Vary transparency by attribute

You can set transparency universally on a layer, or you can vary transparency by an attribute or an expression. Varying the transparency of symbols is a way to indicate variations in magnitude of an attribute. For example, polygon symbols representing election results can have transparency set relative to the percentage of the total population that cast a ballot.

An example map that uses transparency as a visual variable
This map uses transparency as a visual variable to show tracked segments of a ship's historical path.

You can also adjust the transparency of any color in any symbol. While theoretically you can combine these approaches together in a map, be aware that the result may be visually difficult to comprehend. Use these techniques judiciously.

Learn more about working with color and transparency

Set the transparency of a layer universally

  1. Select a feature layer in the Contents pane.
  2. Under Feature Layer, on the Appearance tab, in the Effects group, adjust the Layer Transparency slider Transparency or type a transparency percentage.

Set the transparency variable to a field or an expression

You can refine layer symbology by setting the transparency variable to a field or an expression.


When working with graduated symbols or proportional symbols symbology, the transparency variable applies to the template (point) symbol, not to the background (polygon) symbol.

  1. Select the feature layer in the Contents pane.
  2. On the Appearance tab, in the Drawing group, click Symbology Symbology.
  3. In the Symbology pane, on the Vary symbology by attribute tab Vary symbology by attribute, expand the Transparency heading and do one of the following:
    • Choose a numeric field from the Field menu to vary the transparency.
    • Write an expression to determine transparency. Choose Custom from the Field menu, or click the Set an expression button Set an expression to open the Expression Builder dialog box. Write an expression and click Verify Verify to validate it. Note that although an expression is valid, it may not return a valid numeric value for the transparency variable. You can filter Filter the Expression Builder dialog box to show only numeric fields to help prevent this.

      Learn more about writing expressions in the Arcade language.

  4. Optionally, choose a Normalization field. Normalization is only available when the transparency variable is set to a field. It is not available when the transparency variable is set to an expression.
  5. Specify the high and low values and optionally adjust the histogram. See Histograms for more information.
  6. Check the Show legend check box to add a representation of the transparency variation to the layer's legend in both the Contents pane and any legends placed on layouts.
  7. To remove the transparency variable or the normalization field, choose <none> from the Field or Normalization menus, respectively.

Expressions are not saved by the layer if you change the transparency variable to read from a field instead of an expression. You can save the expression from the Expression Builder dialog box by clicking Export Export before making changes.

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