In ArcMap 10.7, I have built a map and created more than 40 layers e.g. for grassland, forest, water, borders etc.

Now I'd like to save that map as a template without any polygons or lines but with all the layers and symbols, because I need to create hundreds of different maps that all use the same layers.

So what I want is: Open an EMPTY template with the layer structure ready to go, import a raster img and start digitize the environment, finish the map, save and move on to the next one.

PROBLEM: The layers always have the same data source, even when I re-import a layer package every time I start a new map. So when I finished my first map, open up my template to start working on the next one, it's not empty but all the features of the first map are in there. And if I delete all polygons/lines from the attribute table in map 2, I also delete them from my first map because the reference is the same.

What am I missing?? I just need an empty map with all my (empty) layers loaded as a starting point.

One possible solution: I would always have to change the data source for every layer to a new shp-file, so the previous project remains intact. As soon as I forget to re-set the data source I would destroy other maps and hours of work. Would also be a pain in the ### to change the data source every time.

PLEASE help. Even polyplot for DOS from the 90s can do it!

2 Answers 2


You cannot have a map (template or otherwise) that has a layer without any data source.

There are two ways that I can think of to have empty layers:

  1. The data source has no features
  2. The data source has been deleted (but the layer still points to it, and will have a red "!" next to it).

So you could set up your template using empty data source(s), or deleted data source(s) Or (my preference) use a data source that has one single template feature that illustrates the symbology/labels, etc, and which has attributes that make it clear it's ONLY a place-holder feature (eg, a name attribute might have the value "PLACE HOLDER ONLY").

This way, you cannot accidentally destroy/corrupt your real data, which is all in other, separate, data sources that are NOT used at all in your template MXD document.

Then you can change the data sources for all layers at once. To do this in ArcMap, right-click on the MXD document in the catalogue view, then choose 'Set Data Source(s)'.

The instructions for how this works are at: Setting data sources help.

  • Thanks for the suggestions! After a sleepless night I have found a good workaround that works for me without the need of re-setting data sources etc. I will post my workaround as an answer to my question. But thanks again for your input! Commented Feb 21, 2020 at 17:18

My workaround/solution:

  1. I have prepared my template map and exported it as a Map Package (.mpk). ArcMap stores everything in it, so I don't even have to worry about symbology and stuff.

  2. Next, I use the Data Management Tool "Extract Package" where I can set an Input (my "Empty-Map.mpk) and also an output (that's important). I create a new output-folder with the name of my new project and extract the .mpk there.

  3. I start working an my new project with everything referenced to the output-folder of step 2.

  4. Once I am ready for the next project, I simply create a new output folder and extract my Empty-Map.mpk again.

Now I can work on as many projects as I want with the same empty template and won't destroy older maps, because the paths are always different. Also, it's quite convenient to have everything in one place instead of looking for data in various default folders.

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