Create a color-coded layer

Available with Business Analyst license.

The color-coded layer workflow creates a group layer that visualizes the distribution of a selected variable on the map. The group layer contains sublayers depicting different geography levels—for example, in the United States, you can view data in state, county, ZIP Code, census tract, and block group sublayers. Use the group layer Symbology pane to work with the color-coded group layer.


To use the color-coded layer workflow, you must download and license a Business Analyst local dataset. If you do not have access to local data, you can use the Color Coded Layer geoprocessing tool directly to create a color-coded layer using online data.

Potential applications

The following are potential applications of the color-coded layer workflow:

ApplicationDescriptionExamples of data used

Site a new fulfillment center

A company wants to identify the best location to open a new fulfillment center. The optimal location requires a high number of workers in the production industry, to ensure the desired skills are present for the fulfillment center positions. They use a color-coded layer to identify areas with the highest percentages of these workers and high spending in the community, and see what incentives are available at the state, county, and local levels.

  • Industry: Transportation/Warehousing
  • Consumer Spending: Retail Goods

Research social determinants of health

A health researcher is studying social determinants of health. She creates color-coded layers for different factors, such as access to healthcare and education, to understand how geographic scale affects the distribution of data.

  • Population Age 25+: Less than 9th Grade
  • No Health Insurance Coverage (Population <19, Population 19-34, Population 35-64, Population 65+)
  • Households Below the Poverty Level

Advertise to state park patrons

A state's park and wildlife department is looking to increase use of the state's parks. They create color-coded layers to identify areas of potential park patrons to advertise to, based on demographic and spending indicators. They use the layers to examine interest in park activities at varying geographic levels in the state.

  • Participated in Hiking Last 12 Mo
  • Participated in Canoeing or Kayaking Last 12 Mo
  • Did Birdwatching Last 12 Mo
  • Outdoor Equipment (Market Potential)
  • Camping Equipment (Market Potential)

Create a color-coded layer with local data

If you have access to a local dataset, you can use the color-coded layer workflow in the Business Analysis gallery to select a variable and map it at multiple geographic levels as a group layer. To create a color-coded layer with local data, do the following:

  1. On the Analysis tab, click Business Analysis to open the gallery, and click the Color Coded Layer button Create Color Coded Maps.

    The Data Browser window opens, allowing you to select a variable.

  2. Use the data browser to select a variable and click OK.

    You can create a color-coded layer using custom data variables. However, only the custom feature layer is mapped and multiple sublayers are not created.

    The project now contains your color-coded group layer, presented in the following ways:

    • The variable is added to the map and displayed at the highest geography level.
    • The Contents pane contains a group layer as well as sublayers for each geography level. To view different geography levels on the map, you can zoom in or out, or select a sublayer in the Contents pane.
    • The selected variable is added to the group layer Symbology pane, under Variable.

  3. Optionally, modify the variable by doing any of the following in the group layer's Symbology pane:
    • Change the variable calculation by selecting another option. Variable calculation options (such as count, percentage, and index) are displayed beneath the variable name.
    • Select a different variable by clicking Replace.
  4. Optionally, modify the map style for the group layer (and all sublayers) by clicking the group layer and doing any of the following in the group layer's Symbology pane:
    • Change the number of classes into which the data is divided on the map.
    • Change the color scheme of the data on the map.
    • Change the classification method used to group the data.

    For more information about symbology for color-coded group layers, see Style options. For information about modifying the symbology for individual sublayers, see Apply symbology to feature layers.

  5. Optionally, set the geography for the analysis using the following options:
    • Use the Area of interest search field to define the analysis extent using standard geographies. When you enter a search term, a list of standard geographies is displayed in order of population. Click one or more standard geographies in the list to add them to the area of interest. You can remove areas of interest individually or click Clear all.
    • Use the Boundary Layer drop-down list Extent Indicator to select a polygon layer from the Contents pane as the area of interest. You can only use one polygon layer at a time.
    • Use the Level of detail drop-down list to specify the level of geography to display on the map, such as counties or ZIP Codes.

    For more information about setting the geography for a color-coded group layer, see Geography options.

  6. Optionally, click the group layer in the Contents pane and use the Color Coded Group Layer ribbon to do any of the following:
    • To specify the map extents at which the layer is visible, in the Visibility Range group, click Scale Range and set a maximum and minimum scale. You can click the button again to turn off the setting. For more information, see Display layers at certain scales.
    • To emphasize different aspects of the map, in the Effects group, use the Transparency, Layer Blend, and Feature Blend options. For more information, see Apply transparency and blending modes.
    • In the Compare group, use the Swipe and Flicker buttons to compare overlapping layers. For more information, see Change the appearance of a feature layer.
    • In the Drawing group, access the group layer's Symbology pane or change the classification method.
    • In the Geography group, change the level of detail.

Style options

You can change the way the data is represented in a color-coded layer by using symbology options to modify the number of classes, the color scheme, and the classification method. The Style section of the group layer's Symbology pane contains these options. Style modifications are immediately reflected on the map.


You can change the number of classes, or color-coded groups, into which the data is divided. In the Style section, the Classes drop-down list allows you to select a number from 1 to 32.

Color schemes

By default, color-coded layers are created using the Yellow-Orange-Red (Continuous) color scheme. You can select another color scheme in the Color scheme drop-down list. To reverse the color order or create a custom color scheme, click Format color scheme…

Classification methods

Classification methods are used for classifying numerical fields for graduated symbology. The color-coded layer workflow chooses a classification method automatically, based on the variable you selected. You can change the classification method using the Method drop-down list and selecting from the following options:

  • Natural Breaks (Jenks)—Automatically selected for a variable calculated as a count or density.
  • Quantile—Automatically selected for a variable calculated as an average.
  • Equal Interval—Automatically selected for a variable calculated as a percentage, median, index, ratio, rate, or per capita rate.
  • Geometric Interval

The color-coded layer workflow automatically formats and labels variable information for legibility in each sublayer. For example, it adds the appropriate decimals, commas, and currency or percentage symbols as needed.

Geography options

The color-coded layer workflow allows you to modify the geography settings for the analysis using the Geography section of the group layer's Symbology pane.

Area of interest

The Area of interest search field allows you to specify the exact location or locations to analyze. You can search for any standard geography—such as a state, county, or ZIP Code—that is included in the country dataset. The search results display in descending order based on the population total in each listed boundary. When the area of interest is defined, all standard geographies that intersect this boundary are included in the color-coded layer as sublayers.

You can add multiple standard geographies of the same type in the Area of interest field. For example, you could add five counties or ten ZIP Codes—but not a county and a ZIP Code. Areas of interest can be adjacent (such as Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana) or non-adjacent (such as Kentucky, Florida, and California). If the analysis contains multiple areas of interest, statistics, ranges, and map settings reflect the whole area. For example, if New York and California are added as areas of interest, then the statistics represent one combined area.

Level of detail

The Level of detail drop-down list displays standard geography levels available for the analysis. The list includes all geography levels with fewer than 10,000 features intersecting the area of interest. Levels with more than 10,000 features intersecting the area of interest are excluded. You can set the level of detail in the following ways:

  • Select Automatic—Dynamically changes geography levels based on a balance of scale, visibility, and drawing performance.
  • Select an individual level—Set a fixed geographic level (for example, only show counties).


Use the sections below to troubleshoot potential issues when creating color-coded layers with local data.

Area of interest does not have a valid data source

If you used the Boundary Layer Extent Indicator option to define the area of interest, then removed the boundary layer from the Contents pane or its source location, the color-coded layer fails. A warning message appears on the Symbology pane.


To resolve the area of interest data source, do one of the following:

  • Click Repair automatically in the warning message to remove the area of interest and reset the color-coded layer to the default standard geography (usually a country boundary).
  • Repair the layer manually by adding the layer back to the Contents pane, or ensuring it exists in the source location.

Color-coded layer does not have a valid data source

Color-coded layers may fail in the following situations:

  • If you set a standard geography as the area of interest for a color-coded group layer, then close the project without saving, the color-coded layer fails upon reopening the project.
  • If you select a variable, then close the project without saving, the color-coded layer fails upon reopening the project.

In these situations, a warning message appears on the Symbology pane and red warning icons appear on the sublayers in the Contents pane.


To resolve the color-coded layer data source, click Repair automatically in the warning message. The layer restores the last saved project setting and reconnects all sublayers.

Geoprocessing tool

The Color Coded Layer workflow uses the Color Coded Layer tool. You can use this geoprocessing tool directly to perform the same analysis and build and run queries through a Python script or a model.

Related topics