Fonts in ArcGIS symbols

By Aileen Buckley, Mapping Center Lead

Fonts in ArcGIS Symbols - Thumbnail

There are three primary building blocks of standard symbols in ArcGIS – colors, fonts, and graphic files. In this article, we focus on fonts for standard 2D symbols in ArcGIS. In other blog entries, we discuss colors and pictures in ArcGIS symbols. Here, we discuss fonts used in character marker symbols, marker line symbols, and marker fill symbols. We also discuss the need to install fonts so that symbols display correctly and to embed fonts in shared output documents.

Things are a little different for 3D symbols and symbols in cartographic representations, so here we are really focusing on fonts for 2D standard symbols in ArcGIS.

What a font is

A font is a complete set of characters in a particular size and style of type. You’re probably familiar with fonts such as Arial or Times New Roman. All fonts contain glyphs, but in some fonts the glyphs are pictorial rather than alphanumeric (figure 1). Be aware that not all fonts contain all the characters in another font.  For example, font you choose to use for the English language may not contain diacritical marks that would be required for another language.

Fonts in ArcGIS Symbols - Figure 1

Figure 1. The Esri US Forestry 2 font contains graphic glyphs rather than alphanumeric glyphs

How fonts are used in ArcGIS symbols

Fonts can be used to create what are called character marker symbols in ArcGIS. These can be used to symbolize points (figure 2).

Fonts in ArcGIS Symbols - Figure 2

Figure 2. A character marker symbol in the Symbol Property Editor dialog

Character marker symbols can also be used to symbolize lines and polygons.  Character markers symbols can be placed along lines in marker line symbols in marker line symbols (figure 3), although this is not a very common use of fonts in ArcGIS symbols.

Fonts in ArcGIS Symbols - Figure 3

Figure 3. A marker line symbol

More often, they are used to create patterns in marker fill symbols (figure 4). The character markers in these symbols can be gridded (e.g., trees in an orchard) or random (e.g., trees in a forest).

Fonts in ArcGIS Symbols - Figure 4

Figure 4. A marker fill symbol

There are a few things you should know about fonts before you use them to create ArcGIS symbols.

Types of fonts

There are many different kinds of fonts, but ArcGIS uses either TrueType, OpenType or TypeOne fonts.  You can tell what kind it is by the icon shown in the font drop down in the Symbol Property Editor dialog box (figure 5).

Fonts in ArcGIS Symbols - Figure 5

Figure 5. The type of font is identified by the icon

Adding fonts to the fonts directory

For symbols to appear correctly in ArcMap, the fonts that are used in marker symbols need to be installed in the fonts directory on your computer.  This is usually located in C:WindowsFonts. To install the font, right-click the font file or files (e.g., esri_135.ttf), and click Install which will automatically copy the files into the fonts directory (figure 6).

Fonts in ArcGIS Symbols - Figure 6

Figure 6. Installing fonts in the Windows fonts directory

Sharing ArcGIS documents with character marker symbols

A critical thing to know is that if you want to share your ArcMap, ArcScene, or ArcGlobe document with others, they also need to have the font on their machine in order for the symbol to appear correctly.  If they don’t, the marker symbol will undergo a font substitution and will be replaced with a character from a different font. Don’t forget that you may need to check the permission on the font you want to share.

Sharing exported maps

If you want to share a map that you export, you can embed the font in the output document so that users who do not have fonts installed on their computer can still view the proper symbology.

The ten supported export formats for ArcMap are listed below.

File format Does the format support font embedding?
AI (Adobe Illustrator) NO—The Adobe Illustrator file format that ArcMap writes does not support font embedding
BMP (Microsoft Windows Bitmap) NA—BMP files are raster images, so no font embedding is required.
EMF (Windows Enhanced Metafile) NO—EMF does not support font embedding.
EPS (Encapsulated PostScript) YES—files exported from ArcMap support embedding.
GIF (Graphic Interchange Format) NA—GIF files are a legacy raster format, so no font embedding is required.
JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) NA—JPEG files are image files, so no font embedding is required.
PDF (Portable Document Format) YES—PDF exports from ArcMap support embedding of fonts.
PNG (Portable Network Graphics) NA—PNG is raster format, so no font embedding is required
SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) YES—SVG supports font embedding.
TIFF (Tagged Image File Format) NA—TIFF files are images, so no font embedding is required.

If you are exporting from ArcScene or ArcGlobe, you will create a raster graphic, so again, you do not need to worry about font embedding.

Sharing maps on the web

The font has to be installed on the server. Additionally, there may be a permission issue so check the font licensing to make sure you can share the font with others.

To learn more

Here are links to some other resources that relate to using fonts in ArcGIS:

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Leave a Reply


  1. lholcombe says:

    Can you share any insights as to why .ai doesn’t allow font embedding? It’s ultimately an unimportant feature, because Illustrator can handle EPS and PDF just as well as .ai – I’m just curious.

    • abuckley says:

      Our software development team tells me:

      The reason is that the version of. AI that we support is the last publicly specified version before Adobe closed the standard. Their newer format may support embedding (I honestly don’t know whether it does or not), but we cannot update our exporter to support it since the standard is no longer public. The recommended interchange workflow is to export to PDF and import into Illustrator.

  2. Pingback: Updated NPS style | ArcGIS Resource Center

  3. joseph_kinyon says:


    Great article, thanks for posting!

    Also, the explanation about where Adobe Illustrator file export tools are arrested in their development because of the last public standard was a great bit of trivia I always wondered about. I’ve been embedding fonts to PDF as long as that function has been available in the export tool with great success.

    I’ve recently had a problem when embedding to SVG. I’ll embed one font and when I open the exported file it will be another, e.g. Tw Cen MT displays as Times New Roman.

    As a test, I tried Tahoma instead because it is so ubiquitous and found that it will embed and can be viewed when exported form ArcGIS but the other will not.

    Is there something about some fonts or protections that are happening that cause font embedding to fail without warning?

    If I export to PDF, no problem. If I import that PDF exported from ArcGIS into Adobe Illustrator and save as SVG with fonts embedded it works beautifully and the crisp fonts aid legibility even when zoomed out.

    Any thoughts on that oddity?


  4. abuckley says:

    Hi, Joseph:

    Glad you liked the article! It looks like you found a bug in the software. :-( At this point, please report it through the normal support channels. Thanks for catching this!

  5. p.schumacher says:

    After reading this amd any research,
    i’m asking myself, if i can user MS fonts for symbolysing layer symbols on an WebMap.

    Depending to this article
    i have to license this for server use ?
    For example using Windings

    Any ideas ?

  6. abuckley says:

    The answer depends on a couple of things: 1) how are you sharing your map services, and 2) where are you sharing it to? For example, are you sharing your map services to and ArcGIS Online subscription account or an ArcGIS server, and if so are you sharing them directly from ArcMap using the File > Share As > Service option?

    If this is the case, then I can tell you a couple of things here:
    1) You cannot share font-based symbols as feature services; they have to be served as tiled services. In this case, the map is served as a set of rasterized images, so the look of the symbol will be preserved and there is no need to have the fonts on the server.
    2) If you share the services to an ArcGIS server, you can serve them as either dynamic or cached services (serving them dynamically from the map is the same as serving a feature service, and serving them as tiles in a cache is the same as serving them as tiled services.) If you share as a cached service, the same thing happens as in #1 in the case of tiled services. If you share them as feature services, then you need to have the font installed on the server in order for them to display properly.

    On the other hand, maybe your question is geared more towards “can Microsoft sue me for serving maps with WingDings symbols”? Since the embedding license says “editable embedding allows” I think you are the clear on that question.

  7. iswanson89 says:

    How to you install a font on the server?

  8. abuckley says:

    I am not sure about server, but for your computer, you can usually just right-click the font file and select Install. Or you can copy it into the C:\Windows\Fonts directory and then right-click it and select Install.

  9. estetser says:

    I have been looking for a set of symbols related to buildings/facilities and haven’t found quality symbols for things such as toilets, sinks, water heaters, electrical panels, floor drains, etc. I have had mixed success using BMP or PNG image clips as symbols.
    Do you have any recommendations for a font editor software for creating new symbols? At the moment, I am focused on 2D for ArcMap but 3D is also on the horizon and would be of interest as well for use in ArcGIS Pro.

    • abuckley says:

      We don’t make any editor recommendations per se. There are so many editors and creative apps out there. Typically, for the 2D, there are high-functioning editors (FONTLAB) to simplified editors like High-Logic’s Font Creator and so forth, as for the 3D modeling items, again there are many complex programs like 3D Studio MAX or a faster learning curve and easier like SketchUp and a plethora of others. There are symbol sets for facilities items but they are owned by companies like AUTODESK and stem from CAD design ware. There are quite a number of places to start your designs.

      • kjohn says:

        Thanks for the article Aileen, I’m trying to design a custom font using fontforge right now for use in ArcMap, but one issue I’m running into is for non symmetrical symbols I can’t define the center of the symbol. It appears that the center of a bounding box around the glyph is what arcmap uses as the center of the symbol; I’d like to define the center of my symbol somewhere else. Any tips or tricks you can share?

  10. dmstevenson says:

    Hi Aileen, great article and thanks for posting. Just wanted to ask about MS Office fonts.

    I am running multiple virtualizations for testing different versions of ArcGIS with my workflows, custom scripts, etc. There is no need to reinstall MS Office on all the VMWAREs when they are only used for testing different versions of ArcGIS ex. 10.3.1, 10.4, 10.5, etc..

    Did you or other ESRI staff ever notice that without MS Office installed that ArcGIS is missing multiple fonts from the symbol selector ex. Arial-Narrow, Baskerville Old Face, etc.?

    Do you know of a way around this?

    I am kind of surprised that ESRI’ core product does not work properly without this 3rd party program installed in Windows. Should not these fonts be included as standard in ESRI’s ArcGIS installation?

    • abuckley says:

      We only install the Esri fonts with our software. For us to install the MS Office fonts would be a violation of Microsoft’s copyright, just as installing the ArcGIS fonts on a machine without ArcGIS would be a violation of the copyright protection stated within our fonts.

      Did you or other ESRI staff ever notice that without MS Office installed that ArcGIS is missing multiple fonts from the symbol selector ex. Arial-Narrow, Baskerville Old Face, etc.?
      Yes, they would be missing from the symbol selector. This is not a defect due to the reason stated above.

      Do you know of a way around this?
      I can’t say, as doing so would violate Microsoft’s copyright.

      I am kind of surprised that ESRI’ core product does not work properly without this 3rd party program installed in Windows. Should not these fonts be included as standard in ESRI’s ArcGIS installation?
      Our core product is working properly. For text and labels, it will “fallback” to the first font it finds, usually Arial since that is often the first one listed alphabetically. As stated above, installing these fonts with ArcGIS would violate Microsoft’s copyright protection.