In this paper, a new approach proposed for modelling the three-dimensional (3D) topography produced on abrasive water jet (AWJ) cut surface is presented. It makes use of the trajectory of jet, predicted from the theory of ballistics and Bitter's theory of erosion for material removal, for numerically simulating the cutting front. The 2D topography at different depths of the cut surface is generated by considering the trajectories on the cutting front and the abrasive particles impacting the walls of cut surface randomly. For realistic generation of topography on cut surfaces, several instantaneous profiles generated in each region of cut are superimposed to obtain an effective profile. The nature of effective profiles thus predicted is analyzed and validated using power spectral density analysis. The effective profiles predicted at different depths are in turn used to generate the 3D topography of AWJ cut surface. Results obtained with the proposed model are validated with the experimental results. © 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.