Eyes in the Sky II > GIT Web Course > Module 2 > Week 6 > Intro to Symbolization > Introduction to Symbolization in ArcGIS

Week 6: Following Rivers Through Time

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Intro to Symbolization in ArcGIS

Symbolization is the process of choosing how to represent the features on a map. The symbols we choose should help describe additional information about the features on the map. Poor symbolization leads to inaccurate, misunderstood, or even deceptive information, while effective symbolization helps to communicate information quickly and clearly.

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Download Geographic Data About Louisiana

  • Right-click the link below to download the zipped file to your computer.
  • LouisianaAM.zip (Zip Archive 25.8MB Mar20 10)
  • Unzip the file. A folder called LouisanaAM will be created.
  • Move the entire LouisanaAM folder into the C:/eyesinthesky2/weeks folder or the area you have designated for your Eyes in the Sky 2 work. Data folder. (Path: C:/eyesinthesky2/week6/LouisianaAM)

Launch ArcGIS, Open the Louisiana Project File, and Add a New Layer

Shortcut1
  • Launch ArcGIS ArcMap by double-clicking its icon on your desktop or by clicking its icon on the Launch Bar.
  • Choose File > Open, navigate to C:/eyesinthesky2/weeks/LouisanaAM, select the LA_Rivers.mxd file, and click Open.
    02 Open Project
  • A map of Louisiana is displayed when the project opens. Parishes are shown in tan and the Mississippi River is blue.
  • Click the Add Data 5205 Add Data Button button, navigate to the LouisianaAM folder, select cities.shp, and click OK. This layer maps cities in Louisiana and should now be the top layer on your map. Note: The cites layer is automatically turned on when it is added.
  • The cities layer has been added to the map.
    03 Project with Cities
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Explore the Attribute Table of the Cities Layer

Each layer of a GIS project includes a database of information about its features. This information is presented in an Attribute Table, which is linked to the map features associated with that layer.

  • Right click the cities layer in the Table of Contents and choose Open Attribute Table from the menu. Scroll through the fields (columns) and the data records (rows) in the Attribute Table.
    • To open the Attribute Table, right-click the layer name in the Table of Contents and choose Attribute Table from the menu.
      04 Attribute Table Right Click
    • The Attributes of cities window opens. Drag the horizontal scroll bar to examine the different fields (columns) in the Attributes of cities table and drag the vertical scroll bar to see information for the different cities (records).
      05 Attribute Table Opened

  • What type of data is given about cities?
  • The cities database includes the following fields.

    • FID (Feature ID.)
    • SHAPE (Point, Line, or Polygon.)
    • AREANAME (Official name of the area.)
    • CLASS (The type of area: city, town, village, borough, or CDP - Census Designated Place.)
    • PLACE (A numeric code for the individual places in the CLASS field.)
    • FIPS (5-digit place code assigned under the Federal Information Processing Standards.)
    • POP_90 (Population according to the 1990 Census.)
    • POP_98 (Population estimated for 1998 by the US Census Bureau.)
    • HOUSEUNITS (Number of housing units in the place in 1990.)
    • AREALAND (Area of land in the place, in square miles.)
    • AREAWATER (Area of water in the place, in square miles.)
  • How do you find out what the field names mean?
  • Most GIS data files that you can download come with a special file that holds the metadata. Metadata is information about the data itself and includes things like who created the data and how, such as if it was derived from other datasets. The metadata file is also the place to find field definitions that tell you what data was collected for each field.
  • Close the Attributes of cities window.
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Adjust the Color, Size, and Type of Symbol Used to Represent Features on the Map

06 Properties Window The Properties window in ArcGIS.

When you added the cities layer, you may have noticed that it was automatically assigned a color. This initial color choice for the data is random. Compare the color of the city dots to the colors in the other layers. You may find that there is not enough contrast between colors or that the cities came in with the same color as another layer, making them difficult to see. It may be necessary to change the color of the city dots. The symbols used to represent features in a layer can be modified in that layer's Properties window.

  • To open the Properties window for the cities layer, right-click the cities layer in the Table of Contents. Choose Properties from the context menu. Then move the Properties window so you can see both it and the map at the same time.

    • To open the Properties window for the cities layer, right-click the cities layer in the Table of Contents. Choose Properties from the context menu.
      Open Properties
    • Drag the Properties window to a location where you can see both it and a portion of the map at the same time.
      08 Properties and Map


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Symbolize by Color

In the Properties window, click on the symbol button. In the Symbol Selector window, change the color of the cities to Brown. Select the following options:

  • Draw features using: Single Symbol
  • Style Circle1
  • Color Brown
  • Size 6
  • Click OK and Click Apply
  1. Right-click on the cities layer name in the Table of Contents .
    12 Right Click Cities
  2. When the Properties window opens, the Symbology tab is selected and Single Symbol is the default. Click on the Symbol button.
    13 Click on Symbol Button
  3. Click on the black Circle1 in the . 13 Click on Symbol Button
  4. Under Options, click on Color and change the color to Cocoa Brown by selecting it from the Color Palette.
    17 More Colors Under Options, click on Size and change the size to 6.
    22 Triangle
  5. In this map, Louisiana cities are now represented by Brown dots.
    16 Louisiana brown dots

Symbolize by Symbol Type

Instead of using dots to represent cities, you may want to choose a different type of symbol. Right click on the cities layer, and in the Properties context menu, change the symbol style of the cities to Triangle. Select the following options:

  • Symbol Selector: Single Symbol
  • Category Triangle1
  • Color Brown
  • Size 6
  • Click OK and Click OK
Right click on the Cities layer and in the context menu, click Properties. In the Symbology Tab click Symbol. Change the symbol shape from Circle1 to Triangle1.
22 Triangle
In this map, Louisiana cities are represented by Brown Triangles. 25 Louisiana Brown Triangles

In the Properties window, choose a symbol that you think makes sense for representing cities. Experiment with other choices in the Symbol Selector window.

In this map, Louisiana cities are represented by Brown Squares.
27 Louisiana Brown Squares

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Symbolize by Size

If you chose triangles as your new symbol for cities, you may notice that they appear smaller than dots. In this case, you may wish to increase the size of the symbols. In the Properties window, change the size of the symbol of the cities to 10. Select the following options:

  • Symbol Selector One Symbol
  • Shape Triangle
  • Color Brown
  • Size 10
  • Click OK and Click OK
In the Symbology tab in Properties, click on Symbol and click on Size and change to 10.
28 Brown Triangles
In this map, the size of the symbols representing cities has been changed to 10.
29 Louisiana Brown Triangles

In the Symbology tab, choose a size that you think makes sense for the symbol you are using to represent cities. Experiment with other choices in the Size option.

In this map, Louisiana cities are represented by Green Squares that are 8 points in size.
30 Louisiana Green Dots
Movie Icon

Click on the movie to open up the movie in the SERC Media library. Then click its name to play it. Close the window when you are done.

loading the player

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Add Meaning to the Symbols to Differentiate Between the Features on the Map

At this point, every city in Louisiana is represented by the same symbol and with the same color. The residents of these communities will be quick to tell you that Louisiana's cities are not all the same! Using appropriate symbolization, you can communicate information about the cities beyond their locations.

In the Properties menu, Symbology tab, change the symbolization for the cities using the following options:

  • Symbol Selector Categories: Unique Values
  • Value Field AREANAME
  • Symbol Properties for All Symbols
  • Shape Circle
  • Size 4
  • Color Scheme Random
  • Click OK and Click OK
    1. Right-click the cities layer in the Table of Contents. Then select Properties. Click on the Symbologytab, Categories, and choose Unique Values.
      32 Unique Values
    2. Choose AREANAME for the Value Field. Click on Add All Values. The shape default is Circle and Size default is 4 points.

      33 Add All Values
    3. This polkadot map of cities in Louisiana is the result.
      Louisiana Polka Dot

Now each city has its own color. You have taken one step towards differentiating the data in the map. However, as you can see, the map now looks like it was sprinkled with confetti. Although you have given each city a unique color, this is probably not the best way to display this information, as it is overly busy and somewhat distracting to view. In the Introduction to Classification, section you will learn a more sophisticated way to add meaning to the cities layer.

Last, name the layer in the Table of Contents something unique to this project, such as Louisiana Cities.


Click the layer name cities in the Table of Contents. It will be highlighted. Click cities a second time and type Louisiana Cities or a name of your choice into the cities layer name.
33 Rename Louisiana Cities

Movie Icon

Click on the movie to open up the movie in the SERC Media library. Then click its name to play it. Close the window when you are done.

loading the player

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Label Features of Layers

Sometimes symbols are not enough information and it is preferable to actually label the map with words or numbers. In this example, we will label the Parishes by name. (A parish in Louisiana is equivalent to a county in other states.)
  • Right click the Louisiana Parishes layer and label the Louisiana Parishes on the map.

    1. Right-click the Louisiana Parishes layer in the Table of Contents. Then choose Properties from the context menu.

      34 Labeled map
    2. Move the Layer Properties window to where you can see it and the map.


    3. In the Layer Properties window, click the Labels tab. Label the features using the following options:
      • Text String Label Field: NAME
      • Font Arial
      • Color Black
      • Size 8
      • Click OK and then click OK in the labels window.

      • 31 Labeling Parishes

Movie Icon

Click on the movie to open up the movie in the SERC Media library. Then click its name to play it. Close the window when you are done.

loading the player

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Explore More If You Have Time


  • Explore symbolizing the Ecoregions layer on the map.
  • Try symbolizing the Rivers layers, by size, color or style.
  • Investigate adding and removing outlines on the points layers.
  • Adjust the size of the borders on the Parishes layer to be larger or smaller than the US States layer.
  • Experiment with the online color adviser for maps ColorBrewer by the author of Designing better Maps, Cynthia Brewer.

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Movies on this Page

How to download movies

  • Click the link to go to the SERC media library listing for the movie. The record will open in a new window.
  • On the SERC media library page, right-click (Win) or control-click (Mac) the link (below the movie on the Flash version pages) to download the movie file to your hard drive.
  • Look below the movie window for the file download link.

    Save Movie from CMS listing

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Flash Video Versions

Download these versions to play on your computer. You'll need an appropriate movie player to view the file, such as Flash Player, Real Player (Mac / Win), or Adobe Media Player.

Movie Icon Changing Symbols in ArcGIS

Movie Icon Unique Symbols in ArcGIS

Movie Icon Labeling Features in ArcGIS

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iPod Versions

Download these version to play on your iPod or iPhone.

Movie Icon Changing Symbols in ArcGIS

Movie Icon Unique Symbols in ArcGIS

Movie Icon Labeling Features in ArcGIS