May 28, 2024

Visualizing 3D GIS Data in Global Mapper: 2D View

Written by: Mackenzie Mills


Whether a digital elevation model, 3D vector features, mesh, or point cloud, 3D data of any type can be viewed in Global Mapper Pro. The 2D, 3D, and cross-sectional viewers available in Global Mapper allow different types of data to be examined from many different angles. Continue reading to find out more about some of the available options for viewing 3D data in Global Mapper’s 2D viewer, and keep an eye out for future blogs on the 3D Viewer and Path Profile tool!

2D View

The 2D view is a classic top-down view of any data in Global Mapper. This view does a great job of showing the geospatial location of any data loaded into the program, but a few available settings for this view can help enhance the look of 3D GIS data from the 2D aerial perspective. 


Elevation shaders are color ramps that are applied to the pixel values in elevation grids or the elevation values in point cloud returns. Using a color ramp with a legend allows the change in the elevation of the data to be seen from the nadir view.

Raster data shaded by elevation
The color ramp used to visualize elevation grid data can be changed with the dropdown menu in the Viewer toolbar.

The Atlas Shader is the default color ramp in Global Mapper, but many other color ramp options are built into the program and can be applied to data from the Elevation Shader dropdown menu on the Viewer toolbar. Other characteristics of gridded 3D data such as slope and aspect can also be visualized with dedicated Slope and Slope Direction shader options found in the dropdown menu. Additional shader settings, along with the ability to create custom color ramps, are found in Global Mapper’s Configuration settings.

Raster data shaded by slope
Once created custom shaders will appear in the dropdown shader menu.

Hill shade

Pairing with the shader options for elevation display is hill shading in Global Mapper. Hill shade is a lighting effect applied to gridded 3D data to enhance the shape of the 3D data with highlights and shadowing. Toggled on and off with a button on the Viewer toolbar, the parameters, and light source locations can be altered in the Dynamic Hill Shading settings accessed from the same toolbar. With options to add multiple light sources, find out more in this blog, and a newer setting to apply a realistic sun position to data, hill shading in Global Mapper can be adjusted to greatly enhance the look of 3D data in a top-down map view.

Use the slider to compare the same elevation grid with and without hill shade.

Texture Image

When hill shade is added to a terrain layer, the shadows and highlights used to enhance the gridded data can be applied to a loaded image layer. This is done through the Layer Options for any raster image layer. On the Display tab, the Texture Map checkbox blends the hill shade effect from the terrain to the image where the layers overlap. Using this option gives visual depth to a raster image that may display information essential to the map. While the elevation values of the terrain are not as clearly depicted as on the terrain layer with a color ramp shader, the texture map option helps to show the 3D nature of the data through the 2D image layer by utilizing the hill shade effect. 

See how the image changes in look when the hill shade shadowing is applied with the Texture Map display option.

Feature Info and Info Tips

All 3D data has elevation or Z values. Depending on the data type these values may be stored as an attribute, part of the feature vertex geometry, or as the pixel value in a 3D raster layer. However the Z value of the data is stored, it can be explored through the information display tools in Global Mapper’s 2D view. 

The Feature Info tool, a long-standing tool in Global Mapper, is used to select any vector feature or pixel in a raster layer to view detailed metadata on the selected entity. For vector features, including point cloud returns, all the attributes of the features will be displayed along with some basic geometric and layer information. If a vector feature holds the Z values in the vertices as per-vertex elevations, the Vertices button from the Feature Information window opens the vertex list where the position of each vertex can be explored. When a pixel is selected with the Feature Info tool, the pixel information is displayed. For 3D raster layers, the value held by each pixel is the elevation value.

attribute information shown in 2D view
A contour line selected with the Feature Info tool shows the geometry and attribute information with access to the feature’s full vertex list.

Info Tips in Global Mapper dynamically display similar data as the Feature Info tool based on the cursor position. By default Info Tips, enabled from the View Menu, displays the layer name, vector feature label, and raster elevation value. These on-screen tips can be customized to display additional information, like a vector feature elevation attribute, through the View menu option to Configure Info Tips.

Info tips shown in the 2d view
Info Tips show some feature information at the location of the cursor. The option to custom configure the dynamic information display makes it easy to view data information.

With 2D, 3D, and cross-sectional data viewing available in Global Mapper any 3D data loaded into a workspace can be completely and thoroughly explored. Within these views edits can be made to various data types using the Digitizer or Terrain Painting tools. To view your 3D data in Global Mapper with all the tools and options mentioned in this blog, download a 14-day free trial today!

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