1. Background
  2. Examples
  3. Implementation
  4. References
  5. Exercise



ArcGIS is a family of software mapping tools from ESRI (Environmental Systems Research Institute). Spawned from ESRI's ArcView and flagship product, ArcInfo, ArcGIS provides a complete, integrated GIS for any level of organization.

The scalability of ArcGIS provides users with the ability to deploy the software in a variety of ways, from desktop mapping to enterprise GIS.

The ArcGIS Desktop products include ArcView, ArcEditor, and ArcInfo. ESRI licenses the software according to the level of use the user chooses as the best fit for their organization. Each level of software offers additional functionality.


Data access
Spatial query
Simple feature editing

Coverage and
Geodatabase editing

Data conversion

ArcGIS Desktop consists of three core applications - ArcMap, ArcCatalog, and ArcToolbox. ArcMap is used for all mapping and editing tasks, as well as map-based analysis. ArcCatalog is the application for managing spatial data holdings, for managing database designs, and for recording and viewing metadata. ArcToolbox simplifies many common GIS data conversion and geoprocessing tasks.


GeoCommunity -
Geo World Magazine -
ESRI Product Library -
Directions Magazine -


The three ArcGIS Desktop components; ArcMap, ArcCatalog, and ArcToolbox, offer a broad array of capabilities.

ArcMap is a tool for creating, viewing, querying, editing, composing, and publishing maps. ArcMap looks similar to ESRI's ArcView software, but offers richer features and tools for map creation. Maps are created in two windows - the View and the Layout. As data is added to the Table of Contents (located on the left side of the application), it is displayed in the view window on the right. A variety of pull-down menus, toolbars, and extensions allow the user to manipulate and process the data. From the View window, the user can toggle back and forth between the Layout windows. The Layout window is where the map is prepared for presentation, either in print or digital format. The Layout window also offers unique tools for designing professional cartographic products.

is a tool for browsing, organizing, distributing, and documenting spatial data. ArcCatalog acts very similarly to Microsoft's Windows Explorer file management tool. ArcCatalog allows users to browse for specific spatial data formats, connect to external data servers and Internet GIS services, and create and edit the metadata behind this spatial information. The application includes a Preview tab for viewing thumbnail or full-size images of the data.

is a collection of tools for processing and analyzing data. ArcToolbox includes tools for geoprocessing, data conversion, map sheet management, overlay analysis, map projection, and more.

ArcGIS works with a variety of data, including raster and vector-based formats.

The three primary vector-based formats used in ArcGIS are shapefile, coverage, and geodatabase. Shapefiles consist of simple point, line, or polygon objects accompanied by attribute tables. Coverages are more complex than shapefiles. Coverages represent geographic data as feature classes. Each feature class stores points, lines, polygons, or annotation. Coverages also contain topology, or a relationship between the various features. The third data type is the geodatabase. Geodatabases are essentially relational databases that store geographic information. Similar to the coverage data model, geodatabases store data in feature classes. However, geodatabases extend the coverage model with support for complex networks, relationships among feature classes, and other object-oriented features.

Popular raster formats used in ArcGIS include ESRI Grids, TINs (triangulated irregular networks), image files (MrSID, ERDAS Imagine), and various graphics formats (.gif, .bmp, etc.).



1.      Open ArcMap; Start-Programs-ArcGIS-ArcMap.  When ArcMap opens select A new empty map, which is the default.  A blank screen will appear.  Take a few moments to familiarize yourself with the interface.  On the left is the Table On Contents (TOC).  This is where you will see the data you add.  On top are the various toolbars.  Mousing over the icons will bring up a brief description of a particular tool.   Once you are comfortable with the layout you can add data.

2.     You will be using  data  from this link, Omaha folder.  Click on the link and save to your disk.  This is a zipped file so you will have to unzip it before you can use any of the information contained in the folder.  There are many ways to do this.  You can double click the folder which will bring up Enzip, once it is open choose the folder that says Extract.  Another, and simpler, way, is to Right Click on the folder and choose Extract To: Omaha.  Once it is unzipped a normal looking yellow folder named Omaha will appear.  This is the folder that contains all the data we will use.  

3.      Now we want to add this data to arcmap.  There are many ways to do this though the easiest way is to click the add data button on the toolbar.  A window will open and you will need to navigate to where the folder is stored.  Once the folder is open you will have two choices,  choose census2000tract.shp and click Add.  An error message might pop up. Just click OK. A map will appear on the screen.  This is the map we will use to create a choropleth (thematic) map. 

4.      To create your choropleth map double click census2000tract, or highlight it- right click and choose Properties.  Once the properties window opens choose the Symbology tab.

5.      Once the Symbology tab is selected the symbology screen appears.  From this screen choose Quantities.  The default is Graduated colors and this is what you will use.  From this screen you can choose your color ramp and your variables.  You will need to set your value and normalize it in order to correctly make the map.  The Value you want is BL and you will Normalize by POP2

6.      When you choose your variables they will appear below.  You will notice they are not a percentage and the lowest number is on top.  To change this, right click on any of the colored bars and choose Reverse Sorting to switch the lowest number to the bottom and repeat choosing Flip Symbols to match the lightest color to the lowest number.  Go through the same process but choose Format Labels.  A new screen will appear.  You will notice numerous choices on the left side of this screen, choose Percentage, and then choose the second button to adjust the number to a percentage.  Before you click Ok, you need to click Numeric Options, this will allow you to set the number of decimal places you want.  Choose however many you want.  Click OK twice and you will notice the numbers are now in decimal form.  Click Apply or OK and the appropriate changes will be made to your map.  Now it is time to turn out a finished product.

7.      At the bottom of the view window you will notice three little tabs, a globe, sheet of paper, and circular arrows.  The globe is the Data View and is where you work with all your data, it is also the default at start.  The piece of paper is the Layout View and the Arrows are to refresh the screen.  Choose the Layout View (paper).

8.      When you click the paper the layout view pops up.  First thing you want to do is format the page.  Do this by right clicking anywhere off the paper and enter Page and Print Setup, you can also do this through the toolbars File-Page and Print Setup.  Choose the Landscape option and click OK.  The next thing to do is to click on the Omaha Census tracts.  This will activate that box.  Once activated right click and choose Properties.  Choose Frame and select No Color in the Color box.  This gets rid of the border.  Size and position the Omaha map however you choose.  Once this is done you can begin to insert your Title, Name, Legend, and North Arrow. Don't insert a Scale Bar, because the Map is not georeferenced.

9.      To add these items choose Insert and then the appropriate item.  ArcMap will then walk you through the rest.  When adding a neatline just ensure you choose the button Place inside margins.  Everything else is either automatic or has a wizard that will guide you through your choices.  When finished and everything is positioned appropriately you are ready to save and export. 

10.  To save choose File-Save, and navigate to MyDocuments.  Name it something that is obvious so when you look at it you know right what it is (e.g., OmahaCensus.mxd). 

11.  To export choose File-Export MapArcMap allows you to export as a .pdf so just choose the .pdf and name your file accordingly. 

Lab updated by Eva Grund, May 2005.