Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors
Filter by Categories
ArcGIS Pro

Projecting Data in ArcGIS Pro

A Comprehensive Guide to Projecting Data in ArcGIS Pro: Demystifying the “Project” and “Define Projection” Tools


Working with geographic data often involves dealing with various coordinate systems and projections. ArcGIS Pro offers two essential tools for this purpose: the “Project” and “Define Projection” tools. While both tools are related to projections, they serve different functions and are used in distinct scenarios. This blog post aims to provide a comprehensive guide on how to use these tools effectively, ensuring the accuracy and reliability of your GIS analyses.

Want to stay ahead of the geospatial curve? Listen to our podcast!

Understanding Projections

In the realm of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), a projection is a way to represent the Earth’s three-dimensional surface on a two-dimensional plane. Projections are crucial for accurate spatial analyses and are the backbone of any mapping activity. recommended further reading

The “Project” Tool


The “Project” tool is your go-to option for transforming spatial data from one coordinate system to another. This is especially useful when you’re integrating multiple datasets that need to be in the same coordinate system for analysis.

How it Works

The “Project” tool performs a mathematical transformation of the coordinates in your dataset, ensuring that the data aligns correctly in the new projection.

Step-by-Step Guide

  1. Locate the Tool: Open ArcGIS Pro and search for the “Project” tool.
  2. Input Data: Choose the dataset you wish to transform.
  3. Output Data: Specify the name for the new dataset that will be created.
  4. Select Projection: Use the globe icon to pick the desired output projection.
  5. Execute: Click “Run” to start the projection process.

Key Points

  • Creates a new dataset with the new projection.
  • Maintains the accuracy of your data through mathematical transformations.

The “Define Projection” Tool


The “Define Projection” tool is used when your dataset either lacks a projection or has an incorrect one. It allows you to set or change the projection metadata.

How it Works

This tool modifies the existing metadata of your dataset to define its projection. It does not perform any mathematical transformations on the data.

Step-by-Step Guide

  1. Locate the Tool: Search for “Define Projection” in ArcGIS Pro.
  2. Choose Dataset: Select the dataset you want to define or redefine.
  3. Select Projection: Use the globe icon to pick the desired projection.
  4. Execute: Click “Run” to apply the new projection metadata.

Key Points

  • Modifies the existing dataset.
  • Does not create a new dataset.
  • No mathematical transformations are performed.

Warnings and Takeaways

  1. Data Shift: Incorrect use of the “Define Projection” tool can lead to significant data misalignment.
  2. Irreversible Changes: The “Define Projection” tool modifies the existing dataset, and the changes are permanent.
  3. Be Cautious: Always be clear about your objectives—whether you need to transform the data or simply define its projection.


Understanding the functionalities and differences between the “Project” and “Define Projection” tools is essential for anyone dealing with geographic data in ArcGIS Pro. By using these tools appropriately, you can ensure the integrity and accuracy of your GIS projects.

Happy Mapping!

15 frequently asked questions about projecting data in ArcGIS Pro, focusing on the “Project” and “Define Projection” tools:

General Questions

1. What is the difference between the “Project” and “Define Projection” tools in ArcGIS Pro?

  • The “Project” tool transforms data from one projection to another, performing mathematical calculations to ensure accuracy. The “Define Projection” tool simply sets or changes the metadata of a dataset to define its projection, without any mathematical transformations.

2. Why is it important to set the correct projection for a dataset?

  • Setting the correct projection ensures that your spatial data aligns correctly with other datasets and that any spatial analyses you perform are accurate.

3. How do I know which projection my dataset is currently using?

  • You can check the current projection by right-clicking on the layer, selecting “Properties,” and then navigating to the “Source” tab to find the “Spatial Reference” section.

About the “Project” Tool

4. How do I use the “Project” tool to transform my dataset into a different projection?

  • Open the “Project” tool, select the input dataset, specify the output dataset name, and choose the desired output projection. Click “Run” to execute the projection.

5. Can I batch project multiple layers at once using the “Project” tool?

  • Yes, you can use the “Batch Project” tool to project multiple layers simultaneously.

6. What happens to my original dataset when I use the “Project” tool?

  • The original dataset remains unchanged. The “Project” tool creates a new dataset with the new projection.

7. Are there any limitations to the types of projections I can use with the “Project” tool?

  • Generally, you can project between most common types of projections. However, some transformations may result in a loss of accuracy.

8. How do I ensure that the “Project” tool maintains the accuracy of my data?

  • Always choose an appropriate transformation method and check the results to ensure they align correctly with other datasets.

About the “Define Projection” Tool

9. When should I use the “Define Projection” tool instead of the “Project” tool?

  • Use the “Define Projection” tool when your dataset lacks a projection or has an incorrect one. Do not use it to transform data between different projections.

10. What risks are associated with using the “Define Projection” tool incorrectly?

  • Incorrect use can result in data misalignment and inaccuracies in spatial analyses.

11. Does the “Define Projection” tool create a new shapefile or modify the existing one?

  • It modifies the existing shapefile or dataset.

12. Can I undo the changes made by the “Define Projection” tool?

  • No, the changes are permanent on the existing dataset. Always make a backup before using this tool.

Advanced Questions

13. How do I handle datasets with different datums while using the “Project” or “Define Projection” tools?

  • When using the “Project” tool, you can specify a datum transformation. For the “Define Projection” tool, ensure that you’re setting the correct datum in the projection metadata.

14. Can I automate the projection process using Python scripting in ArcGIS Pro?

  • Yes, you can use ArcPy, the Python library for ArcGIS, to automate projection tasks.

15. What should I do if my data looks distorted or shifted after using either of these tools?

  • Check to ensure you’ve used the correct projection and transformation methods. If the issue persists, consult GIS experts or forums for troubleshooting.

About the Author
I'm Daniel O'Donohue, the voice and creator behind The MapScaping Podcast ( A podcast for the geospatial community ). With a professional background as a geospatial specialist, I've spent years harnessing the power of spatial to unravel the complexities of our world, one layer at a time.