What is the difference between a Solid Terrain Model, a “terrain model” and a “sand table?”


A Solid Terrain Model is a geospatially accurate, physical, three dimensional model of an area’s terrain. Solid Terrain Models can be made of almost any geographical area in the world, and they are designed to be held and touched.

A Solid Terrain Model and a “terrain model” or “sand table” are the same thing. Depending on the industry, or a person’s background, Solid Terrain Models are referred to by many names.

Historically, the military commonly referred to 3D physical models of a geographic area as terrain models or sand tables, creating models of specific “Areas of Interest” known as AOIs. Made of materials ranging from sand to plaster, cork or wood, these models were, and still are today, used for strategic planning, training and mission critical operations.

To give an example of just how many terms are used when people are searching for providers of our rather niche oriented products, here are the myriad of terms we see:

terrain model, 3D terrain model, terrain map, digital terrain model, tactile model, 3D tactile model, topo map, topographical map, 3D topographical map, 3D topographical model, 3D topographic map, topographic model, contour model, 3D contour map, military map, military model, sand table, military sand table, military terrain model, real estate model, 3D map model, mining model, mine map model, museum model, museum topographic model, topographic park model, national and state park topographic model… and the list goes on.

So, while there may always be a bit of confusion as folks search for the perfect term, and while our product may appear to wear many names, a Solid Terrain Model is produced using the latest technology – delivering a made-to-scale, exact replica of your AOI. In addition, unlike other traditional model making techniques, Solid Terrain Modeling prints the satellite, aerial (or any type of imagery) directly onto the 3D surface of your terrain; making a Solid Terrain Model the most accurate, dimensional model on the market today.