Designing a tea cup with free GIS data

I have wanted to design something not related to civil engineering for some time now. I followed a course on the design of artifacts at and started a handful of projects, but I have't really completed any significant ones. Usually these projects have been something for the house, small and manageble - seemingly easy, at least at the beginning, something like a lamp or a tea cup.

As you may know I live in Denmark but am originally from Iceland. At times I feel slightly homesick so I thought I would design something for the home that reminds me of Iceland.

I started with the idea that I would 3d print a miniature version of Esja and keep it on the windowsill in my home here in Copenhagen. Esja, Reykjavík's panoramic mountain instantly reminds me of home. It helps with navigation in Reykjavík, shows current weather conditions, season and even helps with forecasting weather.

Esja on a still winter evening.

I looked for free GIS data in high enough resolution that would make it recognizable in a 3d model but I came up empty. The free data provided by the National Land Survey of Iceland is not detailed enough for that purpose... yet.

The National Land survey does however provide 100 meters contour lines for the whole country in various CAD and GIS formats. I wanted to use this somehow in relation to digital production, 3d printing or laser cutting. Eventually I decided to make a 3d printable tea cup.

I downloaded the elevation data from the GIS data portal.

The contour lines were easily converted into a mesh using AutoCAD Civil . I exaggerated the elevation differences by a factor of 10 and opened the model in Rhino.

A mesh of Iceland in Rhino, based on contour lines LMI.
I modeled the cup in Rhino manually (non-parametrically) and based it roughly on the Eames Cup, although with some improvisation. I was forced to thicken it so that it would be suitable for ceramic 3d printing (minimum 6mm thickness).

Cup ready for fitting the mesh.
I scaled and transformed the mesh of Iceland so that it would fit the cup's curvature.

3D model of finished cup
The whole process of transforming the mesh to the cup's curvature was surprisingly easy using Rhino. This process could be used to paste other models to cups or other objects. To make sure the model was suitable for 3d printing I processed it with Autodesk's Project Miller.

Now all that remains is to get the cup printed. Shapeways is a great way to get 3d models printed. They allow you to print in a mind boggling variety of materials. You just upload your model and if it passes through a series of tests, Shapeways will be able to 3d print the model and send it to your address via mail.

The cup costs about 80$ + delivery. 3D printing cups will definitely not change the tea cup market dynamics for now. You can buy the cup from my shop at Shapeways, Pan-Nordic Industries.


  1. Hi,
    I am looking for a rhino model of iceland for an architectural project (as a student), but i can't open the shape files from the national land survey. Would to be ok to share yours to me?

  2. Hi Charlotte,

    As I recall I used the .dwg file containing contours from the National Land Survey.

    You are welcome to get the files, but I doubt it will benefit you as the detail is quite limited, unless the scale of your project is huge. If you are able to use the model, I would love to see what you do with it.

    Rhino file containing the mesh generated:

    Source .dwg file from National Land Survey:

  3. Hi Hjörtur,
    Thank you very much for sharing it, that helped me a lot.

    As I'm going to visit iceland in end-january, I'll have the possibility to get further informations about a precise area.
    But for know I needed to understand the context. My project is gonna be part on the iceland gound and part in the ocean. That is why I am gonna combine this model with an other that represents the marine relief around it. Then i'll print the hole (with a milling machine) to see the connexion between the iceland shape and it's environment. So this will be the first step for my project; before finding a specific area.

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