How to Make Topographical Relief Maps

How to Make Topographical Relief MapsA topographical relief map is halfway between a map and a model. Instead of using contour lines to show elevation changes, a relief map actually has raised and lowered sections to model mountains, valleys, rivers and other features. A well-made topographical relief map is as beautiful as it is functional, showing a whole landscape in miniature.


Difficulty: Moderately Easy

Things You’ll Need:
  • Topographical map
  • Paper
  • Copier
  • Computer
  • Printer
  • Scissors
  • Pencil
  • Cardboard
  • Foam core
  • Glue
  • Knife
  • Modeling clay
Step 1
Get a topographical map and pick out a simple feature. Mountains and hills are fairly easy to model, because they go straight up instead of meandering up and down. Enlarge the section you want to make a map of on a copying machine or scan it into a computer and print out that section.
Step 2
Trace the lowest contour line onto a piece of paper and carefully cut it out. Write the numeral "1" on it. Every fifth contour line has a number indicating its elevation on it. The lowest contour line is the one with the lowest number. On a hill or mountain, it will usually be the outermost contour line.
Step 3
Continue tracing contour lines on paper, cutting them out and numbering them from lowest to highest.
Step 4
Glue each piece of paper onto a piece of foam core or cardboard. Cut the boards into the shape of the paper. You may wish to use a knife instead of scissors for this step.
Step 5
Glue the board labeled "2" on top of the board labeled "1," the board labeled "3" on top of No. 2 and so on, until you've assembled your topographical relief map.
Step 6
Smooth modeling clay down over your topographical map to eliminate the jumps between elevations and give it a more natural look. You can use different colors for dirt, grass, snow, water or other features.

Tips & Warnings

Make a more complex topographical relief map out of several simple pieces. Build each mountain, hill and rise individually, then attach them all to a board.

Article Written By Isaiah David

Isaiah David is a freelance writer and musician living in Portland, Ore. He has over five years experience as a professional writer and has been published on various online outlets. He holds a degree in creative writing from the University of Michigan.

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