Display layers at certain scales

Normally, if a layer is checked in the Contents pane, it is drawn in the map or scene. However, as you zoom out, it may become difficult to see more detailed information, or as you zoom in, information may become too coarse. While you can turn a layer off or on manually, this can be inconvenient and time consuming, especially if your map or scene contains several layers, or if you change the scale frequently as you work. Setting a visible scale range—sometimes referred to as scale-dependent drawing—helps organize how your layers function in the map at different scales.

To set the visibility range for layers in maps and scenes, click Feature Layers > Appearance > Visibility Range.

You can filter the list of layers in the Contents pane of a map or scene to only those with a visibility range set.

Set a visible scale range for a layer in a map

Scales in a map are expressed as representative ratios. A scale of 1:25,000 means that one unit of distance measured in the map represents 25,000 of those units of distance on the ground in the real world. The ratios are fractions, always with 1 as the numerator. The larger the denominator value, the smaller the scale. For example, a 1:25,000 scale, which shows the streets and buildings of a small town, is a much larger scale than 1:2,500,000, which shows the major roadways and administrative boundaries of a small country. At larger scales, only a small amount of ground is represented by a single map unit. At smaller scales, much more ground is represented by that same single map unit.

Setting the Out Beyond Maximum Scale scale range applies the smallest desired map scale at which the layer is visible in the display. Conversely, In Beyond Minimum Scale applies the largest desired visible map scale. Your Out Beyond map scale value must be larger than your In Beyond map scale value, or they can be the same if you want the layer to be visible at only one scale.

You can control the list of scales that are offered by these controls. Click Customize in the scale list to open the Scale Properties dialog box. Consider adding and displaying scale aliases to help clarify what is shown at each map scale.

After you set the range of visible map scales, whenever the scale of the map is outside the layer's visible scale range, the layer does not draw. You'll see a dimmed check box in the Contents pane.


Visible scale ranges are often used when changing the data source for the same theme, for example, referencing a detailed roads feature class to be drawn at large scales and then using a different layer referencing a more generalized data source at smaller scales. To avoid showing features from both layers when viewing your map right at these scale range boundaries, it has been common practice to set the Out Beyond scale range property of the more detailed layer to be one scale unit less than the In Beyond scale range property of the more generalized layer. The drawback with this approach is that you can create a situation where no data at all draws at the interim scale. This is especially problematic if you intend to create a vector tile package from the map.

A better solution is to set both the In Beyond scale range property of the smaller scale layer and Out Beyond scale range property of the larger scale layer to the same scale, then set the map to not draw up to and including the maximum scale in scale ranges. In the Contents pane, right-click a map and click Properties to open the Map Properties dialog box. On the General tab, ensure that Draw up to and including the maximum scale in scale ranges is unchecked. This property applies to all layers and symbol classes in a map. Maps created by importing .mxd files have this property checked on by default, otherwise it is off by default.

Set a visible distance range in a scene

Working in a 3D scene follows a concept similar to visible scale range but uses a distance measurement instead. Using visible distance ranges, you can set when a layer becomes visible in the display. For example, set the distance ranges for local layers with small extents so they're only visible when you zoom in to their proximity.

Visible distance is calculated as a combination of the window size and the observer distance, so different values are returned for the same bookmark if the display window is resized. Distance units are measured using the units of the scene view.

Setting the Out Beyond Maximum Scale distance applies the greatest distance between the camera and the ground at which features of a layer are visible in the display. In Beyond Minimum Scale applies the smallest desired viewing distance at which the feature of a layer is visible.

After you set the visibility distance range of a layer in a scene, it stops drawing whenever the distance between the camera and scene view is outside of the distance range. You'll see a dimmed check box in the Contents pane.

Convert maps to scenes or scenes to maps

When you convert a 2D map into a 3D scene, the visibility scale range of a layer is converted into an approximate distance range. For example, a scale of 1:24,000 in a 2D map is converted to a distance of 2 kilometers between the camera and the content of your 3D scene. Conversely, if you convert your 3D map into a 2D scene, the defined distance range is converted into an approximate scale range.


When a layer with a visibility scale range setting (and no z-values) is copied from a map to a 3D scene, it is placed into the 2D Layers category of the scene. An equivalent 3D visibility scale range setting is created but is not honored in the scene at that point. If you move the layer to the 3D Layers category, the visibility scale range setting is respected.

When moving a layer in a scene from the 2D Layers category of the Contents pane to 3D Layers and vice versa, it is good practice to review the scale range and distance range set for the layer. This way, you make sure your layers draw correctly when zooming in and out of the scene. At some zoom levels or viewing perspectives, some features may not be visible because distance visibility works per feature in 3D.

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