Geospatial PDF

All PDFs exported from ArcGIS are geo-enabled (unless default settings have been modified) and can be used in any software that works with 'GeoPDFs.'

However, creating a Geospatial PDF designed specifically for digital use in an application like Avenza Maps follows a different workflow than creating a traditional paper map since it is not constrained by paper sizes. The Geospatial PDF should be designed with the user's area of interest and map scale in mind first with the "page" size determined second.

Operational needs will dictate the type of Geospatial PDF to be created. Once that determination is made, decide on the base map that best suits that type of map. For example, an IAP map will require topography, while transportation will need a roads layer. Aerial imagery can also be very beneficial for some maps. In some cases, the background on the topographic map can be made transparent and the topo can be displayed on top of aerial imagery.

The appropriate map scale for use on a mobile device also needs to be determined. Typical topo maps should be at 1:24k; aerial imagery may be 1:8k-12k; and a travel map may be 1:50k-100k.

Focus on the map scale the end-user needs to do their job. Since a PDF is a single static image, not a tile cache like a web map, there will be no additional information when a user "zooms in," only what's already there but bigger. This is why the scale is important, if the features, and labels are all sized for 8k, but the map needs to be used at 24k, everything will be far too small.

The last consideration is the “page size.” Since the map is designed for digital use only and not being printed, it does not need to adhere to a standard size. Rather than the paper size, the “page size” is determined by the area of interest and ArcMap/Pro allows you to set a custom page size to cover the area that you need. There is a trade-off between page size, scale, and output file size, so be sure to keep that in mind during this process. The PDF file should be compressed/optimized for easier distribution before being loaded onto devices for use on the fireline.

The map must still have all the standard map elements (STANDL SGD), however, a few modifications are useful. The title, legend, etc. need to be legible, but they don’t have to be large enough to read at a 1:1 scale. Additionally, the amount of white space around the borders can be minimized since there is no risk of a printer cutting it off.

Job Aids

  • SmallPDF – Online PDF Compression.
  • Create a Geospatial PDF from EGP – This is an excellent option for folks that do not have access to a GISS and want to create a quick map for use in Avenza. Perfect for first responders or to use as folks get dispatched to an incident. The Geospatial PDF gets emailed directly to the user. A fast and simple way to get firefighters the map they want.
  • Geospatial PDF – One page with Pictures.
  • Geospatial PDF – One page with Text.


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