New Google Earth layers: 3D Cities

Last week, in honour of Google Earth’s 10 year anniversary, Google added a new collection of layers known as Voyager. We have already had a look at the ‘Satellite imagery updates’ layer, the ‘Earth View landscapes’ layer, and the ‘Street View highlights’ layer. Today we are looking at the ‘3D cities’ layer.

The new ‘3D cities’ layer shows the locations where Google Earth has the automatically generated 3D mesh that Google has been rolling out since 2012. In the past, it was difficult to find which areas had the new 3D. There was a list maintained on Wikipedia but there was no way to view it as a KML in Google Earth. So last September we at GEB created a KML with the outlines of the areas with 3D. We have since maintained it, thanks to the help of GEB readers, who spot new imagery and let us know in the comments of this post. Most of the hard work of outlining the newly discovered areas is being done by GEB reader Anton Rudolfsson. Also thanks to an idea from Anton, we display the imagery colour coded by when it was first discovered (which roughly corresponds to when it was first added by Google), so you can get an idea of how progress is going and also spot the latest additions easily.

Google Earth users who are not readers of GEB, or have not seen our KML, may be surprised by the new layer, as most users do not realize just how much 3D Google has managed to generate or how widespread around the globe it is. Having said that, coverage in Africa and Asia is still sorely lacking, although South Africa did recently start getting coverage.

It is not immediately obvious, but the new layer features two different icons. There are filled in triangles with a point at the top, which indicate ‘Existing coverage’, and triangles with just an outline with the point at the bottom which indicate ‘Latest updates’. Note that this does not necessarily correspond to the age of the actual imagery.

We do like the heat map effect Google has managed to achieve with the new layer.

The GEB maintained version has more information, for those interested in getting into the details. Download our KML file here.

About Timothy Whitehead

Timothy has been using Google Earth since 2004 when it was still called Keyhole before it was renamed Google Earth in 2005 and has been a huge fan ever since. He is a programmer working for Red Wing Aerobatx and lives in Cape Town, South Africa.


  1. Is there a roadmap to when certain areas will be covered?

  2. A very useful new layer – also, clicking on a triangle icon opens a pop up giving the name of the place covered, a “population”, and a ‘fly there’ button.

    An area of 3D coverage is most often represented by multiple icons/place names, which merge into yellow orbs on zoom out (as in the screen shot in the post), but some large cities such as London, as well as smaller places, are represented by a single triangle icon. There is no obvious reason for this variation.

    Nor is there any indication of what the population figures relate to or of their dates. They do not appear to relate to administrative areas in many cases. Perhaps they are drawn from another layer, but apparently not the ‘populated places’ layer. Google should add a simple key or metadata.

  3. Nelson in New Zealand is not on there

  4. La Coruña (Spain) now is in 3D!!!!!

  5. Regensburg, Bavaria, Germany now in 3D

  6. I’ve noticed that several cities have become, too colorful, for my taste. Before the 3D imagery updates, the cities had I nice soft sky blue tone to it, and now, the cities look super color saturated, at least for me.

    Also, I’ve noticed that Google has really dialed down on the Photorealistic Atmosphere effect. Now, when you’re up close in the cities, you don’t see any difference when its on or off, you can only tell the difference when the objects are extremely far off, like mountains, etc.

    For me, I’m not liking this at all. It looked much better, and higher quality with the old 3D imagery and Photorealistic Atmosphere.

    Wish they could add an option to see old 3D imagery, and slider for how strong should the Atmospheric density should be.

    • Timothy Whitehead says:

      The option is in ‘Tools->Options->Use 3D Imagery (disable to use legacy 3D buildings)’
      I have noticed that the more recent 3D (most of 2015) has had brighter colours with more red.

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