GEOG 863:
Web Application Development for Geospatial Professionals

5.2.2 3D Symbols


While the 2D Symbols discussed above are supported in 3D scenes, Esri recommends creating 3D Symbols instead. Symbolizing Point, Polyline and Polygon objects in 3D scenes should be done using PointSymbol3D, LineSymbol3D and PolygonSymbol3D objects, respectively.

Working with these objects is complicated by the fact that Esri programmed them such that they are created by combining one or more shapes into one symbol. In most cases, you’ll probably be satisfied using just one of the available shapes (e.g., a sphere, cylinder, cube, or cone). In a moment, we’ll have a look at a 3D depiction of the Jen & Barry’s data in which the symbols are composed in this way (as a single shape).

Before that though, let’s have a look at this ArcGIS blog post, which does the best job I’ve found of demonstrating the creation of symbols from multiple shapes. Unfortunately, the links to the live examples described in the post are broken, but we can get the gist of the idea from the post itself.

The first map screenshot depicts earthquakes in southern California. Each quake point is shown using a symbol composed of three circles: two red-hued ones on the interior and a third hollow one on the exterior. Just below the map screenshot is the code snippet that creates the symbol. Here is what you should note from this snippet:

  • A PointSymbol3D object is being created.
  • PointSymbol3D has a symbolLayers property that must be set to an array of objects.
  • The objects in the array are symbol layers. These are layers of shapes (similar in concept to what you’d work with in Photoshop or other image editors), not to be confused with the data layers we’ve discussed throughout the course.
  • In this case, the symbol layers are three IconSymbol3DLayer objects. There are several Symbol3DLayer classes in the API and we’ll discuss them momentarily.
  • As mentioned above, you’ll typically be content to create your symbol from just one symbol layer. Keep in mind that even if you have just one symbol layer, you still need to use an array (a 1-object array) to set the symbolLayers property.

Now that you understand the concept of a symbol layer, let’s talk about the types of symbol layers you can use to create symbols. For each geometry type (Point, Polyline, Polygon), it is possible to create a flat symbol (one that is based on 2D shapes) or a volumetric symbol (one that is based on 3D shapes). Here’s a table summarizing the symbol layer classes associated with the geometry types:

Geometry type Flat Volumetric
Point IconSymbol3DLayer ObjectSymbol3DLayer
Polyline LineSymbol3DLayer PathSymbol3DLayer
Polygon FillSymbol3DLayer ExtrudeSymbol3DLayer

The Point-related symbol layer classes (IconSymbol3DLayer and ObjectSymbol3DLayer) each have their shape defined by setting the resource property. This property is typically set using a primitive shape (circle, square, cross, x or kite for IconSymbol3DLayer; sphere, cylinder, cube, cone, inverted-cone, diamond and tetrahedron for ObjectSymbol3DLayer). For example:

{ primitive: “circle” }

It is also possible to set the resource property using an href value. For IconSymbol3DLayer, this would be the URL of an image. For ObjectSymbol3DLayer, this would be the URL to a 3D model (which could be constructed in ArcGIS Pro).

The color of the object is defined by setting the material property. For example, the circle in the first symbol layer in the blog post discussed above was made a 50%-transparent red color:

material: { color: [219,53,53, 0.5] }

The property used to size the object depends on the class. For IconSymbol3DLayer, the size property is used and can be set in either points or pixels. For example, the three circles that combine to form the PointSymbol3D in the blog post have sizes of 20, 8 and 50 points. For ObjectSymbol3DLayer, the object is sized through the setting of the width, height, and depth properties (all in meters).

When symbolizing your point data, you should consider how you want the symbols to appear as the user modifies the view’s tilt. By their nature, the volumetric Object3DSymbolLayer objects have a height, so they appear to extend above the ground (like a pushpin). With Icon3DSymbolLayer objects, you have the option of draping the flat symbol directly on the ground or billboarding it.  A draped symbol will become harder to see the more the view is tilted, while a billboarded symbol will always face the user, regardless of the scene’s tilt or heading.

Icon3DSymbolLayer objects will billboard by default. To obtain the draped look, you need to modify the elevationInfo property of the FeatureLayer you’re symbolizing so that its mode is changed from the default of "relative-to-ground” to “on-the-ground”. At the end of this section, you’ll find samples that demonstrate draping and billboarding the Jen & Barry’s cities.

Another design possibility is to float the symbol above the terrain by some height. This can be done by setting the FeatureLayer’s elevationInfo mode to “relative-to-ground” and offset to the desired height. This elevation offset sample demonstrates drawing points in scenes with an offset height.

For the line-related symbol layer classes (LineSymbol3DLayer and PathSymbol3DLayer), you have fewer options. Your main considerations will be the color (again, set through the material property), the width (set through the size property) and whether you want the line to be flat (LineSymbol3DLayer) or volumetric (PathSymbol3DLayer). A volumetric line symbol looks like a pipe, so it is most appropriate for depicting water/wastewater, oil and gas pipelines. As with points, lines can be floated above the surface (or “buried” underground using a negative offset).

Finally, there are the polygon-related symbol layer classes (FillSymbol3DLayer and ExtrudeSymbol3DLayer). As with the other symbol layer classes, the material property is used to set the color. Each of the classes has one additional important property. For the flat FillSymbol3DLayer class, that property is outline, which can be set using a JavaScript object defining the desired color and size (for the width) of the polygon outline. For the volumetric ExtrudeSymbol3DLayer class, the other important property is size, which defines how high above the surface the polygon should extend (in meters). A common use case for the ExtrudeSymbol3DLayer class is extruding building footprint polygons by their height. We’ll see an example later in this lesson.

Below are examples that show the Jen & Barry’s data in a 3D scene. In all cases, the highways are depicted using the flat LineSymbol3DLayer and the counties using the flat FillSymbol3DLayer, since there was no good reason to use a volumetric symbol. The examples demonstrate three different ways of symbolizing the cities, however.

Flat, billboarded city symbols

See the Pen Jen & Barry's 3D Billboarded Symbol Demo by Jim Detwiler (@jimdetwiler) on CodePen.

Flat, draped city symbols

See the Pen Jen & Barry's Draped 3D Symbol Demo by Jim Detwiler (@jimdetwiler) on CodePen.

Volumetric city symbols

See the Pen Jen & Barry's Volumetric 3D Symbol Demo by Jim Detwiler (@jimdetwiler) on CodePen.