Introduction: How to Make a Map Using ArcGIS

ArcGIS is a map-making software that is very useful in a variety of fields such as urban planning, civil engineering, and agronomy, to name a few. These fields use ArcGIS for various purposes to communicate information, however they all communicate their information through maps. Making a map in ArcGIS is the most important thing to know in order to use the software, and is what will be covered in this Instructable. By the end of this tutorial, you will be able to make a map in ArcGIS, and will gain valuable knowledge on how to navigate the ArcGIS interface.

Materials Needed:

  • A computer (Windows XP or later)
  • ArcGIS software (ArcGIS 10.1 recommended)
  • Working internet

Time Needed:

The whole process of making the map should take about 30 minutes.

Step 1: Starting ArcGIS

If your computer has ArcGIS 10.1 already installed, you will notice that there are several components to the software itself. The most important component of the software, and the one you will be using in this tutorial is ArcMap 10.1. Once ArcMap is open you should see the ArcMap - Getting Started dialogue box.

To begin making a map click OK, and the Dialogue box will disappear, leaving you a blank map.

Step 2: Getting Data

Without gathering any data, a map in ArcGIS would be nothing; so it is very important to find good data. There are various websites that have data to use in ArcGIS, however I will lead you into one particular site for this tutorial: This website was developed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and is a Natural Resource GIS Library with a plethora of GIS data pertaining to the state of Iowa.

Once you are on the website you will be able to download data via a compressed zip folder. For this specific map, there will be various files that you will need to download.

  1. Under the Administrative and Political Boundaries section found on the left side of the page below State-wide Data, click on the forth file from the top, County. This file has the State and County boundaries for the state of Iowa.
  2. Under Infrastructure click on the first file, Airports. This file shows all landing facilities in the state of Iowa.
  3. Under Infrastructure click of the seventh file from the top, Highway. This file displays all the major highways in Iowa.

Step 3: Preparing the Data

Once you have downloaded all three files, it is time to extract each of the files. By clicking on each of the files, they should be saved in your Downloads file. After you are in the Downloads folder, right click on each file and one by one extract each file. Extracting each file will be done by clicking on Extract All... after right clicking on a file.

After clicking Extract All... a dialogue box, Extract Compressed (Zipped) Folders will appear. You will then either extract it to the same location as it was previously, or create a new folder. In this tutorial, I will be saving it to the same file location. As such, I will simply click Extract, and all the files in the prompted folder will be extracted.

Once each of the folders has been extracted, it will be time to put that data to use in ArcMap.

Step 4: Adding Data to ArcMap

Now is finally time to see your data be put into ArcMap. In order to do this, you will have to have both the downloaded data folders and ArcMap open at the same time. There will be three main files you will be dragging from the downloaded data folders and dropping into Arc Map:

  1. airports.shp, located in the extracted Airports folder.
  2. county.shp, located in the extracted County folder.
  3. highway.shp, located in the extracted Highway folder.

On a side note, .shp files are the main file type used in ArcGIS and mostly show vector features, such as points, lines and polygons.

Step 5: Organizing Layers

In case you ordered the files in an analogous way to the above picture, it will be necessary to reorder them, so all of the layers can be seen. This can be done by dragging the highways layer in between the airports layer and the county layer. After doing this, you should be able to see all three layers.

Step 6: Editing the Airport Layer

Hopefully you have noticed that the various airports really do not stand out in the map. Well, there is a way to change that.

By clicking on the dot below the airportslayer in the Table of Contents in the left side of the ArcMap window, you will open a dialogue box titled Symbol Selector.

In the Symbol Selector dialogue box under Type here to searchtype "Airport".

You will then see there are several labels specifically for Airports. Once you have found one that you think is best, click OK. You will then notice that all the Airports labels have now been changed to something more visually appealing.

Step 7: Editing the Highway and County Layers

If you think that changing the airports logo has made for an imbalance in the map's design, you will need to change the highway layer.

This can be done much in the same way as changing the airports layer, by clicking on the red line below the highway layer's label.

Once you have clicked the red line, a very similar Symbol Selector box will open up. This time, however, you will not be searching for a new label, rather you will be changing the width of the label. This can be done by clicking on the number to the right of the Width Section. Play around width the number to see what you think works best. For this tutorial, I made the width 1.75.

In case you feel the need to change the look of the county layer, play around with the colors and the width of the outline, much the same way that you did with the other two layers. For my map, I changed the outline width to 1.5.

Step 8: Switching to Layout View

Once you have completed editing all the areas and have a design you like, it is now time for the map to be viewed in a Layout Viewrather than what you have been viewing it as, Data View. In order to switch you view you will need to click Edit on the top navigation bar, and then click the second option from the top, Layout View.

Step 9: Changing Page Orientation

If you think the map is best suited for a different orientation, you will need to change the map's orientation. This can be done by clicking File and then clicking Page and Print Setup. Once you have opened the Page and Print Setup dialogue box, you will then change the orientation from Portrait to Landscape under the Paper section of the box.

Step 10: Removing the Border

You may have noticed by now there is a black rectangle surrounding the map that is protruding from the Landscape view. This is a border, and can be removed if necessary. In order to remove it right click somewhere inside the rectangle and then click Properties. A Data Frame Properties dialogue box will then appear. To take out the border, click the Frame tab and then in the Border section of the tab select the color button and change it to no color. The border should now be removed.

Step 11: Adding and Editing Map Information

Now that you have changed the map to a Layout View and have placed the map in the correct orientation it is now time to add information to the map such as a title, legend, north arrow, scale, and data source. All of these can be found by clicking Insert on the top toolbar.

Step 12: Finalizing the Map

You may want to change the elements of the information you just put on the map, such as making the title font bigger, or adding a border to the legend.

Changing the Title:

Double click on the title and then click Change Symbol under the Properties dialogue box. Change accordingly under the new dialogue box, Symbol Selector.

Adding a Border to the Legend:

Right click on the Legend and then click Propertiesand then click the Frametab. Once you are in this tab click the arrow close to the border selection and then pick a size for the border of your Legend.

The other elements of the added information can be edited much the same as the two aforementioned elements. Depending on whether they are text or graphics, you will either double click (text) or right click (graphics) on what you are editing.

Step 13: Saving the Map As an Image

Once you have finalized the map's design to your liking, it is time to save it (if you have not already), and export the map as a .jpeg or other image file.

To do this, you will click File and then Export Map...After doing this you will change the file type by clicking the Save as type:section of the dialogue box and then you will select .jpeg or another type of image file that you prefer.

After saving it as an image file, you are done and have made yourself a map by using ArcGIS!

Step 14: Completing the Tutorial

In completing a map using ArcGIS, you have now finished an important step in better understanding the very useful geospatial tool, ArcGIS. This software is very important, as it is becoming ever prevalent in the fields of urban planning, civil engineering, agronomy and others. By finishing this tutorial, you have seen some of the basic capabilities of ArcGIS. Hopefully this tutorial will lead you in the path of completing more complicated maps using the software. Thank you for taking the time to complete this tutorial, it is greatly appreciated!