I have 6 zones in the United States that I defined by clustering all US zip codes. I now need a shapefile that depicts each of these zones in a different color. Here is an illustration of what I would like the map to look like: enter image description here

What I am working with: A dataset containing every US zip code, their approx Long and Lat, and their zone designation. I have access to ArcGis 10. My knowledge of the software is limited, but I am a quick learner!

Ideally, what I would end up with is a single shapefile with each of the zones in a different color. The point of this is to use that shapefile in an app, which will project points onto a map of the US. That part I can do, I just need to user to be able to see which zone the point is in.

3 Answers 3


You need to use the Dissolve tool on your ZIP shapes, with the zone designation as the field to dissolve on. This assumes all your ZIP shapes are in a single shapefile/feature class.

If the ZIPs for each zone are in their own file/feature class, you can Dissolve without any attribute to create a single shape out of the entire zone (or start an edit session, select all polys from one zone, and use Edit > Merge which is different than the Merge GP tool), and then use the Merge GP tool as Farid Cher suggests to combine all the zones into a single file.

The Merge GP tool combines records from separate files into a single file. It does not alter geometries in any way (combine shapes). The Edit > Merge tool will combine selected geometries/records in single file into a single collective geometry/record (which may be multipart).

  • I haven't gotten as far as creating the zones/individual shapefiles. All I have is a dataset containing each US zipcode and what zone it is in. The picture I provided was an illustration of what I intend the zones to look similar to.
    – Remy Welch
    Commented Feb 23, 2015 at 13:51
  • @RemyWelch Please define "dataset". A spreadsheet? A dbf? A shapefile? If you have a shapefile (or feature class) of ZIP codes, and those features have an attribute that says what zone they belong to, then Dissolve is what you need to use as mentioned in the answer. If all you have is a spreadsheet or other tabular/non-geometric data, then that's the first thing you need to do - get a shapefile of the ZIP codes and join your data to it.
    – Chris W
    Commented Feb 23, 2015 at 20:12

You should use Merge Tool to merge all your shapefiles to a single shapefile.

enter image description here

Then use the unique values Renderer (color ramp) of ArcMap to render the map as you expected. To do so:

  1. Add your newly created shapefile (from merge tool) to the map
  2. right click the layer and then click properties
  3. follow the following image

enter image description here

  • Thank you for this part of the solution, however I haven't gotten as far as creating the zones/individual shapefiles. All I have is a dataset containing each US zipcode and what zone it is in. The picture I provided was an illustration of what I intend the zones to look similar to.
    – Remy Welch
    Commented Feb 23, 2015 at 13:52

I figured it out. I needed to load in a xls version of my dataset, with the zipcodes as a text field. This required importing the data into excel, not just opening it. I then imported the xls file into ArcGis, and joined it with an ArcGis shapefile of the US zipcode boundaries. I used "select attributes" to select all the zipcodes in one zone, then went to data> export data to export those selections into a single shapefile.

Now I can merge all of these zone shapefiles into one.

  • You did not specify what format your original 'dataset' is in, so I'm unclear on the need for Excel (which can cause more problems in some cases). ArcGIS should be able to import the info and define the ZIP field as text if done correctly. There's also no need to use the select by attributes and export to individual files. Dissolving on the zone ID field will produce the same result in a single step/file (though you may need to export the join results to a new shapefile for Dissolve to work correctly). It's also a little unclear if you wanted a shapefile per zone or all zones in one shapefile.
    – Chris W
    Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 0:49
  • My original dataset was just text, containing the three fields I named earlier. The issue was that ArcGis wasn't importing the zipcode field as string, rather as numeric. That was why I used excel, to change that field to string. Only once I figured that part out was I able to follow your instructions. I am still having trouble exporting a shapefile that has each zone in a different color, but I suspect that I can colorize the zones in R, which is where I am using the shapefile. Thank you for your help Chris!
    – Remy Welch
    Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 19:14
  • For that case you'd have to use what's known as a schema.ini file along with your text file (or csv, if it were that) which tells ArcGIS what data type to use for that field. Excel and formatting the column can do the same thing, but as mentioned Excel sometimes causes other issues. Shapefiles just store geometry and attributes, not appearance or symbology. Whether the zones are in one file or their own, their symbology has to be set in whatever program you're using them in (so yes, you can in R).
    – Chris W
    Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 20:41

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