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Reprojecting Vector Data: Tips, Tricks, and Best Practices

Reprojecting vector layers in GIS

If you have ever worked with spatial data, you might have encountered situations where your datasets are in different coordinate reference systems (CRSs).

Aligning these datasets correctly is crucial for accurate spatial analysis and visualization. In this post, we’ll cover essential aspects of reprojecting vector data, address common issues that may arise, and provide solutions to ensure your data is consistent and ready for analysis.

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Further reading: Reprojecting Rasters

Step-by-step guides to reproject vector layers in common GIS software:

Reprojecting vector data in QGIS

  • Open QGIS and load the vector layer you want to reproject.
  • Right-click on the layer and select “Export” > “Save Features As.”
  • In the “Save Vector Layer as” window, click on “CRS” and select the desired target CRS from the list or search for it by EPSG code.
  • Choose the output file format and provide a name and location for the new file.
  • Click “OK” to start the reprojection process. The newly reprojected layer will be saved as a new file and can be added to the QGIS project.

QGIS also has a “Reproject Layer” tool that you can use to reproject a vector layer. Here’s how to use it:

  1. Open QGIS and load the vector layer you want to reproject.
  2. Go to the “Processing” menu, then click on “Toolbox” to open the Processing Toolbox.
  3. In the Processing Toolbox, search for “Reproject layer” or navigate to “Vector general” > “Reproject layer.”
  4. Click on the “Reproject layer” tool to open its dialog box.
  5. Select the input layer (the layer you want to reproject) from the “Input layer” dropdown menu.
  6. In the “Target CRS” section, click on the button next to “Reprojected.” This will open the “Coordinate Reference System Selector” dialog.
  7. Search for your desired target CRS by typing its name or EPSG code into the search bar. Select it from the list and click “OK.”
  8. Specify the output location and name for the reprojected layer under “Reprojected.” You can either save it as a temporary file or provide a file path to save it permanently.
  9. Click “Run” to start the reprojection process. Once complete, the reprojected layer will be added to the Layers panel.

The “Reproject Layer” tool provides an alternative method to reprojecting vector layers in QGIS. The main difference between this method and the “Export” > “Save Features As” method mentioned earlier is that the “Reproject Layer” tool is accessed through the Processing Toolbox rather than by right-clicking the layer itself.

Reprojecting vector data in ArcGIS Pro

  • Open ArcGIS Pro and load the vector layer you want to reproject.
  • Go to the “Analysis” tab and click on “Tools.”
  • Search for “Project” in the Geoprocessing search bar and click on it to open the “Project” tool.
  • Select the input layer, and specify the output location and name for the reprojected file.
  • Choose the desired target CRS by clicking on “Coordinate System” and selecting it from the list.
  • Click “Run” to start the reprojection process. The reprojected layer will be added to the map once the process is complete.

Reprojecting vector data using the OGR command line utility

  • Install the GDAL/OGR library on your system.
  • Open a command prompt or terminal window.
  • Use the ogr2ogr command to reproject the vector layer. For example:
ogr2ogr -t_srs "EPSG:4326" output_layer.shp input_layer.shp

Replace “EPSG:4326” with the desired target CRS’s EPSG code, and “output_layer.shp” and “input_layer.shp” with the appropriate input and output filenames.

Keep in mind that the exact steps for reprojecting vector layers may vary depending on the specific GIS software you’re using. Always consult the official documentation for the most accurate instructions.

Common mistakes people make when reprojecting vector data

When reprojecting spatial data, users may encounter a few common mistakes or issues that can lead to inaccurate results, misaligned layers, or other problems. Some of the common mistakes include:

  1. Choosing the wrong CRS: When reprojecting, it is crucial to select the appropriate target coordinate reference system (CRS). Choosing the wrong CRS may cause the data to be shifted, distorted, or not properly aligned with other layers.
  2. Confusing transformation and projection: Coordinate transformation is the process of converting coordinates from one CRS to another, while projection refers to transforming geographic coordinates (latitude and longitude) into planar coordinates. These processes are related, but not the same. Users should be aware of the specific task they are performing to avoid confusion and mistakes.
  3. Using inconsistent CRSs: When working with multiple datasets in a GIS project, it’s important to ensure that all layers use a consistent CRS. Mixing CRSs without properly reprojecting layers can lead to misaligned or improperly scaled data.
  4. Overlooking units: Coordinate reference systems may use different units, such as meters or degrees. When reprojecting, users should be aware of the units used in both the source and target CRSs to avoid confusion and ensure proper scaling and alignment.

What about on the fly projection?

On-the-fly projection, also known as on-the-fly transformation or dynamic projection, is a feature available in many GIS software applications that allows for the automatic transformation of spatial data from their original coordinate reference systems (CRSs) to the CRS of the current map or project. This enables users to work with multiple layers in different CRSs without having to manually reproject them.

The advantage of on-the-fly projection is that it simplifies the process of visualizing and analyzing spatial data in a single, consistent CRS, which is crucial for maintaining spatial relationships and accurate measurements. On-the-fly projection is performed temporarily during rendering, so the original spatial data is not altered.

However, there are a few considerations to keep in mind when using on-the-fly projection:

  1. Performance: On-the-fly projection requires extra processing during map rendering, which might affect the performance and responsiveness of the GIS software, particularly when working with large datasets or complex CRS transformations.
  2. Permanent reprojection: On-the-fly projection is temporary, meaning the underlying data remains in its original CRS. For some tasks, such as data analysis or sharing, it may be necessary to permanently reproject the data to ensure compatibility and consistency.

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.

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