Comparing interpolation methods

Available with Spatial Analyst license.

Available with 3D Analyst license.

Interpolation predicts values for cells in a raster from a limited number of sample data points. It can be used to predict unknown values for any geographic point data, such as elevation, rainfall, chemical concentrations, noise levels, and so on.

The available interpolation methods are listed below.


The IDW (Inverse Distance Weighted) tool uses a method of interpolation that estimates cell values by averaging the values of sample data points in the neighborhood of each processing cell. The closer a point is to the center of the cell being estimated, the more influence, or weight, it has in the averaging process.


Kriging is an advanced geostatistical procedure that generates an estimated surface from a scattered set of points with z-values. More so than other interpolation methods, a thorough investigation of the spatial behavior of the phenomenon represented by the z-values should be done before you select the best estimation method for generating the output surface.

Natural neighbour

Natural Neighbor interpolation finds the closest subset of input samples to a query point and applies weights to them based on proportionate areas to interpolate a value (Sibson, 1981). It is also known as Sibson or "area-stealing" interpolation.


The Spline tool uses an interpolation method that estimates values using a mathematical function that minimizes overall surface curvature, resulting in a smooth surface that passes exactly through the input points.

Spline with Barriers

The Spline with Barriers tool uses a method similar to the technique used in the Spline tool, with the major difference being that this tool honors discontinuities encoded in both the input barriers and the input point data.

Topo to Raster

The Topo to Raster and Topo to Raster by File tools use an interpolation technique specifically designed to create a surface that more closely represents a natural drainage surface and better preserves both ridgelines and stream networks from input contour data.

The algorithm used is based on that of ANUDEM, developed by Hutchinson et al at the Australian National University.


Trend is a global polynomial interpolation that fits a smooth surface defined by a mathematical function (a polynomial) to the input sample points. The trend surface changes gradually and captures coarse-scale patterns in the data.

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