View GeoPDF Files in ArcMap

07-28-2010 02:56 PM
Status: Under Consideration
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New Contributor III

GeoPDF formatted data represents a large and growing source of information. The US Geological Survey is creating all new US Topo products in GeoPDF format and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency is releasing scanned map products in GeoPDF format.

It would be a great help if ArcMap would be able to display these GeoPDF products ... at least as a background map ... if not exploit their content further.


Thanks Paula,

I've tested it with both 300 and 600 dpi and they work well too. Higher dpi

will be needed if only using a portion of the quad to avoid


Lots of settings to test to hit on the right ones, but sure am glad that

this is finally available within Arc.




This is all good and fine if you want a flattened raster representation of the vector GeoPDF. With this method we lose layers and clarity or crisp vector lines. The USGS spent oodles of time and money to give us vector files and our option in Arc is to convert them back to raster? Come on ESRI, even AutoCAD loads pdfs as linked documents! Would love to easily load a native GeoPDF for reference.


Good point Joel.

Blue Marble Global Mapper opens the GeoPDF as a layered file, but

unfortunately you cannot export it in a format that retains the layering

and is useful in ArcGIS.



When I used Global Mapper in the past, the output was at least separated by color and we could turn off the various "layers" by changing the color for it.  Not elegant, but it worked.  We have previously removed the imagery layer. 

Where are you finding the USGS Vector files that make up the USTopo pdfs?


It has been pointed out that the PDF to TIFF tool in Arc does not retain the layered structure of the GeoPDFs that can be downloaded from the National Map website. This is completely true, the file that is created is a "normal" raster file. 

In Global Mapper the GeoPDF is opened with all the layers intact and accessible. In an opening dialog box you can elect to turn on or off any of the layers. This is particularly important if the desire is to join multiple quads to cover a larger area, or as always seems to be the case, the field location is EXACTLY at the corner of 4 adjoining quads. If you turn off the border and marginalia data layers as you open the GeoPDFs and the quads will composite nicely with seamless joins between adjacent quads. 

Unfortunately, you cannot export a layered file from Global Mapper that ArcGIS will read. So if you need to join multiple quads, do this in Global Mapper and then export the finished composite, or a defined area, from Global Mapper to then open the exported file in ArcMap.

I'm guessing that the TerraGo extension to ArcMap may allow ArcMap to open GeoPDFs in their original layered format, but have never tried the extension. 



The Topo Map Vector Data products are one specific type of staged product intended for a variety of GIS and cartographic applications, including use with the Topo TNM Style Template. These products are staged at a 7.5-minute footprint that corresponds with a single US Topo Map extent. They will contain four feature datasets that include feature classes from all TNM Vector data themes, including Elevation Contours, Government Units (Boundaries), Woodland Tint polygons, Structures, Transportation, Hydrography, TNM Derived Names, and 7.5-minute map cells.


The TNM Style Template creates, in Arc, a semi-reasonable copy of the published GeoPDF.  The template is generic, meant to be used nationwide. But, the downloadable map vector packages are unique to each, for now, 7.5-minute quad cell and contains most of the data used to create the GeoPDF quad. To use the template, you will need to connect the data links to the downloaded datasets and customize some settings specific to your quad, but all the data, symbolization and labeling are right there. The absolute best part is that you can copy and paste USGS FGDC symbolized data layers from the template into any ArcMap project. I see this as a far better base map alternative to the DRGs we are currently using.


It appears that various vector and polygon data are fully editable. However, before editing any of the data, I strongly suggest checking the data against the orthorectified image(s) provided in the template. The imagery is actually provided as a map service from TNM (not sure if the imagery is routinely updated).

I hope it's helpful!



Victoria V. Neboga | Senior Geologic Scientist PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Bureau of Topographic and Geologic Survey 3240 Schoolhouse Road | Middletown, PA 17057 Phone: (717) 702-2026 E-mail:

Our office often has need for the latest USGS topo quads for fieldwork.  We use quadrangle geotiffs for basemaps in geologic mapping.  We found that there are few, if any, freeware tools to convert GeoPDF to geotiff, and the commercial products never did the job precisely as we needed it done. I turned to a relatively easy scripting method to dissemble the USGS GeoPDF quads into the layers we needed, and convert the file to geotiffs.  With some experimentation I found I could write a few command-line script templates that meet our needs, and simply add the source file name to the script.  Don't be put off by "command line script."  It is not rocket science.
Several complicating factors due to inconsistent source PDF file formats makes this solution attractive because many commercial software solutions assume your source GeoPDF conforms to standards set forth by TerraGo and other pioneers in the field.  The fact is that many USGS GeoPDF files do not strictly conform to these original standards, and the file structures tend to change with time and editions.  The command line scripting makes it relatively simple to accommodate the varying formats.  
I'm not going to list everything you need to do to get results.  There are several people who already figured this out and posted the procedure on the web.  I will just explain what is needed to prepare for the task.  If this puts you off, then you will have to choose another method.
The scripting solution I use requires installing an open source graphics package that is used by almost all commercial mapping programs and many graphics editors.  This program is called GDAL, available from .
There are various packages available for special purposes and most operating systems.  For this task, the best source to select is from
 .  The most recent stable releases or stable branches.  If you are uncomfortable or flat-out scared to do this installation, ask for some help; many of our colleagues know what this package does and how to get it running.  You need to make sure the GDAL release you select for installation is version 1.10 or newer and includes the Geospatial PDF driver ( ) for the version you select. 
With GDAL installed. the process involves examining your USGS GeoPDF source file for the names of the layers included in the file, the map projection and the coordinates of the neatline surrounding the map.  This is done by using a few simple tools built into GDAL to extract this information and use it in your script.  You select the layer names you want to convert, choose what color information, projection, resolution, file format,etc. you need for you output.  Can insert these values into a script template by copy-and-pasting, and execute the script to produce the desired geotiff, or what ever other geo-format (geojpeg, geobmp, etc) you want.  Fortunately, USGS is consistent in what projections they use in GeoPDFs, so that can be part of the script template if desired.  The least consistent part of USGS PDF formats are layer names, and their visibility.  That is what makes a single solution difficult to produce.  
If this sounds promising, have a look at the detailed instructions other have put on the web, and you can decide if you want to try this.  Here are some links:
Older but useful links:
I can try to answer questions, give help, and post example scripts if anyone needs help.