Display layers at certain scales

The layers in a map or scene are listed in the Contents pane. In this pane, the List By Drawing Order List By Drawing Order tab shows the draw order of the layers and controls the visibility of each layer with check boxes. All layers draw at all scales by default. When the map is at a scale outside the visible range for a layer, the visibility check box for that layer is dimmed to indicate that it is not currently being drawn.

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

Depending on your map, there may be scales you reach as you zoom out (to increasingly smaller scales) where the density and detail of the data is too great to show any meaningful patterns. For example, you wouldn't draw building footprints on a map of Europe. Similarly, you may reach scales as you zoom in (to increasingly larger scales) where there is not enough precision in the data to sensibly show it. For example, you wouldn't show generalized climate zones on a neighborhood map. By setting a visible scale range for a layer, you automatically limit its visibility to suitable scales only.

To use scale range settings, highlight the layer in the Contents pane. On the ribbon, under Feature Layer, in the Visibility Range group, you can specify an appropriate scale range and then turn the use of the range on and off. When the scale range is off, the layer draws at all scales, but the scale ranges are preserved. Turn the scale range on to limit the visibility of the layer to draw only within the scale range bounds. You can also manage scale range visibility for a layer on the General tab of its Layer Properties dialog box.

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 (further zoomed in), only a small amount of ground is represented by a single map unit. At smaller scales (further zoomed out), much more ground is represented by that same single map unit.

Use the following two settings to limit the visible scale range of a layer. With the layer highlighted in the Contents pane, find them on the ribbon under Feature Layer in the Visibility Range group.

  • Maximum scale Maximum scale—Set this to the largest scale (farthest zoomed in, smallest representative fraction denominator) that you want the layer to remain visible.
  • Minimum scale Minimum scale—Set this to the smallest scale (farthest zoomed out, largest representative fraction denominator) that you want the layer to remain visible.
The scales you see on the drop-down menus are derived from the map's scale list. Choose one of these scales or type an exact scale value. You can also choose none, which means the layer will continue to draw at infinitely large (or small) scales.

Click Customize on the drop-down menu to open the Scale Properties dialog box to update the map's scale list. Consider adding and displaying scale aliases to help clarify what is shown at each map scale.

You can turn the scale range limit on and off without having to reset the range values. On the ribbon under Feature Layer, in the Visibility Range group, click the Scale Range button Scale Range. When the scale range is off, the layer draws at all scales. When the scale range is on, it draws only within the maximum and minimum scale limits.


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 Maximum scale property Maximum scale of the more detailed layer to be one scale unit less than the Minimum scale property Minimum scale 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 Minimum scale property Minimum scale of the smaller scale layer and Maximum scale property Maximum scale of the larger scale layer to the same scale, and 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 Farthest distance Farthest distance value applies the greatest distance between the camera and the ground at which features of a layer are visible in the display. Closest distance Closest distance 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 recommended that you 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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