Transform features

The Transform tool Transform changes the geometric shape of selected features using displacement links to specify known locations and corresponding destination locations. This tool is available in the Modify Features pane.

The displacement vectors (links) you draw or add to a map create best fit geometric transformations. The root mean square (RMS) is a measure of this fit.

When you use this tool, consider the following:

  • The RMS errors appear at the top of the tool pane when the minimum required links for an Affine or Similarity transformation are present in a map.
  • To generate a link table containing input links feature IDs and their residual errors, use the Calculate Transformation Errors tool.
  • To perform projective transformations using four or more links, use the Transform Features tool.

Transform selected features or layers

The transformation method and the accuracy and quantity of displacements links influence the quality of a transformation and the resulting spatial distortion.

To transform features, complete the following steps:

  1. In the Contents pane, confirm that the layers can be selected and edited.

    Confirm that the feature layer you are editing is editable, the coordinate system assigned to the active map is suitable for the type of edits you're performing, and snapping is configured to help you work efficiently and accurately.

  2. On the ribbon, click the Edit tab. In the Manage Edits group, click the topology arrow and choose No Topology No Topology.
  3. On the ribbon, click the Edit tab. In the Features group, click Modify Modify Features.
  4. In the Modify Features pane, click Transform Transform.

    To find the tool, expand Alignment, or type Transform in the Search text box.

  5. Click one of the tool tabs described in the following table and select the features or layers to be transformed.

    Selected features

    Click the Change the selection tool Active Select and select the features.


    To refine the selection in the pane selection tree view, right-click a feature and click Only Select This List By Selection or Unselect Clear Selected.


    Check a layer check box to transform all features on a layer.

  6. In the tool pane, click the Transformation Method drop-down arrow and choose a transformation method described in the following table.

    If your data requires further adjustments after an Affine or Similarity transformation, consider choosing a rubbersheet transformation method.


    Differentially scale, rotate, translate, and skew selected features.

    The following images illustrate the four possible changes.

    Affine transformations

    This method requires a minimum of three displacement links.

    Similarity 2D

    Uniformly scale, rotate, translate, and reflect selected 2D features. Z-aware features are transformed in the xy plane. Z-values are ignored and preserved.

    The rotation has a single pivot point that can be at any location within the xy plane. A reflection has a single reflecting line within the xy plane.


    This method is a good choice for CAD drawings and other file-based feature data that is generally not skewed.

    This method requires a minimum of two displacement links.

    Similarity 3D

    Uniformly scale, rotate, translate, and reflect selected z-aware features.

    The rotation axis can be any line within the xyz space. The reflecting surface is any plane within the xyz space.

    This method requires a minimum of four displacement links.

  7. Click Add new links Add New Link and draw the minimum number of two-point displacement links required by the transformation method. Add or replace links if your work requires a better RMS value.

    For best results, snap the start of a link from a known source location and snap the second control point to its corresponding destination location.

    To delete a link, select the link and press the Delete key or right-click and click Delete. To delete all displacement links, click Delete all links Delete.


    The RMS error indicates how well the displacement links perform the intended transformation. If you determine the RMS value is too high, you can delete and draw new links until the error value falls within an acceptable threshold.

    Each displacement link generates a residual error that measures the fit between the location of the destination control point and the actual transformed location. The RMS error shown in the pane is the square root of the mean of the squares of the residual errors that are generated by each link.

  8. Click Transform.

    The displacement links are automatically deleted.

Load links from a file

Click Load links from file Browse to load predefined displacement links contained in a link file created with ArcMap. You can load four-column or five-column link files.

A link file is a TAB delimited ASCII text file containing two pairs of x,y coordinate values per row for each link. A four-column link file contains a pair of source and destination coordinate values. A five-column link file includes an ID column (string or numeric) that precedes the coordinate values.

Example contents for a five-column link file.

3	1032507.603691	1865947.186470	1032507.207115	1865926.170407

2	1032508.350801	1865986.785187	1032509.079486	1866025.405116

1	1032388.666424	1865961.179459	1032361.009572	1865981.280533



x' = Ax + By + C 
y' = Dx + Ey + F


A = Sx cos r 
B = (Sy / cos s) sin(s - r) 
C = Dx 
D = Sx sin r 
E = (Sy / cos s) cos(s - r) 
F = Dy 
Sx, Sy = Scaling factors (can be negative) 
Dx, Dy = Translation distances in x and y directions (can be negative) 
s = Skew angle of shearing along x-axis, measured from y-axis (-pi/2 < s < pi/2) 
r = Rotation angle in radians, measured counterclockwise from x-axis (- pi < r <= pi) 

Similarity 2D

x' = Ax + By + C 
y' = -Bx + Ay + F 


A = s * cos t 
B = s * sin t 
C = Translation in x direction 
F = Translation in y direction 
s = Scale change (same in x and y directions) 
t = Rotation angle, measured counterclockwise in xy-plane 


x' = (Ax + By + C) / (Gx + Hy + 1) 
y' = (Dx + Ey + F) / (Gx + Hy + 1)