I've had this problem with ESRI base maps before but not this bad. The problem is that when I use an ESRI basemap as my backdrop, it looks fine in my MXD but when I export the map to PDF, JPG, or whatever format, the quality of the basemap in the export file is a lot worse than what I see on-screen in ArcGIS. Here's the most recent, egregious example:

What I see in ArcMap: enter image description here

What it looks like in my exported PDF: enter image description here

I've tried several things to solve this problem, and the result you see above is the best I can do:

  • Turning up the export quality on the PDF to 600dpi or higher
  • Exporting to JPG, or to TIF with no compression at all
  • Clearing my cache on the basemap layers I'm using
  • Printing to the Adobe PDF print driver rather than using Export to PDF

Some people apparently have this problem due to a slow internet connection, but since I can see the tiles in my MXD and they look fine, I don't think that's my problem.

Is there something I'm missing?

  • 1
    In the Export Map options, there's a slider for Output Image Quality (Resample Ratio) - Is that slider set to Best? If I set that slider halfway and export a PDF, my image looks just like yours.
    – Mintx
    Commented Apr 4, 2013 at 22:38
  • Yep, I have it turned all the way up. I'll try varying it.
    – Dan C
    Commented Apr 5, 2013 at 2:15
  • Try this help.arcgis.com/en/arcgisdesktop/10.0/help/index.html#/… in you Python window. There are JPG compression option, image comression option.
    – Tomek
    Commented Apr 5, 2013 at 8:34
  • Export to tiff then convert tiff to PDF using Acrobat Pro. (cannot be jpeg or a bitmap. Acrobat renders tiff really well resulting in the best quality and smallest file size.) Seems like a very static and a cumbersome procedure but it is the best way to produce a PDF from ArcMap. Only Adobe Acrobat rendered and Nitro 7 and greater (not 6) yield good results. No other 3rd party tiff to PDF converter works as well. Commented Apr 5, 2013 at 14:20
  • 1
    hey Mintx, turning the Output Image Quality to 1:2 (halfway between Normal and Best) actually worked better than anything else, if you want to submit that as an answer I'll accept it.
    – Dan C
    Commented Apr 9, 2013 at 15:49

1 Answer 1


I've been having a similar problem. Might not be 100% applicable to your problem, but I figure it's related enough for folks that stumble across this question..

According to one of the posters on an ESRI blog, "vector layers with a transparency are rendered as rasters in ArcMap". So turn the transparency off, export the map into Illustrator, and change it there.

Hope that helps someone.

Source: http://blogs.esri.com/esri/arcgis/2007/09/20/tips-for-exporting-to-adobe-illustrator-format-ai-so-cymk-colors-are-maintained/

  • More details on print and export quality settings and their rasterization effects at gis.stackexchange.com/a/218617/108. Not posted here because this Q is basemap layers, not regular layers. Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 23:05

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