Calculating Polygon Area in ArcMap

Caitlin Dempsey


You can easily calculated geometry in ArcMap with a few simple steps.  Calculating geometry in ArcGIS allows you to find the area and perimeter of your polygons.

Here are the steps for calculating the area of a polygon using ArcGIS.  These steps can also be replicated for calculating the perimeter of a polygon or the length of a line file.  

You can use these steps to find out the acreage of a polygon by loading in a GIS dataset that uses a map projection that uses US customary units (e.g. is in feet).

How to Calculate the Area of Polygon in ArcMap

First, open up an ArcGIS session and load in the polygon data you want to calculate the area on.  Make sure your data is in a projection system.

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Select the polygon layer to calculate area

Next, select the polygon file that you want to calculate area on and right click.  This will open up a menu of options for that layer.  

Select the “Open Attribute Table” to open up the associate attribute data for your polygon layer.

Screenshot showing how to right click on a GIS data layer in ArcMap to see the menu.

Add a field to your polygon GIS layer

In the upper left hand corner of the attribute table window, click on the Table Options icon to open up the menu options.  Select the “add field” option.

Screenshot from ArcMap showing how to add a field.

When the “add field” dialogue box appears, type in the name of the field that will store the area values (e.g. name it “area”).  Select “double” as the field type.  

Next, set your precision and scale values. Precision is the total number of digits that can be stored in the field, counting on both sides of the decimal place. A precision of 3 means that there can be at maximum number of digits can be 3.  

Scale for floating and double fields is the number of digits to the right of the decimal place.  It is always better to overestimate the fields to avoid truncation of your values.  Enter your values and hit the “OK” button to add the new field.

Screenshot showing the "add field" interface in ArcMap.

Use the “calculate geometry” option from the ArcGIS menu

Right click on the new field and select the “calculate geometry” option on the menu. Click “Yes” to move past the editing session warning that pops up.

Screenshot showing the "calculate geometry" menu item in ArcMap.

Make sure you are working with projected GIS data before calculating area

Note: If you are working in a geographic coordinate system, you will not be able to calculate geometry.  The calculate area and perimeter options will be disabled. ArcGIS uses planimetric algorithms to calculate geometry such as area and perimeter.

Screenshot showing the calculate geometry interface in ArcMap.

To be able to calculate area, you will need to work with projected GIS data.  There are two ways to do this: either load in projected data or load the data into a data frame that has a projected coordinate system (PCS) assigned to it.

To set a PCS on a data frame, right click on the layer icon and select “properties” from the drop down menu.  Then select the “coordinate system” tab and select a coordinate system from the options.

Screenshot showing the steps to change the coordinate system in ArcMap.

Once you have set the requisite PCS, go back to the attribute field, right click on the designated empty area field to re-select the calculate geometry option.  

Calculate geometry window in ArcGIS

In the “calculate geometry” window, select the “area” option from the drop down menu at the top of the form.  

Then select the PCS you want to use in your calculations.  This can either be the PCS for the data layer or the data frame.

Select the units for the area calculation

Finally, select the units you want the area calculation to be in.  The units available for selection will be compatible with the PCS units.  

If you want acreage, make sure your PCS is in feet and then select the acreage option in the drop down for units.

Hit the “OK” button to run the area geometry calculation.

Screenshot showing the settings for calculate geometry in ArcMap.

The area calculation will then run and your area field will be populated with the area values.

Screenshot showing the calculated values for area in a column.

Calculate Area for a Polygon in ArcGIS 9.3

This video demonstrates how to calculate the area of a polygon using ArcGIS 9.3.  

The video has no sound so make sure you select the “full screen” option in the lower righthand corner to see the steps taken to calculate geometry.

See Also

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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.