This post covers how to use your own custom symbols in ArcMap

I had a good question in one of my classes recently (thanks Jacque!): can I use my own symbols on maps in ArcMap?  Short answer – yes!  It may not be as easy as we might like, but it’s certainly doable.  We’ll look at two examples – point symbols and area fills.

Point Symbols

ArcMap has a dizzying array of built-in symbols.  We most often access these via the Symbology tab from a layer’s Properties.  In the image below I’ve got the Properties window for a layer of GPS points open:

If I click on the box in the Symbol area, the Symbol Selector window opens.  Here I can change colours and size and pick out a specific symbol:

If I also click on Style References, I can add in a huge range of other built in symbols, with over 50 additional sets of more specifically themed symbols:

Ticking the grey box at the left of each set makes those symbols available in the Symbol Selector window.  But what if, for some reason, you want to use your own symbols?  For this we need to click the Edit Symbol button, in the Symbol Selector window.  This (as usual) opens up another window:

Under “Type” we’ve got several options:

With most of these options we can work with existing symbols and edit them.  If I want to add my own custom symbol, I can choose the “Picture Marker Symbol” option.  I can immediately upload an image then, so let’s use something I can easily put my (digital) hands on – a Lincoln logo as a JPG image:

The key here is that if I can use as an image as a symbol (they’re all images, really) which can easily be uploaded to ArcMap and then becomes available.  Below, I’ve uploaded my logo and can change its size or angle or offset as I like.  When I’m happy, I click OK, then OK again, and I’ve now got my points shown oin the map with this logo (why I would want to do actually this, I don’t know…):

Area Fill Symbols

Great.  Now what if I want to do the same sort of thing with my area fills?  To set this up I’ll first re-symbolise my vegetation layer.  I’ve got an attribute called “TYPE” that gives me a description of the different vegetation types so I’ll give each unique value a separate colour:

Now I’ll change the colour for my Grassland polygons by double clicking on the colour swatch, then on Edit Symbol, change the Type to Picture Fill Symbol and upload my logo again.  Clicking OK to get back to the map I get this:

Ummm…interesting to say the least.  It hasn’t scaled the image so I’ll need to play around with it a bit to get it to tile nicely.  Using Corel Photo Paint I resized the image to a much smaller size and then imported this new version.  And here’s the result:

Again, why on earth you might want to use this a symbol I can’t even guess, but it does demonstrate how you can relatively easily import an image and use it as symbology on your map.  This could be useful when you simply must get the texture right for that area fill.

The way we’ve done things here, our new symbol is only available in this map document.  If I wanted to permanently add in my own symbol that’s always available, I can do that as well, but it’s slightly more complicated.  Without going into too much detail, I need to go to the Customize (sic) menu > Style Manager and create a new symbol (by uploading my image) in the appropriate folder.  Not that hard really – the harder thing in all this is probably creating a symbol from scatch in something like Paint or Photoshop or adapting an existing symbol.

So there you have it – using your own symbols to get that map looking just right.


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