I'm wondering if there is a way to create contours from a DEM using ArcGIS without 3D or Spatial Analyst Extensions.

I know that there are a few questions out there pertaining to this (How to create DEM from contours without ArcGIS Spatial Analyst licence?), but I'd like to specifically ask if there is a workaround for this. Like I said this is more of a curiosity type question. My organization is looking to cut budget and I personally would like to cut down on some of the ArcGIS licensing cost. Major projects that we do here are elevation related and we need this functionality. Like I said, QGIS can complete it, but some clients request the work be done in ArcGIS.

Currently I'm trying a mix of DEM to points to contours, but with no luck so far. Crunching a DEM to points is a long resource trying task so it's not optimal, but I think it may work. But after that I really need to find a way to go from point to contour. Is there a free ArcGIS add-in with a functionality like this?

  • 2
    Although not among the free functions, ET Geowizards and ET Surface both have functions for creating contours. Probably still a lot cheaper than buying SA or 3DA.
    – Martin
    Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 15:13

2 Answers 2


You can find contour tools in GME or ETgeowizard.

If you want to create contour from points, you could try reclassify your points into some height categories, then use dissolved buffer, but this will create artefacts. A proper way is to use Thiessen polygons, but this will require huge processing (and you'll need advanced licence).

  • 1
    ETgeowizard to the rescue again. You Shall Not Pass ESRI.
    – Cody Brown
    Commented Mar 24, 2014 at 19:04

For the contouring there are several open source solutions like CONREC from Paul Bourke, OPENCV has also a proper contouring algorithms and my stuff is also available. The more complex stuff, to build the regular mesh from a irregular point set can be done by triangulation and resampling with triangle or CGAL.

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