ArcGIS Pro

How to make weird trippy terraced contour line things

Contour lines rule. Here’s how to punch them up with some insane hachure and shadow tricks.

0:00 Yes, it is…literally…freezing here in the glorious Mitten State. So much so that I sometimes don a fuzzy hat while the shed warms up. Speaking of absurd fuzzy hats, what if we made some absurd fuzzy contour lines? Let’s begin.

0:30 If we are going to have fuzzy contour lines (which are a throwback to those cool caterpillar mountain terrain techniques of our illustrious cartographic predecessors; serious folks call them hachures), we might as well also give the background a nice vintage yellowed parchment texture. Living Atlas is home to all manner of papery texture overlays that you can pull into your map to give it a charming tactile vibe.

0:50 Texture overlay a little too weak? No problem, just double it up by duplicating the layer (drag while pressing the control key). You can also apply a multiply blend mode to this if you didn’t want the basemap labels to get washed out, but I forgot to do that in this video.

1:06 Time to take a look at our contour lines. These lines were made using the Contour tool available in Spatial Analyst or 3D Analyst. If you are curious about how to crank out contour lines from a Digital Elevation Model input, including how to generalize the image before generating contours, then check out this video (and then just ignore all the following stuff laser cutters).

1:09 The vector symbology capabilities in ArcGIS Pro are bonkers. The key to going bonkers lies in the little “structure” tab which looks like a wrench. Therein, you can wrench all sorts of cool symbol layers and effects. We’ll use the “marker layer” to drop a little graphic at a regular interval along our line. These are the hacked makings of hachures (little hair-like lines that show the direction of a hill’s slope).

2:15 Hachures are cool and all, but when you burn them into your basemap with a blend mode all sorts of intriguing terrain textures emerge. The map gets a great scratchy appearance that reinforces the sense of elevation and slope orientation. You could stop here and have a pretty fun fuzzy hachure effect.

3:20 But why stop there? We can turn these contour textures up to eleven. That’s one louder. It gives it that extra push over the cliff. A gradient stroke provides a nice faux dropshadow effect at the rim of each contour line. Now the terrain looks like those cute paper cut maps or wood cut maps or something. It’s especially nice in areas of little terrain like the Great Plains.

Ok, have fun my terrain-obsessed map friends! 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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