus.

So how can Zmapping help with 3D Printing?

The data we give you is nearly 3D print ready. We supply you with the Zmapping 3D CAD model in a SOLID format. This means that buildings, parapets, fences, trees etc. are all closed watertight volumes. However, in most cases, it will require some extra work before you can print in 3D. Many clients want us to cut out the terrain and buildings within their site into a separate piece. This will allow them to print their site and the new proposed building separately and insert more than one option like a plug. We can also thicken elements such as parapets, tree trunks, fences etc. to match the scale of the 3D print. The parapets on top of a building or fencing around properties have to be printed at least at 0.50mm thickness for it to support itself. This means that on the CAD file, the parapet has to be thickened to 50cms width. But if the print scale is 1:500, you only need to thicken the parapet to 25cm.

Sometimes you may need to split the model into rectangular tiles to fit the print size of a specific printer. Or you may want to split the model along the roads to avoid distracting straight line tile joints. Most bureaus can do all these for you. But if you want us to help, we are here. There are other things the bureaus can do. They can shell out the inner volume and bottom of the model to save on materials and make the models lighter. Some bureaus can also build your new building in other materials such as clear plastic and add special LED lighting features. They can also build a Perspex plinth and case for displaying the model at public exhibitions. You can also opt for more realistic looking model trees instead of the standard simplified trees we use on our models.

If you need any more information on 3D printing Zmapping models, please contact us by email or phone.

Zmapping model being prepared for 3D print
Zmapping model being prepared for 3D print. Central site area cut to separate part and model split to tiles. Notice the holes for inserting realistic model trees.
Final printed 3D model
Final printed 3D model. Building at site printed as a separate part in a different colour and can be replaced with other options.