Change a layer's style

Maps help you gain a deeper understanding of your data by allowing you to visualize it in various ways. For example, population data for countries can be visualized as a sequence of colors, such as from light to dark, or as graduated circles, such as from small to large.

This flexibility allows you to tell different stories and discover hidden patterns depending on how the data is presented. But because mapmaking is flexible, it requires you to make decisions when there isn't always a single best answer.

ArcGIS for Office allows you to explore different styling options using smart mapping defaults. When you choose a style for your layer, the nature of your data determines the automatically suggested styling options. Once you decide how to present your layer—for example, using circles or colors to show population size—you can make changes to its appearance that are immediately reflected on the map. ArcGIS for Office allows you to control graphic elements, such as color ramps, line weights, transparency, and symbols.

Apply a style

You can change a layer's style at any time in the Styling pane. To apply a style or change the style of a layer, do the following:

  1. At the top of the layer list, select Layer options Layer options.

    The layer options appear, with the Styling pane open by default.

  2. If necessary, select the layer you want to modify using the Active layer drop-down menu.
  3. Optionally, choose a data attribute to style from the Select a drawing column drop-down menu.

    Only the styling options that apply to the specified attribute appear. For example, if you know only the location of a feature, you can style by single symbol or heat map. If you specify an attribute that contains numeric data, smart mapping presents additional styling options.

  4. Choose a style from the options that appear by clicking the style card.

    The layer's appearance on the map updates automatically when you make your selection.

  5. Optionally, click Style options Style options on the style card to customize the look of the layer.
  6. Click Back Back/ Return to close the Styling pane and view the layer list.

Styles quick reference

The styling choices available in the Styling pane are determined by the type of data you're mapping. Different styling choices are available if your layer is composed of point, line, or polygon features. For example, you'll see heat map styling options for a layer composed of points but not for a line or polygon layer. The available styling options are also influenced by the type of data associated with features in the layer. For example, a point feature may only have location information, such as geographic coordinates, but may also have categorical information, such as retail location type, or numerical information, such as sales details. Not every styling type can be used for every type of data. By analyzing the facts and characteristics of your layer, ArcGIS for Office presents the best styling choices.

The following table provides a quick reference of the styles available for different types of data and some of the key questions you can answer using each style.

Data typeQuestionsStyles

Location only

Where are my features located?

How are the features distributed geographically?

Point features—For example, retail store locations

Location (single symbol)

Heat map

Polyline features—For example, rivers and streams

Location (single symbol)

Polygon features—For example, county, ZIP Codes

Location (single symbol)

Numeric attribute

How do my features compare to each other based on numeric values?

Where are the highest and lowest values?

Point features—For example, revenue per store

Counts and amounts (size)

Counts and amounts (color)

Color & Size

Polygon features—For example, country population

Counts and amounts (color)

Polyline features—For example, river length

Counts and amounts (size)

Counts and amounts (color)

Color & Size

Category or type attribute

How is my data distributed or summarized by category?

Point features—For example, retailer type

Type (unique symbols)

Polygon features—For example, country language

Type (unique symbols)

Polyline features—For example, water system

Type (unique symbols)