Create your own Shapefile

If you wish to map certain points of interest, routes, or polygons but cannot find a shapefile, you can create your own.  This tutorial explains the steps involved in creating and editing a shapefile.

Step 1:  Creating your Shapefile

  1. Open ArcCatalog
  2. Navigate to your project folder
  3. From the menu, click File>New>Shapefile
  4. Give your shapefile a name and select a geometry based on what type of features you are trying to draw
  5. Use the Edit button to select the coordinate system that you are using in your ArcMap project

Step 2: Editing your Shapefile

  1. Add your shapefile to your ArcMap project
  2. Open the Attribute Table of your shapefile
  3.  Using the Attribute Table Options button, use the Add Field button to add fields you want to keep track of.  For example, if plotting metro stations, you may want to add a field for the name or number of the stop.
  4. Optional: Set the symbology of your fields now.  This will save time later when creating features.
  5. Turn on the Editor toolbar by going to Customize>Toolbars>Editor
  6. Click on the Editor button and push Start Editing
  7. Make sure your shapefile is selected in the Create Features window on the right
  8. The bottom of this window shows the different construction methods available for your shapefile.  Click on one to start drawing.  You’ll notice that your cursor turns into a cross.
  9. Click on your map to place a vertex.  You can place multiple vertexes to trace a route on your map.
  10. When finished drawing, right click and select Finish Sketch, alternatively you can push F2
  11. To edit the attribute table for the feature you just created push the Attributes icon on the Editor toolbar.
  12. All the editable fields for the feature you just created will appear.  This way you can label your features as you create them
  13. When you’re done creating features click on the Editor button on the Editor toolbar and select Save Edits, and then Stop Editing
  14. The symbology of the shapefile you just created can be manipulated like any other shapefile


  •  The snapping tool allows you to create features more accurately.  It will cause your cursor to snap to vertices, edges, and other features that you have created.  This will allow you to accurately place points on routes that you’ve created, or create polygons that do not overlap or have gaps between them.  To turn it on go to Customize>Toolbars>Snapping and turn the tool on in the toolbar that appears.
  • You can only edit the values in the Attribute Table of your shapefile while in Editing is turned on.
  • However, you cannot create new fields in the Attribute Table while Editing is turned on.  Create fields before starting an editing session.
  • If you set your symbology for your shapefile before you start the Edit session ArcMap will automatically create templates for your construction tool.