Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can I have a layer with a transparent background?
2. Why do I need to login to download the KMZ files?
3. How can I draw other polygons on top of the maps?
4. What's this "Unexpected element html" error about?
5. Why are the tiles distorted in lower zoom levels?

1. Can I have a layer with a transparent background?

Yes, you can adjust the opacity of folders, placemarks, overlays and any other KML elements using the slider at the bottom of the "Places" section of the side bar (this screenshot is from an older version of Google Earth, but you will figure it out):

Move mouse over image

Because of that, all maps have a default opacity of 100%. If you want to see more of the satellite imagery base layer, use the slider.

2. Why do I need to login to download the KMZ files?

We are sorry for this, but running this service is quite resource intensive and by using the Google user authentication (super easy on the Google App engine) it is possible to

Your email address will not be sold to others or used in any other unfriendly way.

3. How can I draw other polygons on top of the maps?

Unfortunately, it is not possible to display KML polygons on top of the map overlays of this site, because polygons don't interact nicely with ground overlays (this problem is not specific to this application).

This is an example of how a single map tile is displayed using a KML GroundOverlay in your Google Earth client:

<?xml version="1.0" ?>
<kml xmlns="">
    <name>Map tile for Bing Maps Road</name>

You can try it yourself (it's north of the San Francisco Golden Gate bridge): map-tile-example.kml

This is an example of a KML Polygon on top of that (polygon-example.kml ):

<?xml version="1.0" ?>
<kml xmlns="">
    <name>Polygon relative to ground</name>
          <coordinates>-122.47,37.85,0 -122.51,37.82,0 -122.47,37.82,0 -122.47,37.85,0</coordinates>


When the altitudeMode of the polygon is set to clampToGround, then the polygon will be hidden by active map overlays. When the mode is relativeToGround (as in the example above), then result looks like below, which is not very useful:KML Polygon on top of map overlay in Google Earth

There is, however, a workaround. When your polygons are simple geometric shapes (such as a triangle in the example above), then you could make transparent PNG images (example:blue-triangle.png) out of them and display them as ground overlays with a high drawOrder on top of the map tiles (ground-overlay-example.kml ):

<?xml version="1.0" ?>
<kml xmlns="">
    <name>Ground overlay with draw order</name>

Which then yields a quite acceptable result:Image overlay over map overlay in Google Earth KML

If you have other ideas how to get this working, please leave them in the comments below

4. What's this "Unexpected element html" error about?

Some users get this Error while parsing file ... at line1, column 121: Unexpected element "html" message:
Open of file ... failed: Error while parsing file ... at line 1, column: 121: Unexpected element

If you see this, then you managed to download a web page instead of the intended .kmz file. The most likely explanation is that you tried to download the kmz file by right-clicking on the link while not being logged in (and thus downloaded the page that asked you to login).

I changed the .kmz file links of this web site to make this more unlikely to happen, and if you try do download one of our .kmz files from an external site, please make sure you don't right-click them.

5. Why are the tiles distorted in lower zoom levels?

In the screen shot below the map overlay shows the the southern border of Russia much further south than it actually is (yellow line):Distortion of map tiles through Mercator Projection

This is because all map sources of this site use a spherical Mercator projection (also known as EPSG:900913, EPSG:3857, or "Google projection"), whereas Google Earth uses the WSG84 coordinate system. And while the positions of the corners of each tile are accurately transformed between the two systems, it is not possible to somehow "stretch" the tiles themselves in order to better match the ground. But from zoom level 6 or 7 on this problem is almost neglectable.


Do you think that something is missing on that list? Leave a comment below.

Jay (2014-04-07 13:27:29):

Hello, I want to embed the Google Maps Imagery Tiles within a browser view using the Google Earth Plug-in with the Google Earth API v3. I need to know the method you are using to access the tiles with a URL pointed to a Google Maps source. Are you willing to provide this? Thank you for your consideration.

Martin Loetzsch (2014-05-26 20:27:09):

Hi Jay,

I use Groundoverlays to display tiles. There is an example for a bing map source above:

ianrey (2015-08-03 23:04:12):

I am able to draw polygons on top of the map layers in "outline only." When I set it to "outline plus fill" they disappear. So if you're willing to forego the fill, even complex polygons can be shown on top of the map.

(2016-03-05 03:50:00):

Is it possible to use this service in corporate? Like 5-15 users in same time?
Thank you for this excellent service!

billy (2016-07-15 22:18:03):

I downloaded these and every overlay is just big red X! Whats going on?

Ryan Tu (2019-05-14 14:03:31):

Maybe it's about your network.

Tom Wassmer (2020-09-08 16:17:22):

From: Andy Allan <>
Sent: Tuesday, September 8, 2020 11:55 AM
To: Thomas Wassmer
Subject: Re: Any idea how to enter my API in the Google Earth Overlay KMZ?

Follow Up Flag: Follow up
Flag Status: Flagged

Hi Tom,

Thanks for getting in touch.

Unfortunately we don't provide any APIs that are compatible with Google Earth, since they use their
own undocumented system for requesting tiles from third parties. It's possible that you are using our
maps via a third-party provider such as http://ge-map-overlays.apps... - if that's the case, you'll
need to contact them, and ask them to use an API Key when requesting maps from our systems.

I hope this helps, and if there's anything else that I can help with, please let me know.


On 29/08/2020 00:33, Thomas Wassmer wrote:
> Dear developers of Thunderforest,
> Form all the available overlays of any provider, your Landscape overlay is one of my favorites but with
the fat API key required on it is is now practically useless.
> Please help figuring out how to enter my API key...
> Thanks in advance!
> Tom

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