ArcGIS Online

How to make a grayscale or monochrome basemap

There are myriad reasons to choose to map atop a grayscale or monochrome basemap. Maybe you want your whole map to live within the visual constraints of various tones within a single hue, like this map of the Appalachian Trail. Daniel Huffman does into detail on the aesthetic challenges and benefits of this approach. Or maybe you want your basemap to be more of a stage for your thematic data and going grayscale (or monochrome) helps reduce its visual prominence and best sets a spartan stage for the content you layer atop (Andy Skinner and I pivot a recurring presentation on choosing basemaps on this base-map vs base-map functional consideration, and it’s one of the main drivers behind Firefly cartography).

Whatever the reason, the result can be beautifully restrained and useful in all sorts of ways. And it’s mega easy to do.

0:00 The voice of an angel
0:06 Question from customer Christopher Wilson: Can I make a basemap grayscale?
0:18 How to set a map’s background color in the ArcGIS Online Map Viewer Beta
0:36 Applying a “luminosity” blend mode to the basemap
1:08 Pow! A grayscale basemap!
1:27 Playing with the background color to make monochrome basemaps of any hue
1:41 How do you do it in ArcGIS Pro (2.7 or later)?
1:46 Applying a blend mode to the basemap
2:01 Changing the map’s background color to get crazy

Thanks to Christopher for the great question which prompted this video! Often it’s easier to show something than it is to say it—especially when blend modes make this a snap. So monochrome away! It can be a wonderful and practical version of your basemap.

Love, John

About the author

I have far too much fun looking for ways to understand and present data visually, hopefully driving product strategy and engaging users. I work in the ArcGIS Living Atlas team at Esri, pushing and pulling data in all sorts of absurd ways and then sharing the process. I also design user experiences for maps and apps. When I'm not doing those things, I'm chasing around toddlers and wrangling chickens, and generally getting into other ad-hoc adventures. Life is good. You might also like these Styles for ArcGIS Pro:

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