Google Earth Lessons

An Educational Resource for Teachers

3D Neatie!
A cool little trick with some interesting cross-curricular applications is
3D Text in Placemarks!

I walked my 5th Graders through this in a 45 minute class period, they learned some new vocabulary and said 'Cool!' a lot :-)

The Final Product

Vocabulary words included: Extrude, Bevel, Polygon, Vector, Element, Scale. For this tutorial since it is actually pretty simple, purple text means an important, non-intuitive point is being made.


This is a three program trick. You will need EleFont (PC freeware) or TypeCaster (Mac $100 plug-in), Google SketchUp and Google Earth.

Three step process
Installing EleFont is extremely easy, just download the zip containing the executable and the MS-DLL.dll zip, put the DLL files in the EleFont folder and away you go!

Step 1. Creating your base 3D text.

Open EleFont and type in what you want your 3D placemark to say in the text entry field.

Type what you want
Shorter phrases are better and easier to work with

It is at this point that you begin making decisions. One thing to understand is that when you are dealing with Fonts you must use only True Type Fonts, and even some of those will cause the program to unexpectedly quit or crash. Simple is better, even if it isn't quite as cool. On Windows computers, when you select the font, you are looking for the O symbol next to the font name, not the TT.

Type Selection Tool
Clicking the T opens the font selection window

font selection
Arial is a nice readable, low problem font

Once you have the words typed and the font chosen you can modify the text several ways, including extrusion (how thick the letters are) and bevel (the shape of the edges). Again, simple is better. By making the extrusion zero, flat, and not adding a bevel you free yourself up to do modifications in Google SketchUp much easier. But if you don't want to make any big modifications in SketchUp then get fancy. Fancy = Larger File Sizes, more computer 'think' time, higher likelihood of crashes, etc. But, Fancy = Quick and Easy (as long as the computer can handle it).

EleFont is extremely easy to work with, so explore the different buttons and options.

So, once the text is the way you want it, it is time to export it as a .dxf file.

export button
The non-standard interface offers 'hover' descriptions of command buttons.

export options

Step 2. Working with the shape in Google SketchUp.

Once you export the file, you can quit out of EleFont and open Google SketchUp. In SketchUp you will start with a blank drawing, then choose File:Import.

File - Import

During the Import process you will need to set some things. Navigate to where your DXF file is saved, then under the File Type pulldown  choose ACAD (*.dwg, *dxf)

Choose DXF

On the side of the import window will be a button labeled 'Options'.Import Options Click it. In the window that opens, you will select a couple things.

Import Options

First and foremost is making sure that the 'Merge Coplanar faces' box is checked. This is especially important if you had no extrusions as not merging the faces will make all sorts of polygon lines show up on the face of the letters creating a headache for extruding inside SketchUp. The size seems to be determined partly by the number of polygons used in the creation of the 3D text. If you did a simple, no extrusions or beveled text, then the words will cover practically a half mile of surface area in SketchUp with 'Feet' selected, so choose inches instead. But with tons of polygons (fancy with extrusion, bevels, etc.) it will be tiny, so you want it as large as possible to begin with, so choose Meters.

Once imported, the words will be placed flat side down at the guys feet. You will want to use the Select tool Select Tool then click on the guy,   delete guy, then press delete to get rid of him forever (sorry dude!).

Now comes the tricky part, proper sizing and placement. In order to allow your 3D words to be seen in Google Earth, they need to be fairly large. Click on the Tools menu and pull down to 'Scale'.


You will use the scale tool to change the dimensions by clicking, holding and dragging any of the green bounding boxes, depending on how you want your words shaped. There is probably a way to type in the scale numbers somehow (which would make for a good Math activity), but being a visual mouse type person I haven't bothered figuring that out yet.

Bounding Boxes
The green bounding boxes allow you to scale the text in many directions.

Use the viewing tools to zoom out, then growing the shape, eventually you will have the text nice and huge.  
You may then select the rotate tool Rotate Tool and use it to rotate your text 90 degrees so that it stands upright. For some this can be tricky, but the secret is to place the protractor so it lays flat on the plane you wish to rotate on, click once to set the tool on the plane, then click again to set the direction of rotation (you want the Green direction) and with a bit of fidgeting you should be able to get it perfect.

Protractor set
The protractor dial should lay flat (90 degrees perpendicular to the ground).
Think of it like gears going around the wheel, that is the direction of rotation.

Direction of rotation
The rotational axis is set with a second click. Green axis is preferred. A third click rotates the object.

So, make it enormous, make it stand up straight and then you can start worrying about Google Earth.

If, on the other hand, you want to edit the shape of the text parts beyond just flipping it and resizing the whole thing, you will use the standard editing tools, such as the extrusion tool, but you will find that the shape is locked together.Can't edit.

In order to modify any of the polygons that comprise the shape, simply right click on your imported text object and select 'Edit Component'. You are then free to change any aspect of the individual (or collective, by holding down Shift as you click on polygons) polygons that make up your 3D text. This is the big reason you checked 'Merge Coplanar Faces' when you imported the text, since it reduces the number of polygons that need to be manipulated.

edit component

Colors and Textures. OK, you can't, unfortunately, put textures or images on your text to make it look really awesome, but you can change the color. The thing is, you have a choice of changing the color in SketchUp or in Google Earth in a minute. If you want to colorize it in SketchUp, limit yourself to the pure colors, not the textures.

Paint with colors only

Step 3. Moving your 3D text into Google Earth.

Your 3D text looks great!! But now you want it to look perfect in Google Earth!

Open Google Earth and zoom in to where you want your 3D text placed. Once you have your location determined you will need to make a note of the elevation.

find the elevation

The reason you need to determine the elevation is because SketchUp puts your model on the ground, and the ground is sea level (essentially). That means that if you leave your 3D text on the ground in SketchUp the user will have to have the Terrain layer turned off in Google Earth. Since most users have terrain turned on, and it looks cooler with the terrain turned on, you will need to 'float' the model at the appropriate elevation in SketchUp before you export it to Google Earth. You will want the 3D text anywhere from 10 - 200 feet (3 - 50 Meters) higher than the place you are putting it.

So, in SketchUp, click on the 'Get Current View' button once you are zoomed in to your location. import button

Then, using the 'Move' tool move tool click on the model and lift it straight up in the air. You might need to zoom out and move your view around a bit to get it right, but when you think it is high enough, select the tape measure tool tape measure and by clicking from the model to the ground, measure the altitude of the model.

How high? To the ground
Measure the altitude of your model so that it is slightly higher than the elevation of your placemark location.

Switching between the Move tool and the Tape Measure, get the height above the ground just how you want it, then you are ready to send the model to Google Earth. Maybe. A nice finishing touch is to create a post to connect the 3D text to the ground so that the text looks like it is a big sign. Big or small, fancy or simple, whatever you want. Either way, click the 'Place Model' button.

You are now done with SketchUp, but don't close it just yet since you might need to resend your model if you mess up the next part.

So, in Google Earth you will have the new model in the 'Temporary Places' folder. The view will probably be very messed up, so use your Google Earth navigation tools to get the view exactly how you want others to see the model, then right click on the main container folder (the blue and white icon) and pull down to 'Edit'.

Edit Folder
You can edit all parts, but by editing the main container you save time

It is entirely possible that when you click 'Edit' it will totally undo all the nice view that you just set up. If it does, leave the edit window open and readjust everything back to the way you had it. So, if the view is perfect (again) then you can begin editing the 3D Placemark. Click the 'Advanced' checkbox to set the view and colors.

The Edit window

When you click the 'Share Style' button it will come up with a little fussy window, just click OK.

Advanced Properties
You can undo the color and line information sent over from SketchUp

Play around with the colors and line properties to your heart's content, then click the 'View' tab to set the view.

set the view
Setting the view means the user will see what you want them to see.

One thing that you do NOT want to do is mess with the location!!!!

Messed Up!!!
Trying to use the altitude slider will destroy your model!

Once you have everything set just the way you want, then you can click OK, then right click on the main container icon and save your 3D Placemark. The files end up surprisingly small. A fancy 12 character placemark with tons of polygons for the bevels ate up under 250K while a no bevel one came in at under 50K.

There are some distinctly cool things that you can do with this combination of programs and some good Math, Social Studies and Language Arts applications in the classroom. While this Nifty Trick tutorial is still a bit rough around the edges, hopefully it gives you the tools you need to begin playing with the possibilities. There are probably better ways to do some of the stuff, tricks that make the whole thing easier, fancier or whatever, so play around and let me know what you discover!  If you come up with a cool 3D Text placemark, feel free to toss it in the KMZ bucket for others to enjoy, share your tips on the Bulletin Board, drop me a line at or maybe run a workshop for teachers in your school!