Convert an ArcGIS Pro Map to a Multi-Layered Photoshop Document

IGIS Tech Notes describe workflows and techniques for using geospatial science and technologies in research and extension. They are works in progress, and we welcome feedback and comments below.

by Andy Lyons

Supporting Clients Who Don't Have ArcGIS Pro

ArcGIS Pro is great tool for designing maps to print or view on a screen. Embedding your map somewhere else is easy also. After you've finalized the design, you just click 'Share' to export the map into almost any image file format out there - PDF, TIFF, PNG, EPS, etc.

We routinely export maps as image files for all manner of projects. But once exported, the images themselves are not that easy to modify. We can easily go back to ArcGIS Pro and modify the design, but if our client wants to edit the map themselves, they either need to know how to ArcGIS Pro, or come back to us. Sometimes neither of these is a good option!

One way around this problem is to convert the map into a multi-layered Photoshop Document. Each layer of the map becomes a separate layer in Photoshop with a transparent background. Photoshop allows you to stack layers in any order you want, turn them on and off, tweak the colors for individual layers, etc. If the client wants to add additional labels or graphics, they can put those on new layers. It's not a slick or as easy as composing a map with GIS software, but the basic functionality is there.

This Tech Note describes exactly how to do this, so if this is something that interests you, read on!


Step 1. Design Your Map in ArcGIS Pro

The first step is to design your map in Pro. As with any map design, think about how it will ultimately be viewed, how large it will appear, how much detail you can add, etc. If you want to include labels that can be turned on or off in Photoshop independent of the features, be sure to make those a separate layer (i.e., make a copy of the layer with labeled features but the features themselves are transparent). Also make sure the map itself has a transparent background (Map properties >> General >> Background Color).

In the example below, we've designed a map that will be ultimately be shown on PowerPoint slides. Hence there are no labels and the symbology has been kept minimalistic. Each point location type has been turned into an individual layer (using definition queries), to make it easy to turn them on and off later when we export them as individual TIFs.


The ArcGIS Pro map we want to convert to Photoshop


Step 2. Create a Layout for Your Map

Although you can export ArcGIS Pro map objects as image files, it's better to put the map in a Layout. This is because Layouts can be exported with transparent backgrounds (an essential characteristic in our case), while maps can not.

Create the Layout in the usual way. If you don't want your Photoshop document to have lots of blank space around the edges, you'll have to fidget with the size the map frame to be proportionate with the features in your map, and tweak the page size of the Layout to match the aspect ratio of your map frame (Layout Properties >> Page Setup >> Custom).

Below we've created a Layout that's been given a custom page size to have a thin border around the map frame:


Create a layout sized to fix the extent of the map


Export Map Settings

Step 3. Export the layers as individual TIF files


Next you want to export the layout one time for each layer. In other words, manually turn all the layers off except for one, then export the Layout to a TIF. Repeat again for the next layer, and continue until you have one TIF file for each layer in your map. Because they'll all have the same dimensions as the layout, they'll be ready to 'stack' in Photoshop.

A few key export settings to take note of:

  • File type: select TIFF or PNG (both of which are lossless and both of which support transparency)

  • Transparent background: checked

  • Image compression: LZW is a good default. Don't use JPEG, which is lossy and you won't get the benefits anyway when the images are stacked and saved as a non-lossy PhotoShop document.

  • Resolution: Tweak the DPI to get your desired output dimensions. For content destined to go on slides, aim to fit within 1920 x 1080. All layers need to exported with the same DPI so they'll have the same dimensions in Photoshop.

  • Color depth: make sure to use 32-bit with Alpha (the only option which supports transparency).


When you're done with Step 3, you should have one TIF with a transparent background for each layer of your map.


Step 4. Import and Stack the TIFs in Photoshop

In Photoshop, select File >> Scripts >> Load Files into Stack. Click the 'Browse' button and select your TIFs. Click OK and Photoshop will import your images, making each one a separate layer. If you missed one, you can add an additional layer to an existing Photoshop document with File >> Place Embedded.


Load the TIFs into Photoshop with File >> Scripts >> Load Files into Stack


Once the images are all in, you can rearrange the layers, click the eyeballs to turn them on or off, rename them, etc. Don't forget to save your work as a Photoshop document. You can now use Photoshop's significant menu of tools to make as many custom versions of your map as you'd like!


Photoshop stacks the layers to reassemble the map. Ready to edit!


This work was supported by the USDA - National Institute of Food and Agriculture (Hatch Project 1015742; Powers).

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