Does anyone have experience in generating 3D printed topo maps using Manifold to create the underlying digital map? Our local watershed management board is researching the feasibility of undertaking such a project in anticipation of developing a grant proposal.
I have no experience printing 3d maps, but as far as I understand, you just have to provide a raster with the height values. So if your question was "I have vector data with heights, can I use Manifold to convert them to something which I could then print as a 3d map", then the answer is yes, 9.0.168 added means to create rasters by interpolating vectors.
I was on the periphery of the architecture school when I was in college. I toured freshmen through the school every week in the summers. The arch folks had models made of stacked cardboard cutouts to make topography for their model buildings to sit on/in. I would think those guys would jump all over the ability to print a 3-d topo.
Using ArcGIS back in 2007 I created digital files to send to a company in California, http://www.solidterrainmodeling.com
At that time they wanted a STL file. I generated a large high resolution TIFF of the terrain which had multibeam bathymetry and quickbird imagery. At the time it was the highest resolution combined bathymetry and land elevation model with satellite innsbruck they'd done. If you contact them they can tell you what they'll need from you in terms of an x,y,z file type and 24-bit rgb file for the terrain surface. If you're wanting to use a modern 3D printer that's something I haven't done up to this point.
I have used Manifold to process DEM files and then QGIS with https://plugins.qgis.org/plugins/DEMto3D/ to turn them into a STL file. There are free STL viewers to check the files before printing.