ArcView - A Desktop GIS Tool

Written by George Lienkaemper

What you should already know:

For this workshop to be valuable, users should be familiar with the principles of GIS and have had some hands-on experience on SUN workstations. If you've attended the Forest Science workshops; Introduction to GIS and Introduction to SUN Network, you should have the appropriate background information.


Arcview is a desktop GIS tool that provides a capability for inexperienced GIS users to display coverages and to query GIS databases. Operations in Arcview are accomplished using menu and icon choices. Once you've become familiar with the mouse and the various Arcview documents, Arcview can be an easy and quick way to explore and display spatial data.

The Mouse

Almost all Arcview operations involve using the mouse to make icon or menu selections. Many of you have had experience with a mouse and here are the particulars of the SUN mouse. The SUN mouse is an optical mouse, which means the mouse must be used on the reflective pad. The pad should be oriented with the long dimension parallel with the keyboard, or with the SUN logo in the lower right corner. The mouse should be oriented so that the cord is attached to the top edge. Oriented in this way the button on the left is the select button or "Button 1", the center button is "Button 2" and the right button is the menu button or "Button 3".

Menus and Icon 

Each Arcview document type has a row of menu choices and 2 rows of icons at the top of the screen called a Graphical User Interface (GUI). The drop-down menus are displayed by clicking with the menu button (button 3); selection is made with the select button (button 1). The first row of icons is called the button bar. When a button is selected, a function or operation is performed immediately. Many of these operations are also available as menu choices. The bottom row is called the toolbar. Tool selections require additional input somewhere on the graphics screen.


On-line Help can be accessed using the Help menu choice or the Help button that appear on every document GUI. There are no paper manuals for ArcView. All the documentation is available on-line using Help.

Exercise One - Arcview Documents

  1. Log in to your UNIX or NT account and change directories (cd) to your GIS workspace. If you don't have a GIS workspace, create a directory or folder in your home directory.
  2. You must begin by acquiring the files needed to complete this exercise. FTP the files from to your GIS workspace. In UNIX, you must then uncompress and unpack the file archive with these commands: If you are using an NT machine, you can use WinZip3.2 to open and decompress the file to a temporary folder, then extract it to your local directory, using our folder names.

    When you are finished with the tutorial, you should delete the "tutorial" directory from your workspace.

  3. In UNIX, change directories to "tutorial" and type av3 at a command prompt to start Arcview.  In NT, launch Arcview from the Start/Programs/GIS menu.
  4. Right-hold (menu button) on the file menu to choose Open Project.
  5. Select workshop.apr from the Open Project dialogue window and click on OK. Note: you can skip the OK by double-clicking on the selection. This type of window is common in Arcview and can be used to navigate through the directory structure to access data. A path can be entered in the space at the top of the window or directories can be selected in the box on the right. The file selection can be made in the box on the left. 
  6. Arcview will ask you for the location of several files. Those files are now located in the "tutorial" directory in your GIS workspace. The files ____ and ____ are located in the INFO subdirectory. Right-hold on File and Save Project so that you won't have to update the directories again.

Document Types

 Displayed in the project window are icons representing five types of documents in an Arcview project: views (map display and query), tables (tabular depiction of the database), charts (graphical data display), layouts (preparation for hard-copy output) and scripts (programs for customizing arcview).

 Icons for these document types appear in the project window. Click on the Views icon.


Views are collections of data layers or themes from a variety of different sources; most commonly arc/info coverages or grids; or satellite images from ERDAS or Imagine. Once themes have been added, they are listed along the side of the View window in the Table of Contents and are displayed by clicking on the check box next to the theme name. Themes are displayed in order from the bottom of the list (the theme at the bottom is displayed first, then the next is displayed on top of the first, and so on) and can be moved up or down the list by clicking and dragging with the select button. A theme is made active by clicking on the name in the Table of Contents. Any operation that you specify for themes accesses the active theme.

Displayed is a VIEW created using Arc/Info coverages and grids of the H. J. Andrews Experimental Forest. Themes with checks next to the theme name are displayed. The theme CLEARCUTS is drawn first and other themes are drawn in order on top of it.

  1. Turn off CLEARCUTS by clicking on the check mark.
  2. Turn on STAND AGE by clicking on the box. Notice that everything else is displayed over the image.
  3. Turn off the image and turn on CLEARCUTS. Click on the CLEARCUTS theme name to make it the active theme. Under the Theme menu at the top of the page select Hide/Show Legend. Half-decades of timber harvest are displayed.
  4. The legend is hidden for many themes to preserve room in the Table of Contents. Make the REF. STANDS theme active and Show its legend. See what we mean! You can always scroll through the Table of Contents using the slider on the right. Hide the REF. STANDS legend.

Exercise Two - the View ToolBar

Look over the above toolbar and locate it on the ArcView screen. Once selected, these tools require additional input in the View window.

  1. Select the zoom in tool and click on an area in the View that you like to see more closely. The zoom will be centered on the point you selected. Click on the zoom out tool and pick place on the View to center the zoom out.
  2. Zoom in again, except this time click and drag a box outlining the extent of the zoom.
  3. Now choose the pan tool. Click near the edge of the View and drag the map to the center.
  4. Measure the distance between two REF. STANDS (the yellow dots) using the measure tool. Click once on the starting point, click once on any intermediate point, and double click at the end of your measurement. The distance appears at the bottom of the ArcView window.
  5. Zoom out a few times until you can see most of the View. Make CLEARCUTS the active theme by clicking on the title in the Table of Contents.
  6.  Now select the identify tool. Click on a cutting unit in the View and note the result. Scroll through the data and find the harvest year (LAST_OVERS). Click on several cutting units to see additional data about this theme. The identify tool works only with active themes. Dismiss the identify window by clicking the menu mouse button in the frame at the top.

 There are several other tools on the toolbar. We won't be using them today, but on-line help is available to learn more.


Exercise Three - the View Button Bar

Locate the View button bar on the ArcView window. These buttons perform a function as soon as they are selected. Many of the functions on the button bar are also available under the menu selections.

In this exercise you will add a new vegetation theme and edit its legend to display more information than is shown using CLEARCUTS. You will also examine the theme's database and perform a database query. 

  1. Make sure that CLEARCUTS is the active theme and then select the Zoom to Active Themes button to return to the full view of the H. J. Andrews. Turn off CLEARCUTS by clicking on the check mark.
  2. Select the Add Theme button. In the Add Theme window, scroll down the list of sources on the left side of the window and select WNFVEG (click on OK or double-click).
  3. The WNFVEG theme appears at the top of the Table of Contents. Since it is a polygon theme, it will cover almost everything in the View when it's displayed. Drag the theme to the bottom of the Table of Contents. Select the Theme/Edit Legend button.
  4. In the Legend Editor box click the mouse menu button on the continuation arrow to the right of Legend Type and choose Unique Value. Now use the continuation arrow for Values Field and scroll down the list and select Feature_code. Click on Apply and turn on the WNFVEG theme by clicking on the check box next to the title.

Note that in the legend and in the Legend Editor characters are used to code the data in the polygons. The Data Dictionary for this theme defines the codes as follows: 

C clearcut
D developed land
M meadow (< 10% tree cover)
N natural forest stand
P partial cut
R rock
S shelterwood
  1. Begin editing the Labels codes that are displayed in the legend; click on the C, type Clearcut and press return. Now edit the rest of the labels using the data dictionary information as a guide. Click on Apply when you're done.
  2. You may want to adopt a different color scheme for this theme. In the Legend Editor the Color Schemes selection box is at the bottom of the window. Click on the continuation arrow to see other schemes. Try some different selections and Apply then to see the effect. This may not yet be satisfactory. To change an individual color; double-click on the symbol to edit - the Fill Palette appears. Now click on the paintbrush icon - the Color Palette appears. Click on a new color (scroll down for more colors). Repeat the process for any other symbol you'd like to change.
  3. When you have developed a satisfactory color scheme, click on Apply. Dismiss the Color Palette and Legend Editor windows (use the mouse menu button in the window title).

  4. Click on the Theme Properties button. In the Theme Properties window we can define the theme to be a selected set of the data layer; we can label features with specific attributes; we can set display thresholds; and we can link objects to the theme (i.e. photos, text documents). Today, however, all we'll do here is change the theme name. Double-click on WNFVEG and type VEGETATION. Click on OK.
  5. In the Table of Contents, turn off VEGETATION and turn on CLEARCUTS. Make CLEARCUTS active.
  6. Click on the Open Theme Table button to see the data that comprise this theme. Note that the menus and icons have changed at the top of the screen. You can resize the table to see more of the data and you can scroll both across and up and down the table. Look the data over.
  7. Now click on the H J ANDREWS view, so that the view comes forward and the view buttons reappear. Click on the Query button to bring up the query builder window for CLEARCUTS.
  8. The task is to find the clearcuts that are less than 25 years old - those that have been harvested since 1970.

  9. In the CLEARCUTS query window, scroll down through the Fields until you find LAST_OVERS Double-click on the Field and it will appear in the box below. Click on an operator. Now scroll through Values until you find 1970 and double-click on it. Click on New Set to make your selection. Look at your view; the selected CLEARCUTS are highlighted. Notice that records in the table Attributes of CLEARCUTS are also highlighted.


Exercise Four - the Table Button Bar

As you've seen, when we move from one ArcView document to another, the graphical user interface changes. We can create, modify and add data to tables using the GUI, but today we'll just explore.

  1. Click on the frame at the top of the Attributes of Clearcuts table to activate it. Scroll through the records. Note that the highlighted records are scattered throughout the dataset. Click on the Promote button to group the selected records at the top of the table. Resize the table to see more of the records.
  2. One way to look at the selected data would be to determine the average size of clearcuts for each year. Scroll across the table and click on the heading LAST_OVERS to highlight it. Click on the Summarize button.
  3. In the Summary Table Definition window the Field: is the field to be summarized - in this case acres. Select acres from the field list. Select Average from the Summarize by: list. Click on Add. The statistic appears in the box on the right. Other statistics may also be added to this table (removed, as well).
  4. Note that this information will be saved under the file name listed next to the Save As... button. Click on OK. The table containing your summary also appears as an entry in the list of tables in your project window.
  5. To return the Attributes of Clearcuts to its original form, click on the title frame and press the Select None button. Notice that the View also changes back.

Now it's time to create our own views. Click on the project window (with workshop3.apr at the top). Under the File menu select New Project. Click on No - don't save the changes.


Exercise Five - A View of Tidbits Creek

Next we'll create a view using coverages available in your Arc/Info workspace. Here are some of the coverages and images available as themes in the "tidbits" subdirectory in your workspace:

  1. Click on the Views icon in the Project Window. Click on New. You may want to move and resize the empty View Window.
  2. Under the View menu choice, select Properties. In the View Properties window, Name your View, choose meters from the Map Units list, and meters from the Distance Units list. Click on OK.
  3. Click on the Add Theme button and navigate to your Arc/Info workspace. Scroll through the list of coverages to wsbound at the bottom. A file folder next to the coverage name indicates that more than one feature may be selected for display in ArcView. Click on the file folder next to wsbound. wsbound may be displayed as filled polygons, lines, or points at the center of the polygon. Click on arc. Click on OK.
  4. wsbound has been added to the table of contents of your View. Click on the check box to display wsbound. Click on the Add Theme button again. Decide what other themes you would like to display with wsbound to develop into a hard copy map. Select those themes from the list of coverages. Remember to open file folder for coverages with multiple features. To select more than one from the list press shift-select.

You're on your own to design your own map. Some suggestions might be to select large trees or clearcuts from a stands theme and display them with the shaded relief image - tbshade. The Fill Palette under the Legend Editor can provide cross-hatching that facilitates the display of overlapping polygon information. Check with your instructor for details on labeling features with attribute values. Be Creative because next we'll design a map layout that can be printed.


Exercise Six - Creating and Printing a Map

The Layout is an ArcView document that can incorporate all the other ArcView documents into a display that can be printed. The Layout makes map production very simple and quick.

  1. Once you are satisfied with the information in your View click on the Layout icon in the Project Window. Click on New. Resize the empty Layout Window. Note the different graphical user interface.
  2. Under the Layout menu choose Page Setup. Select the landscape page orientation and High output resolution. Click on OK.
  3. Locate the Frame tool. The frame refers to the outline or frame of a specific object located on the layout window. Frames can be specified for views, legends, scale bars, north arrows, charts, tables and pictures. Click and hold the Frame tool with the mouse select button.
  4. The View Frame is the first selection; slide to it and release the mouse button. On the layout grid, click and drag a box that outlines the portion of the layout your view will occupy. Select your view from the View Frame Properties window and click on OK.
  5. Return to the Frame tool and select the second icon, the Legend Frame. Click and drag a second box on your Layout grid for the Legend (overlap is ok). In the Legend Frame Properties Window, select your View Frame and click on OK.
  6. The third selection on the Frame tool menu is a Scale Bar. Select the Scale Bar Frame. Position the scale bar on the layout grid. In the Scale Bar Properties window, select your View Frame, choose a Style from the drop-down menu, and select kilometers as the Units. Click on OK.
  7. A North Arrow Frame is the fourth entry in the Frame tool menu. Select it and position it on the Layout grid. Select a north arrow from the North Arrow Manager window and click on OK.
  8. To add a title to your Layout choose the Text tool. Click on the Layout grid at the location to insert the title. Type the title in the Text Properties window and click on OK.
  9. Your title is probably much smaller than you'd like. As you might expect there are several ways to change the size; we'll explore one of them. Note the black square or 'handles" that surround the title. These indicate that the Text you've just entered is the selected element in the layout. (To select another element use the Select Frame or Graphic tool.)

  10. From the Graphics menu select Size and Position and in the window change the width to 7 inches and the height to 0.65 inches. Click on OK. Make additional adjustments to the title size, if necessary. If you want to adjust the size of any of the Frames in you Layout, use the same process. Add more text if you like.
  11. Optional: A trick for modifying a Text graphic is found back in the View GUI. Click on your View. Select the Legend Editor button. Double-click on any symbol in the Legend Editor window to bring up the Palette. Select the Font Palette - you'll know which one it is! Return to the Layout window and make sure that your text is selected. Click on a different Font on the Font Palette. Look at how the text in your layout changes. Try changing the Size and the Style. You can also bring up the Font Palette and choose the font, point size, and style before you enter the text.


Exercise Seven - Printing the Layout

 Printing small page-sized maps is an easy process in ArcView. We'll send our output to the HP color postscript printer in Rm 217. By default the graphics output from ArcView is in Encapsulated Postscript format. There is also an option for CGM format.

  1. Select the Print button. In the Print window enter the name of your Layout (the default Layout1 is likely the one unless you've named it), enter fsl217pscolor as the printer, and click on OK.
  2. Go to Rm 217 to pick up your map.
  3. Dismiss the Font Palette and Legend Editor windows.
  4. In the Project Window click on the Layouts icon. Under the Project menu choose Rename 'Layout1'. Enter a new name and click on OK. Under the File menu choose Save Project As. Once you are in your workspace directory, enter a new File Name using the .apr extension and click on OK.
  5. Return to the File menu and select Exit.
  6. Perform and Graceful Exit and log out.

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