ArcGIS Online

A Technique For Toning Down Your Basemaps

We’re working on some new basemap styles and capabilities that will offer additional basemap choices to create a better backdrop for certain kinds of information. The one shown below was used in our recent Super Bowl Edition FanMap:

Note that the basemap is a dark slate gray, with muted colors used throughout that allows the symbols to show more clearly, and also doesn’t compete with the primary information subject of the map – fan votes for Superbowl favorites.

Recently someone asked me how to tone down the World Imagery basemap to make their symbols “pop” and wondered if there was a way to darken things a bit. That ended up being a great enhancement request, and we’ll be adding some additional options for you to control the brightness (and potentially more) in a future update. But here’s a little trick that you can use now.

Below is our basemap with several symbols used to show the route for a cross-town cycling event. We’re using the World Imagery basemap, and the symbols just don’t seem to “pop” as much as we’d like.

The imagery basemap is very bright and competes visually with our cycling route details. We toned down the basemap, and made it darker (as shown below) to make the symbols “pop.”

We’ve exaggerated the darkness a bit to make our point, but you get the idea. The symbols are definitely more visible with the darkened imagery basemap.

Ok, so how did we do it? It’s simple and there are two approaches you can take. One is to publish an ArcGIS layer service that’s a large, shaded polygon and add that to your map, adjusting the transparency for the desired effect. Another technique is to add a polygon map note, and adjust the transparency of the note feature. Both provide the desired result, and are simple enough to do.

Below is a webmap embedded in a public website that uses the same technique to make the symbols “pop.” This map uses a ArcGIS layer service that’s a partially transparent, off-white polygon.


About the author

Corporate technology evangelist and advocate at Esri, focusing on ways to broaden access to geographic information and helping customers succeed with the ArcGIS system. On a good day I'm making a map, on a great day I'm on one. Email or connect on LinkedIn (


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