Terraincup: 3D Ben Nevis in a cup

Drummond H Masterton

July 2005

Postgraduate Research

Craft Metalwork; 3D Digital

Ordnance Survey data (EPS) from Digimap Carto

Sources: Digimap

Dates/Editions: various

Scale: various

Geography; Design; Topography

Modelling, Rapid Manufacture, Rapid Prototyping, CNC milling

Publishing Institution

School of Art and Design, University College Falmouth

Drummond Masterton at the Academy for Innovation & Research, Automatic, University College Falmouth


Practice based research project focused on developing a method for the physical manufacture of 3D objects with terrain based modelling elements. The project was undertaken as part of the 3D digital Research Cluster at University College Falmouth.

Aims & Objectives

The aim of this project was to develop a method for the translation of 2D terrain data into 3D artefacts through the use of CNC manufacturing devices. The objects were to:

  • Establish suitable file formats for transfer of map data to 3D software.
  • Test tools within 3D CAD software to evaluate their ability to create unified meshes over the terrain data
  • Test a range of export formats and their suitability for post processing through a range of CNC devices, namely Rapid Prototyping and CNC milling
  • Investigate a range of machine parameters to establish best settings for achieving a high level of detail at a small scale.


The project focused on the creation of a 3D product which combined a 1950’s Melaware designed coffee cup with a scaled version of the mountain Ben Nevis. The concept behind the piece was that consumers would be able to have a favourite terrain embedded into a standard product such as a coffee cup. The use of the product would reveal the landscape as the coffee was drunk similar to watching a cloud inversion from a hilltop.

The research mainly focused on technical aspects of how to translate 2D terrain data into 3D software and then towards manufacturing using CAM software and CNC devices. Further research is required to develop the interface which would enable consumers to choose and forward there landscape choices.

The stages of the project are documented in chronological order below:

  • Initially I tested a range of different scales for maps from Digimap Carto to establish the level of detail that would be required. It was established early on in the research project that 1:25000 provided a level of detail that was unworkable from a computing power perspective.
  • The 1:50000 2D vector data was edited in the 2D CAD software, Corel Draw. This allowed me to isolate the contour lines of the terrain around Ben Nevis from other terrain features such as rivers and height data.
  • The data was then imported to the 3D CAD software Auto.des.sys Form_Z in order to join the contour lines where any breaks between tile sets had occurred. The contours were positioned in the Z axis and then surfaced with a triangulated mesh of 3mm. The mesh size was defined through a series of tests to establish the smallest size that could be machined quickly while still revealing a high level of detail. This stage of the project was highly iterative and required many tools and machining parameters to be tested in order to find suitable settings.
  • The terrain mesh was then exported as a .STL file format to allow for further editing.
  • The cup and saucer were modelled in Autodesk’s 3D Studio Max and along with the terrain component were imported into Materialise’s Magics software. This was used to trim and fix errors in the STL files for each of the individual parts of the cup. Magics was also used to Boolean all the individual parts together to create one united surface model of the cup and terrain.
  • Test pieces of the cup and saucer were printed in 3Dusing a Zcorp Rapid Prototyping machine to test scale and interference fit between the parts. As a result of these tests the CAD data was edited to correct some errors in the fit between the terrain surface and cup surface which had not been noticed on the CAD model.
  • Picasoft’s Mayka software was used to generate the CNC cut file data, this required the use of both 4 and 3 axis milling to reach all parts of the intricate surface.
  • The parts were milled from Aluminium Billet in a series of operations, excess material was quickly removed using a large slot cutter and then a number of fine cuts were performed to achieve the required surface finish.
  • Due to the complexity of the surfaces and the number of different faces to be milled the total time for manufacturing the ‘Terraincup’ exceeded sixty hours.


‘Terraincup’ was selected as one of two recent craft objects to represent the UK at an International touring exhibition and symposium, ‘Languages’

Think Tank European touring exhibition:

  • Galerie 422, Gmunden, Austria, 9 Sep 11 Sep 2005.
  • Museum Fur Angewandte,Kunst, 26 Oct 1 Dec 2005.
  • London Gallery West, University of Westminster’s Harrow Campus, 20 Jan 5 Mar 2006.
  • Danish Museum for Art and Design, Copenhagen, 11 Mar 21 May 2006.

Exhibition Catalogue: entry and image pp. 80-81, published by Think Tank e.V., ISBN: 3-9502090-0-X


‘Terraincup’ has also been exhibited in the UK in an exhibition, 'Interface'

  • The Devon Guild of Craftsmen, Bovey Tracey, 23 Sep5 Nov 2006.
  • Hub , Centre for Craft, Design and Making, Sleaford, Lincolnshire, 3 Mar15 Apr 2007.
  • Solihull Arts Complex, West Midlands, 14 May23 Jun 2007.
  • The Platform Gallery, Lancashire, 1 Sep27 Oct 2007.

Exhibition Catalogue: ‘Interface’, Devon Guild of Craftsmen, Devon, 2006, pp. 32-33, ISBN 0-9553929-0-X


Image 1: Digimap Carto contour data was edited to represent Z heights, a scaling factor of 4 was used to exaggerate the height of the original terrain

Image 2: Auto.des.sys Form_Z software was used to generate a triangulated mesh from the contour data

Image 3: Materialise’s Magics software was used to combine the separate components into a unified design

Image 4: A Z Corp Rapid Prototyper was used to create several 3D prototypes to check the fit of the parts and to help evaluate any complicated milling procedures in advance

Image 5: Picasoft’s Mayka software was used to generate the complex cutting data to enable the design to be manufactured using a 4 axis CNC milling machine

Image 6: The finished ‘terraincup’ after machining and hand polishing

References and Acknowledgements

CAM : Computer Aided Manufacture

STL: Standard Tessellation Language

CAD: Computer Aided Design

CNC: Computer Numeric Control

The author would like to acknowledge software sponsorship from Patrick Thom: http://www.patrick-thorn.co.uk/

For more project information from the 3D Digital Research Cluster at University College Falmouth please go here.