I'm wondering if there's a way to intersect two polygon layers, take the intersection, and remove that from one of the polygon layers, making a new layer out of whatever is left over?

Basically, the idea I have is one of "punching holes" in a map of Africa where the holes are points around which I construct some sort of buffer.

Is there a built-in or user created script for this using ArcGIS Desktop 10.0?

2 Answers 2


It sounds like you want Symmetric Difference

wikipedia symmetric difference diagram

In ArcGIS you could use the Symmetrical Difference tool http://resources.arcgis.com/en/help/main/10.1/index.html#//00080000000r000000

QGIS has it too:

QGIS Interface


This sounds like the Symmetrical Difference (Analysis) tool which requires an Advanced license of ArcGIS Desktop.

If you need to do this using a Basic or Standard license then use Union instead, and Select out just those features with attributes from one or other but not both input feature classes.

Also, the "punching holes" term suggests that Erase may also do what you require but once again you need an Advanced license. This is another license limitation that can be easily worked around using the Union and Select tools with a Basic level license.

A key difference between Erase and Symmetrical Difference (and Union) is that attributes of only one input are retained in the output.

  • Good that you mentioned Erase. That seems to be the answer.
    – 0kcats
    Dec 14, 2013 at 18:28

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