How can I use Surfer and Esri's ArcGIS together?

Many people combine the power of Surfer and ArcGIS to create maps and models. This article details some of the different ways Surfer's features can be utilized to enhance ArcGIS. 

Surfer offers a variety of specialized functions which provide more accuracy, precision, and customization options than what's available in the base version of ArcGIS. Additionally, Surfer is a fraction of the cost of the Esri extensions that are required to acquire these specialized functions. 

For example, users perform the below functions in Surfer and can import the results into ArcMap:

  • Create contour maps in Surfer
  • Create grids (rasters) from SHP/DXF files
  • Edit contour lines in Surfer
  • Perform geoprocessing functions such as reshaping, georeferencing, attribute editing, and more
  • Interpolate data with Surfer's well-known interpolation methods
  • Perform mathematical operations on grid files such as 
  • Generate reports on grid files statistics

Users have found Surfer's numerous geoprocessing tools more intuitive and easier to use than the functionality in ArcGIS. Tools include polygon, polyline, and point editing, georeference images, create range rings, buffers, Delaunay triangulation, or Thiessen/Voroni polygons, edit attributes, combine, divide and intersect polygons, perform queries, and more. 

Surfer's interpolation methods are known for their speed and accuracy. Surfer offers twelve different interpolation methods and many options for those methods. One example is creating grid files directly from contour polylines. 

Another set of powerful features that require an Esri extension are Surfer's grid operations. Perform mathematical operations on grid files such as subtracting one grid from another to create an isopach map, calculating the volume of an area between two surfaces, or calculating the directional derivative to better understand information about the slope of the grid. 

Grid Operations

  • Convert grids from one file format to another
  • Assign NoData to specific regions
  • Apply digital image analysis
  • Smooth grids
  • Assign coordinate systems
  • Project grids to create a new grid in a different coordinate system
  • Calculate derivatives, curvature, slope, aspects, differentials, integrals, and spectral analysis
  • Calculate volumes
  • Perform mathematical transformations on one or more grids
  • Create cross sections
  • Calculate residuals
  • Merge grid files
  • Extract a subset of a grid
  • Modify the Z-values of a grid
  • Display statistics on your specific grid file
  • Interactively edit the grid file


Surfer supports numerous file extensions, so importing from and exporting to other programs is easy. 

Esri-specific file formats:

  • Shapefile (SHP)
  • ArcInfo Export Format (E00)
  • Esri Float Grid Format (FLT),
  • Arc/Binary Grid (ADF)
  • Arc/Info ASCII Grid (ASC)

Other popular file formats: 

  • AutoCAD Drawing (DXF)
  • Tagged Image and GeoTIFF (TIF)

We want to hear from you! Let us know how you combine the powers of Surfer and ArcGIS -

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