Lab: Symbols

Tour <insert country>! Be excited by the history of <insert country>! The key premise here is to find a theme and run with it, while practicing good symbology and selection.

Start with your map from the last activity.  You can add to the same project file, and use some of the copy/paste techniques from the Projections lab to save time.  You can also copy maps and layouts from the Catalog tab.  If you reuse or copy your layout, make sure to remove the RF from all maps – that was only to help connect the scale of your map with the scale of the data in the last lab.  For this assignment, you’ll be adding features to your large scale map only, and then making any adjustments needed to the rest of the page based on feedback on the first part of this activity.

Your task is to use these features in some thematic combination that can arguably belong together. Your map must include:

  • The provinces/states (admin1)
  • A line feature other than rivers (Rail or road lines work well, but thin out/simplify)
  • Parks or other polygons (historic empire extents, cultural groups, wilderness areas, etc.)
  • Major cities as points or polygons, filtered to an appropriate population threshold (i.e. not all of them) – these don’t count as one of your points or polygons.
  • Two point feature types selected from the land use and/or tourist files (Don’t use ports & airports – be more creative!) You want a nice sprinkling of features across your map.

A great way to find data is a Google search on “<country> GIS data”.  Also, is an extensive list of data sources of all kinds.

The goal here is to use good symbolization so that your features can be easily distinguished from one another. You will also continue the theme of generalization from the first part.  Do not simply drop in all the line or point features – you will need to select the important ones based on some criteria (length, road type, thinning out symbols in urban areas, etc.).  You may find you want fewer cities than you had before, and that’s fine.

Only the cities should be labeled; all other features should be distinguished via the legend (which, of course, will not be so named). The choice of symbolization should be logical enough that your reader can quickly spot any patterns in the data, and can make reasonable assumptions about what the symbols represent without constant reference to the data (i.e. a windmill should not be symbolized with a llama). Be cautious of cute or kitschy symbols that are hard to read/interpret.  Tie your theme together with an appropriate title, symbol and font choices (and sizes) and overall layout.  Chapter 8 in Mapping with ArcGIS Pro contains detailed instructions for working with symbology.

You may add color to this map for clarity, but don’t get carried away. Spot color on a neutral background can be very effective.  See Chapter 8 in Mapping with ArcGIS Pro for detailed instructions for working with symbology.

If you need to zoom in to a larger scale to meet these conditions, be sure to indicate this new extent on your medium scale country map. Now is also the time to update any generalization issues from the last map – remember that simplification and selection are an important part of this map also.

Making symbols with transparent backgrounds

  1. Insert the symbol you like into a blank PowerPoint slide
  2. On the Format tab (shows up when you click the picture), click Color > Set Transparent Color
  3. Click on the background color of the image
  4. Right click on the image and select Save as Picture.  Save in your project folder as a .png
  5. In Pro, use a Picture symbol, click File, and browse to your saved image

Tips for Success:

  • Pick a theme. Some great maps from prior classes include War of the Roses territories and important sites, cycling routes and relevant stops, UNESCO sites and protected areas, and more.  Your map will have much more impact if the items you choose go together.
  • Railroad tracks are fun, but add noise. While the line with hash marks is easily recognizable as a railroad, it can be hard to work with.  Very curvy routes can look start to look like random lines, and if you have rail near other symbols, it can be hard to see what’s going on.
  • Symbolize mindfully. This map should attract tourists or inspire action.  Don’t just grab any old marker symbol – plain geometric shapes are well suited for scientific maps with tons of info, but we’re here to get people excited.  Grab some royalty-free icons from the internet, or explore the Esri styles gallery for some pre-styled symbol sets.
  • Use caution with color. Color is a very powerful tool, and too much of it can be overwhelming.  We’ll look at it in more depth in future activities, but for this type of map, the best impact comes from neutral backgrounds and just a hint of color to pop the symbols a little.  Use your powers for good!



Lab: Generalization

For this project, you will make a set of clean, clutter-free maps in preparation for the next activity, which is adding symbols.  Instead of getting bogged down in the generalization tools of ArcGIS Pro to generalize the linework and polygons, we’ll instead focus on working with data sets that have already been generalized for specific scales.

Choose a country in Europe. For this first part of this lab pair, you will need to locate and label the following types of features:

  • Major cities
  • Major water bodies (rivers and/or lakes)

It’s part of the generalization process to determine what “major” means, but you should have a nice distribution of features, without the map looking full or cluttered – remember we are adding more data to this in the next assignment.  Look at some other maps of your country to help determine which cities and water bodies are considered significant.

Download data from Natural Earth ( or DIVA-GIS ( You’ll need at least two different scales, possibly three, so Natural Earth is a good choice for your small and medium scale maps, and then you can decide which to use for the large scale map and other features.  Be careful about combining sources, as boundaries may not match.  Choose your scales so that detailed lines/borders are still detailed, but not chunky and blobby.

You will make this map at three different scales (this means you’ll make three maps, since you need different scales of data). One will be highly detailed, the other will be more generalized, and the third will be a locator map. The scale of the Natural Earth data for these maps will depend on the size of your country, and the amount of area covered in your locator map.  You can also generalize features by collapsing the geometry type.  As an example, the first map may use a polygon shapefile for cities, and the second may use point features. To get just the features you want, you can manually select them, or you can filter your data to only show features of a certain size, such as lakes larger than x square miles or cities over a certain population (Natural Earth uses ScaleRank, which is a population classification). You need to place your country in context, which means that you should include a little bit of neighboring countries.

Set up your page size at Legal (8 ½” x14”). You will need three data frames, one 8” x 10”, and the other two 3” x 3”. One of the small frames will be your locator map, which should contain all of Europe with your country highlighted. The other two maps should be of the same extent, zoomed in on your country of choice. Each map should have the representative fraction (Insert > Scale Text) noted somewhere subtle but readable. See map of Albania below for an example. Adding a text blurb is optional, but can help with awkward layouts – don’t forget to cite it.

Map of Albania
Sample layout

Tips for Success:

Check over your data in each scale for consistent generalization.  Make sure your borders match up – see that weird little sliver underneath Albania?  In this case, it’s actually part of Greece, but you need to check those kinds of things.

Use the RF as a guide to match the correct scale of Natural Earth data.  It might not match exactly, but if you’re using 1:100m data and your RF is 1: 40m, it’s going to be too generalized, and will look shapeless.

Dissolve rivers before selecting them.  Just like we did with Minnesota, only this time it will help with decisions also.  Also make sure to put the rivers underneath the lakes, in case you symbolize them slightly differently.

No size listed for the lakes?  Add a field and Calculate Geometry, then decide what your threshold will be.