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Symbolize feature layers

You can symbolize feature layers in different ways depending on the type of data you're showing as follows:

  • Single symbol—Draw all features in a layer with a common symbol.
  • Unique values—Apply a different symbol to each category of features within the layer based on one or more fields.
  • Graduated colors—Show qualitative differences in feature values with a range of colors.
  • Graduated symbols—Show qualitative differences in feature values with varying symbol sizes.
  • Unclassed colors—Show qualitative differences in feature values with a range of colors not broken into discrete classes.
  • Proportional symbology—Represent quantitative values as a series of unclassed, proportionally sized symbols.
  • Dot density—Draw quantities as point symbols distributed within polygons. Only available for polygon features.
  • Heat Map—Draw the density of points as a continuous color gradient.
  • Dictionary—Apply symbols to data using multiple attributes.
  • Preset layers—Draw features using a small list of properties that guarantee optimized performance and display quality, but limit their configurability. Layers that are symbolized this way do not expose the full symbol formatting options listed below.

Once applied, these choices symbolize the features in the layer with default symbols. You can change symbols from the Format Symbol mode in the Symbology pane. This mode of the pane has the following two tabs:

When you work with one symbol at a time, you can change any of its properties and even restructure it by adding or removing components. When more than one symbol is selected, you can only change basic symbol properties, which vary based on symbol type as shown in the following table:

Symbol typeBasic properties


  • Color
  • Outline color
  • Outline width


  • Color
  • Line width


  • Color
  • Size
  • Angle
  • Halo
  • Angle alignment, in the context of a 2D map only
  • Billboard, in a 3D context only
  • Rotation order, in a 3D context only
  • Display in real-world units, in a 3D context only

Apply symbols to feature layers

  1. Highlight a feature layer by clicking its title in the Contents pane.

    The Feature layer contextual tab appears on the ribbon.

  2. Under Feature Layer on the Appearance tab in the Drawing group, click the arrow below Symbology to choose how to symbolize the layer:

    The Symbology pane opens to further customize the way the layer is classified and symbolized.

  3. Click a symbol in the Symbology pane to open the Format Symbol mode of the Symbology pane to make changes.

    To change the basic properties of more than one symbol at a time, Shift-click or Ctrl-click to select the symbols, and right-click and choose Format symbols. To change all symbols, click More > Symbols > Format all symbols.

  4. On the Format Symbol mode of the Symbology pane, choose a new symbol from a style to apply to all selected symbols, or modify aspects of the current symbol or symbols:

    Clicking a symbol in the Gallery immediately applies it to the selected class or classes in the layer.

  5. You can change the current symbol or symbols on the Symbol tab Symbol under Properties.
    1. You can preview the appearance of symbols in the selection in the preview window at the bottom of the Format Symbol mode of the Symbology pane. Click the arrows on the side of the preview to scroll through a series of symbols one at a time if you have more than one symbol selected. Learn how to preview symbols.
    2. Click Apply to commit the symbol changes to the layer and redraw the map.
  6. Click the back button Back to return to the Symbology pane.

You can also open the Format Symbol mode of the Symbology pane directly by clicking a symbol in the Contents pane.

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