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Tips and tricks for 3D visualization in ArcGIS Pro

One of the great things about ArcGIS Pro is that it allows you to work with 3D and 2D data together. Are you venturing into the world of 3D in ArcGIS Pro for the first time? Or maybe you’ve used it before but have not had a chance to explore all the functionality? Here are some tips and tricks to help with fine tuning your 3D visualization.

1. Choose between a Global or Local Scene

To work with 3D layers in ArcGIS Pro, you need to make a 3D scene. If you do not have one in your project, you can create one from the Insert tab or by converting an existing map. You can view your data in a Global Scene or a Local Scene. Global mode is intended for very large areas where the curvature of the earth is an important factor. Local mode is for smaller areas where you want to use a local projection to reduce distortion and maintain data integrity.

When you first create a scene in ArcGIS Pro, it opens in Global mode by default. However, you can switch to Local mode from the View tab, or you can open existing scenes in either mode by right clicking on it in the project pane. If the Global and Local option are both greyed out, this is because you have a map open instead of a scene.

Change from Global mode to Local mode in the View tab

If you use local views more often, you can change your Pro settings, so this is the default view when creating new scenes. Go to Project > Options > Maps and Scenes > under Scene change the setting to Local.

Change the default scene mode from your ArcGIS Pro Options

2. Consider your end goal

What are you planning to use this project for? When it’s finished, will the final product be a PDF, a project package you share with your colleagues or something else like a web scene stored in ArcGIS Online? The answer to this question may impact which symbol types are supported or work best.

If you are going to share your data as a web scene, familiarize yourself with the process for authoring a web scene, and be aware that not all symbol types for points, lines and polygons are currently supported in web scenes. If you use unsupported symbol types, they may be downgraded when you publish.

3. Decide if you are going to use your data as a 2D Layer or 3D Layer

When you create a scene in ArcGIS Pro, you will notice there are two groups in your contents pane: 2D layers and 3D layers. 

If you would like the data to stay flat and to be draped over your elevation surface or at an absolute height, leave it in the 2D layers group.

Even with data that has 2D geometry, if you would like to symbolize it as 3D, you can move it to the 3D layers group. You can then use 3D symbols or extrude your data, which allows it to use a field value or a constant to stretch flat points, lines or polygons into a 3D shape.

A polygon layer that has been dragged to the 3D layer group and extruded to an absolute height

4. Experiment with new symbol types

You may have existing symbols you have previously used with 2D maps in ArcGIS Pro or even other programs such as ArcMap or ArcScene. However, these symbols don’tt always draw the same way in 3D and may not be the best choice depending on the data you are working with.

Try out some of the symbol types in ArcGIS Pro that are specifically designed to work in 3D. If something is not drawing the way you expected, be aware that certain symbols or properties are unsupported for drawing in 3D.  

For 3D points, considering trying out 3D Model Markers. You can experiment with different types of markers from the Symbology Properties. 

3D Points symbolized using Shape Markers

3D Points symbolized using 3D Model Markers

When working with 3D lines, you can choose between a profile that looks like a tube, a strip or a wall.

If your 3D lines aren’t drawing or exporting to another format the way you want, try converting them to multipatch. With the 3D Analyst extension, you can use the Buffer 3D tool to do this in one step.

For extruded polygons or multipatches, you can try out 3D effects such as face culling.

5.  Control how your data interacts with the elevation surface

When creating a scene in ArcGIS Pro, if you have access to the internet, the world elevation surface is used as the ground elevation. If you do not want to use this surface as the ground, you can change it to your own custom elevation source from the scene properties.

For 2D layers, you can choose between your layers being draped over the ground, another custom surface or at an absolute height. For 3D layers, they can be relative to the ground and a custom service.

You may run into situations where you want to use the world elevation surface, but it is getting in the way, or maybe you have published a web scene from ArcGIS Pro and your point symbols are getting cut off by the ground.

3D Points that have been shared from ArcGIS Pro to ArcGIS Online as a web scene

3D markers use anchor points to determine how the symbol is situated relative to the feature geometry. By default, the anchor point is in the middle of the symbol. If your point has an elevation near or at the ground, this can make them look cut off. You can avoid this by changing the position of the anchor point to somewhere else such as the center bottom of the model.

This setting can be found under the position section of the marker symbol layer properties. You can choose from a variety of preset locations or input a custom x,y,z value if preferred.

Avoid cutting off 3D symbols at ground level by changing the position 

If you are using a Local Scene, another alternative is to change the display of the elevation surface itself, so it is transparent. To do this, in your Contents window, right click on your scene and then go to properties. From here, go to Elevation Surface, and change the Ground surface colour, so it is transparent.

You can change the Elevation Surface colour from the scene properties

6. Test early, test often

Don’t wait until you are finished to test. Try it out early on to make sure you do not have any unexpected surprises. What works best may change depending on your final goal and your data.

For web scenes, be sure that you are aware of symbol limitations, so you do not spend time putting something together only to later discover that it is not supported.

Whether you are exporting to PDF or creating a web scene in ArcGIS Online, a good strategy is to test sharing your data early in the process to make sure it will work the way you expect. If you have a lot of data, you may want to try sharing a subset the first time you test to save yourself time.

When working with 3D data, effective visualization is key to communicating your message successfully.  Now that you have some ideas for improving your 3D visualization in ArcGIS Pro, it’s time to go out and put this into practice.  Do you have any questions about these tips? Or maybe you have some of your own to add? Reach out and let us know in the comments. 

About the Author

Nicole Gamble is a Technical Support Consultant with the Esri Canada Enterprise Support Team. She has a Bachelor of Arts & Science with a minor in GIS from McMaster University and a GIS Applications Specialist certificate from Fleming College. Early in her studies at McMaster, Nicole’s interest in GIS was sparked thanks to a geography course that focused on problem solving in an interdisciplinary setting. In her day-to-day role she provides support to Esri Canada clients for ArcGIS Enterprise, ArcGIS Online, and ArcGIS Desktop. In her spare time, Nicole enjoys reading, listening to podcasts and completing puzzles.

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