In ArcMap 10.2 for desktop, I wish to create an editable layer to add a simple shape to. As of right now, I have a basemap layer and my selected basemap. However, since the basemap layer is not editable on its own (via the Editor toolbar), I am unsure of how to proceed to make a square.

My question is: how do I draw a square on my map? I would like to highlight an area by drawing a square to show the outline of it. Do I have to add a layer or shapefile? If so, how do I create a blank, editable layer or shapefile? It seems like there should be a simple method of drawing a polygon but I can't figure out how to.

For further explanation, I would essentially just like to draw a polygon as if I was doing so in Microsoft Paint then change the color of the outline and set the fill color to be transparent.

Edit: I am trying to create a locator map (I already have a separate data frame for it) and I am also relatively new to ArcMap 10.2.

  • Look at the Draw toolbar. After drawing a rectangle you can right click on it and select Properties to change its symbology, its size and other properties.
    – John
    Commented Sep 9, 2015 at 16:43
  • Going a bit further along with @johns comment, how else do you want to use these polygons? Are they just for displaying on a map for that document, or do you wish to store data along with them. Are you going to share them? In other words, do you need a feature class or just some graphics? Commented Sep 9, 2015 at 16:48
  • I just need a square as a graphic. Just to highlight an area. This data frame is just a locator map so I can show where the location is in the world. Commented Sep 9, 2015 at 16:49

2 Answers 2



You would go into layout view (not data view) and then make sure your drawing box is available, if it is not you need to goto customize -> toolbars -> draw and add it. Then just use the rectangle feature and draw what you want around it.

Now if you are doing a locator map ( i couldnt figure that out from your post) i would probably suggest adding two data frames to your map and doing an inset map, here is a tutorial http://www.teachmegis.com/tiptricks/AddingAnInsetMap.pdf

  • You can draw in either layout view or data view. The difference is in how the shape is drawn relative to the map. Shapes drawn in data view are drawn in map units (feet, meters, etc) and will maintain their size when the map scale is changed. Shapes drawn in layout view are drawn in layout units (inches, cm) and are drawn relative to the layout - not the map scale. So if the scale of the map changes the size of the shape remains the same.
    – Kevin
    Commented Sep 9, 2015 at 17:42

You can draw directly onto the map using the Draw toolbar. Just double click on your shape after you draw it to edit it's properties. From the sound of it, you'll be able to figure it out from there.

ESRI has a helpfile about creating a new shapefile if you'd prefer to go that route.

Also, you can convert your shapes (drawn from the drawing toolbar) to shapes later if you want to. Instructions on that here.

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