Skip To Content

Introduction to creating 2D and 3D features

In the Create Features pane, feature templates create features on specific layers. A feature layer's data source defines the two-dimensional (2D) or three-dimensional (3D) features a template creates.

The steps to create 2D or 3D features are basically the same with a few exceptions. When you work with 3D features, you can specify z-values on the Edit tab in the Elevation group. You can type a constant z-value or set the z-value by clicking an active elevation surface.

For a basic workflow to create features, see Get started editing.

2D features

Point, line, and polygon features can be 2D or 3D. 2D features don't store z-values, but you can derive them from an attribute field in a table or from an elevation surface in a 3D scene. In some cases, 2D features can be sufficient when you only need to visualize them in 3D space.

For example, street vehicles and trees can naturally derive their z-values from a ground surface. In other use cases, it can be a better practice to create features such as airplanes as 3D features with embedded z-values.

You can use 2D features in a scene and define their elevation or extrusion depth by referencing an attribute field. Alternatively, you can use geoprocessing tools to interpolate z-values from an underlying surface and generate new 3D features from 2D features.

To learn more, see the following topics:

3D features

3D features, also called z-aware features, are configured to store z values when the feature class is created. Point features store one z-value per feature. Linear features store a z-value with each vertex. A key benefit to using 3D features is the ability to perform exploratory analysis, such as 3D line of sight analysis, or other field of view visibility studies.

Multipatch features are intrinsically 3D shells capable of levels of detail (LOD) ranging from a simple cube to complex 3D models. You can edit them with standard editing tools that modify vertices. You can create them from scratch with 3D polygon faces, or import existing 3D models from your file system.

Although you can edit 3D features in maps or scenes, the best practice is to use scenes. Each layer in a scene can be configured to obtain z-values and display features relative to an elevation surface. A local scene with a projected coordinate system offers the least distortion for distance, direction, scale, or area measurements.

To learn more, see Configure a scene for 3D editing.

Feature types you can create

Choosing which feature type to create depends on the objects or data points you intend to represent, the information you need to capture, and the type of analysis for which they will be used. In some scenarios, you may need to create more than one feature type for the same data.

For example, you might use polygons to show city parks at display scales less than 1:100,000 and use point features for greater scales. Another project might require rivers as polylines to model water flow and also as polygons to calculate area coverage.

Annotation features

  • Annotation features are textual elements placed on a map to name or describe geographic features. Generally, they are placed alongside labels in a planned visual hierarchy to communicate the importance of a particular feature. You can style them for a particular cartographic aesthetic. Examples include text that emphasizes the name of a country versus the name of a city or the name of a river.
  • You can link an annotation feature class to a geographic feature class and automate specific update behaviors. For example, text strings for feature-linked annotation are linked to the value of a field or fields from the geographic feature to which it is linked. You can also configure linked annotation to automatically add, delete, or move with the linked feature.

To learn more, see Create annotation features.

Multipatch features

  • Multipatch features are enclosed volumes defined with three-dimensional rings and triangular patches. They are used to model the outer surface or shell of natural and as-built 3D features. Examples include trees, buildings, bridges, and interior spaces. You can create multipatch features from scratch, or import 3D models to a multipatch feature class.
  • Feature templates that create multipatch features include several tools to create multipatch features in different ways. You can import 3D models directly into your map or scene, create multipatch features from scratch by creating and extruding polygons using an additive workflow, or start with a basic 3D shape and modify it until you create the feature you need.

To learn more, see Create multipatch features.

Point and multipoint features

  • Point features identify specific x,y,z coordinate locations on a map. You can create objects or data points that don't require lines or areas to store information or convey meaning. Examples include site addresses, water hydrants, and trees.
  • Multipoint features store collections of point features as a single point feature with one set of attributes. For example, lidar point clusters are often stored as multipoint features to simplify their manageability and improve read-write performance. Multipoint features can only be stored in a multipoint feature class.

To learn more, see Create point and multipoint features.

Polyline features

  • Polyline features consist of straight line segments, circular arcs, elliptical arcs, and Bézier curves created between vertices. You can create linear and curvilinear objects that have length but no area. Examples include water supply lines, roads, and streams.
  • Multipart polyline features are used to store noncontiguous polylines as a single polyline feature with one set of attributes. For example, you can create a series of separate polylines as road segments and store them as a single roadway feature. You can create single-part and multipart polyline features on the same layer.

To learn more, see Create polyline features.

Polygon features

  • Polygon features are fully enclosed areas bound by straight line segments, circular arcs, elliptical arcs, and Bézier curves created between vertices. You can create objects that have closed planar regions. Examples include lakes, vegetation boundaries, and building footprints.
  • Multipart polygon features are used to store one or more polygons as a single polygon feature with one set of attributes. For example, you can create a series of noncontiguous island polygons and store them as one island feature. You can create single-part and multipart features on the same layer.

To learn more, see Create polygon features.