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An Introduction to Geospatial Mapping: ArcGIS Pro

This is a guide to help Virginia Tech community members be introduced to the concept of ‘Geospatial Mapping’ and ‘Geographic Information System (GIS)’ and how to make maps using different geospatial mapping software.

ArcGIS Pro is a desktop application that provides tools for data management, visualization, and analysis of 2D and 3D data. It has advanced cartographic tools for creating maps for print, apps, dashboards, and the web. With ArcGIS Pro, you can explore, visualize, and analyze data; create 2D and 3D maps; and share your work to ArcGIS Online or your ArcGIS Enterprise portal. 

Installing ArcGIS Pro

ArcGIS Pro is a full-featured professional desktop GIS application from Esri. With ArcGIS Pro, you can explore, visualize, and analyze data; create 2D maps and 3D scenes; and share your work to ArcGIS Online or your ArcGIS Enterprise portal. The sections below introduce the sign-in process, the start page, ArcGIS Pro projects, and the user interface.

  1. A computer operating on Windows (Windows 10 is recommended; please refer to the System Requirements for details). Also note that ArcGIS Pro is exclusively compatible with the Windows platform.
  2. For Apple users, the recommended approach is to either boot to Windows or virtual Windows. A Remote Desktop (RD) typically runs on a large server, mimics the behavior of a traditional computer and is accessible from most devices with a strong internet connection. The RD, "libRD", utilizes a CPU and GPU heavy server, enabling multiple users to run processor-intensive tasks that may be difficult to run on your local machine. libRD provides each person with a browser-accessed RD running Windows 10. To access libRD, follow the following steps:


  • Each user has a private desktop (and documents, downloads, etc.) that can be customized to taste.
  • Your desktop will persist, even if you close the browser on your local computer. Meaning, jobs running will continue after you leave the desktop, and can be returned to later. Be mindful of closing unnecessary resource-intensive programs as you exit. If you want to run a multi-hour thing it is best to schedule that for late night.
  • Take advantage of this! This is a powerful computer that can take heavy lifting off your local machine

Note: all Esri products run on Windows machines. If you have a different Operating System and need to use Esri products, follow the steps above.

3. Administrative rights to the computer either using the “Make Me Admin” app or reaching out to IT for support to get administrative rights (if using a University issued computer).

4. At Virginia Tech, we use the “named user” licensing model for ArcGIS Pro.  This means that you’ll need to first create an ArcGIS Online Account before you can use ArcGIS Pro. If you do not already have a Virginia Tech ArcGIS Online account, visit, select the“Virginia Tech” login option, and then sign in with your Virginia Tech PID/pw/Duo 2FA as you are used to doing with other VT websites. 

Once this login is complete, your named user account in ArcGIS Online, and your ArcGIS Pro license, have now been generated for you automatically, and you can close the ArcGIS Online browser tab at any time.

Note: You will likely want to explore the ArcGIS Online software-as-a-service GIS, as it can do many simple things very well and with a much shorter learning curve than ArcGIS Pro.


  1. Begin by downloading the executable installation file for ArcGIS Pro by agreeing to the VT Network Software Service Center site, expand ESRI Software and select ESRI ArcGIS Pro 3.1 for Windows, agree to the license agreement and log in using your VT Username (PID) and passphrase. Click ESRI Software and then click ESRI ArcGIS Pro.
  2. Follow the installation process step-by-step on the Installing ESRI ArcGIS Pro or here provided by 4Help if needed for guidance. Please reach out if you encounter any problems while following these installation instructions.
  3. To begin your work in ArcGIS Pro, you must first “Sign In” to ArcGIS Online, and then, create a project. 

a. Signing in:  

i) Click on the “Not Signed In” button in the top right of the ArcGIS Pro user interface.

ii) If “” is not already selected, click “Manage Portals”; otherwise proceed to step (iv)

iii) Under “Manage Portals”, click “Add Portal”, and type

iv) Now click the “Sign In” link under the portal name on the top right:

v) Once you click “Sign In”, you’ll be presented with the same login experience as you saw when you logged onto ArcGIS Online directly.  As was the case there, you’ll select the and use the “Virginia Tech” login option and supply your PID/pw/Duo 2FA as usual.

vi) You’re in!  ArcGIS Online should remain signed in for a while, but every so often you’ll need to re-authenticate.  You won’t have to type the URL anymore; just click “Sign In” when necessary, select “Virginia Tech” and then enter your usual VT credentials (repeat step (v)).

4. Creating a project: We recommend starting with the “Blank project template”, but feel free to explore the various project templates.

NOTE: ArcMap is not equivalent to ArcGIS Pro. ArcMap is legacy software, and will enter mature support in 2024, and be retired completely in 2026, so it is not advisable to build new geospatial analysis workflows in ArcMap. If you’re just starting out, be sure to download ArcGIS Pro for Windows.

We strongly advise you to verify if there are any updates available for ArcGIS Pro after creating your first project. ESRI regularly releases updates, making it likely that the version downloaded from the software service center may require updating. To check for updates: Click on the Project tab, then select About. The About page will indicate the availability of any updates. If updates are available, simply click on the Update option.

Geospatial Data Curator

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Imma Mwanja
Newman Library Room 3010
560 Drillfield Dr
Blacksburg, VA 24061

Creating your Project on ArcGIS Pro

In this step, you will download the data files.
a. Open a new web browser tab or window.
b. Go to the following 4 links and download the data ZIP file. 

i. USA Census Counties
ii. USA Major Cities
iii. USA Freeway System
iv. USA States (Generalized)

  • Click "Download" and (if needed) scroll down and download the "Shapefile" data.
  • A brief summary is provided in the sidebar. While your data is downloading, click on “View Full Details” to read through the metadata provided.

c. Create a working folder on your local computer (you can give it any name) on the Desktop or Documents folder.

Note: throughout this exercise you will save all your data to this folder. When you create the folder, do not include any spaces or special characters in the folder name.

d. Extract the data files to the folder on your computer, after this, you can delete the zipped files.

e. After you extract the folders, confirm that the data files are stored in 4 folders.




f. Leave this folder open.
Note: you downloaded and extracted the data files you will need to complete this assignment.

1. Open ArcGIS Pro (Start (Windows icon)) > All Programs > ArcGIS > ArcGIS Pro). You will see an open screen where you can create a new map from a blank template. Click on “Map” to do so.

2. You will see a new form where you will name your project and where it will be located:
Rename your project to the name of your choice for the project. For example, “Name of Project: today's date YYYYMMDD

3. Uncheck the “Create a new folder for this project” checkbox and select the folder where you downloaded the data (and not the folder that actually contains the data).

Note: Arcgis Pro is designed like most Windows programs.All of the menus are context sensitive. In the top area (the toolbar), you see a number of tools. Those tools change with the selection of tabs and depending on what data layers you have highlighted. 

Adding a Basemap from ArcGIS Online
You will notice that your ArcGIS Pro opened with a default reference map which is called a basemap which is named as World Topographic Map (see the left on the Contents pane). This base map will be focused on the contiguous United States. You can leave this basemap as it is, but if you want to change it you will choose

  • Click the "Map" tab and "Basemap".
  • Click on any basemap that you want (scroll down for more options)

Note: The layer is served over the web so it may take some time to draw (and you have to be connected to the internet for it to continue drawing).

What you see depends on the scale you are working on on your map - as you zoom in closer you will typically find more detailed information. Your scale is displayed below the map and automatically adjusts as you zoom in and out.

To navigate your data you can primarily use these buttons in the Map tab:.  From left to right, top row first, they are used to Zoom to the extent of all layers in the map, zoom to selected data, fixed zoom in, and fixed zoom.You can use the scroll button on your mouse to zoom in and out and you can left click and hold the click to pan around the map.

There are different sources where you can get geospatial data, you can read more about this in the “Sources of Geospatial Data” page. The data that you downloaded is secondary data since you did not collect it directly from the field.
a. Click the
Add Data button on the Map tab and navigate to your working folder where you unzipped the data and add it to the map. 

b. Open each folder and add the following layers:

i. dtl_cnty.shp
ii. USA_Freeway_System.shp
iii. USA_Major_Cities.shp
iv. USA_States_Generalized.shp

  • Depending on the capacity of your computer, it may take a minute for the data to load. 
  • You should have all four layers on the map which can be seen in the Contents pane on the left. 
  • You can right click on any layer and select Zoom to Layer ro center it on the screen.

Note: the color of datasets on the Map pane might differ from what you see on the image above.

c. Zoom in and out of your map using the scroll button on your mouse, using two fingers on your touchpad, or right clicking and holding down.

d. Drag the layers up or down so that they do not cover each other. You will want the US_Major_Cities to be on top, followed by the US_Freeway_System and then the USA_States_Generalized, and finally the dtl_cnty layer will be at the bottom.

  • If your layers will not drag, click the List by Drawing Order button at the top of the table of contents.

e. You can turn layers on and off by checking/unchecking the box next to each name. Uncheck the ‘USA_Major_Cities’ layer for now so it is easier to see the other data layers (we will change its appearance later)

Note: Clicking the menus at the top of the screen will show various tools you can use to edit, visualize and analyze your data. 

Exploring the Attribute Table

  • Right click on each layer and select “Attribute Table
  • Every point, line, or polygon file has an attribute table. 
  • Any data in the attribute table can be used for displaying and labeling on the map and making queries. 
  • You can also create new columns in the table and add data or calculations.
  • Metadata can be key to understanding attribute tables that use codes and abbreviations.
  • Save your map project and keep your map open.

Data can be symbolized in a variety of ways, depending on the data format and available attributes.

Changing a Single Symbol

  1. Click on the point symbol below the ‘US_Major_Cities’ layer in the Contents pane.
  2. Choose a symbol you think best represents cities (scroll down if needed). You can make additional modifications to the symbol in the Properties tab including changing the color or size of your points.
  3. Do the same for the ‘US_Freeway_System’ layer, and scroll down (if needed) searching for the symbol that will best represent your roads. All the while looking for what will have a good visual appeal to your viewers.
  4. Click on the polygon (rectangle) symbol below the ‘USA_States_Generalized’ layer in the Contents pane.
  5. In the Symbology pane on the right, select the first box (Black Outline (1pt)).

You can turn off/uncheck the points and lines layers on the Contents pane.

     6. Close the Symbology window when you are finished.
     7. Save your map project.

Symbolize Categories

Let us change the color and categorize the counties data according to the state names:

  1. Right click on the ‘dtl_cnty’ layer on the Contents panel and select Symbology
  2. Choose Unique Values under Primary symbology, which means that each value will be assigned a unique color, pattern, etc.
  3. Choose ‘State_Name’ from the drop down menu in Field 1.

Labeling your Map

Now we will add labels on the map so we can easily identify the state names.

  1. Right click on the ‘USA_States_Generalized’ layer and select Label. The states will be labeled with the state names.

2. If you want to change other properties, right click on the same layer and select Labeling Properties.

3. You can change how the labels appear, are positioned, are placed, etc. by selecting either Symbol or Position under the ‘Label Class’ pane.

Note: Turn on the USA_Major_Cities and USA_Freeway_System layers on the Contents pane on the left.

Let us change the color and categorize the counties data according to its population:

  1. Right click on the ‘dtl_cnty’ layer on the Contents panel and select Symbology
  2. Choose Graduated Colors under Primary symbology. This will automatically change the counties colors to red, orange, and yellow.
  3. Select “Population” in the Field dropdown button.

4. Symbolize the data in whatever way you think is best. Map symbology can be used to alter the way people view and understand information, just like statistics. 
5. It is important to understand what you want to express in your map and how to best symbolize your data.

a. Choose a classification method and number of classes. In order to help you choose a classification method. Here is more information about each method:
b. Pick a color scheme from the drop down menu by checking the ‘
Show names’ and ‘Show all’ buttons and selecting the color that you want to represent your population data.
c. You can adjust the number of decimals shown by clicking the
Advanced symbol options button and adjusting the Rounding options.

6. Close the window when you are finished.
7. Save your map project.


Making Your Map

In this section you are going to create your map that will be exported to become a basemap. A basemap is like the background picture on a map that helps you know where things are. It shows features like roads, rivers, and landmarks, so you can add your own information on top of it, like markers or points of interest.

  1. At the top of the window, in the Insert tab select New Layout.
  2. Select 8.5” x 11” Letter under ANSI Landscape. You should have an empty page.
  3. Click the Insert tab and Map Frame and select the image of your map. 
  4. Draw a box where you would like the map placed. Drag the corner of the map to fill most of the page but leave room for a title, scale bar, legend, etc. 
    • If you need to adjust the scale once the map frame has been inserted, select or type in a value in the scale bar at the bottom of the screen (the smaller the number, the more zoomed in the map).
    • Another option is to right click on the map and select Activate. This will let you zoom in and out to the scale you want. When you are satisfied with your zoom level, click Layout at the top of the toolbar and select Close Activation.
  5. Click on the Insert tab and Legend (choose the legend type you want to add to your map). You need to drag the box big enough to see all of the entries. Only the visible layers in your map will be included in the legend.
  6. Using the same procedure, insert a North Arrow and Scale Bar.
  7. From the Graphics and Text section, select Rectangle Text and place it on your map where you want to have your title. Write a title. Double click the text box to get an “Element” pane on the right where you can change the properties of your text.
  1. Click on the Share tab.
  2. Click the dropdown on Export Layout from the Output section.
  3. Choose Vector PDF in Export Presets and select the location to save to by clicking the folder icon.
  4. Click on the Export button.
    • Note: If you save as an AI (Adobe Illustrator), the layers will remain as separate, editable layers in Illustrator. If you save as JPEG or TIFF, you can adjust the resolution of the exported file.
  5. Open your map in Adobe Acrobat to see what it looks like.

Click the Save button.

Note: When you save an ArcGIS Pro document, you are only saving a link to the layers in your project. If you move your project to a new location, you will need to move all the files linked to your project with it. Each shapefile has multiple files associated together, and they need to stay together to work properly!It is best to save all files in the project folder so they are more transportable with the project. 

Sharing your ArcGIS Pro Map as a Web Map on ArcGIS Online

In order to allow other people in the Virginia Tech organization (community) or any other ArcGIS users, you can share your ArcGIS Pro map through ArcGIS Online (AGOL) or ArcGIS Enterprise.  You can use AGOL to collaborate around spatial data, and collectively contribute to the creation and modification of data layers.

  1. On the ribbon at the top, click the Share tab. In the Share As group, click Web Map. The Share As Web Map pane appears on the right.
  2. You can leave the default name of the map or provide a new name for the web map.
  3. Optionally (but recommended), fill in the Summary and Tags fields (use any tags that make sense for your map and what you visualized)  and press Tab after each tag.
  4. Select a Configuration for your web map. On the drop down, select “Copy all data: Editable
    • Check the “Use symbol types compatible with all clients” check box.
  5. Click the “Folder” drop-down arrow and choose a folder in your portal content to store the web map. This is where (if you choose to) all your web maps will be stored.
    • Note: if you do not have a pre-existing folder, select “Create new folder” and rename it.
  6. Specify how the web map will be shared.
    • Everyone—Share your content with the public. Anyone can access and see it.
    • My Organization—Share your content with all authenticated users in the organization. This option is available when you are signed in with an organizational account.
    • Groups—Share your content with groups to which you belong and their members
    • Note: here, select “My Organization” or "Virginia Tech
  7. Under “Finish Sharing”, click “Analyze” to review for potential problems.
    • Errors and warnings are listed on the Messages tab. Right-click a message to open its help topic or take corrective action in the software. Errors must be resolved before you can share your GIS resource. Resolving warnings is recommended but not required.
  8. After you have resolved errors, and optionally resolved warnings, click “Share” to share the web map.
  9. Once the web map has been successfully shared, click the “Manage web map” link at the bottom of the pane to manage the web map in your portal.
  10. Your web map will open on ArcGIS Online!

For more information on how to share your web map, read here: