# Making value by alpha maps with ArcMap

I recently finished reading Cynthia Brewer’s Designing better maps: A guide for GIS users. Within the book she had an example of making a bi-variate map legend manually in ArcMap, and then the light-bulb went off in my mind that I could use that same technique to make value by alpha maps in ArcMap.

For a brief intro into what value by alpha maps are, Andy Woodruff (one of the creators) has a comprehensive blog post on them on what they are and their motivation. Briefly though, we want to visualize some variable in a choropleth map, but that variable is measured with varying levels of reliability. Value by alpha maps de-emphasize areas of low reliability in the choropleth values by increasing the transparency of that polygon. I give a few other examples of interest related to mapping reliability in this answer on the GIS site as well, How is margin of error reported on a map?. Essentially those techniques mentioned either only display certain high reliability locations, make two maps, or use technqiues to overlay multiple attributes (like hashings). But IMO the value by alpha maps looks much nicer than the maps with multiple elements, and so I was interested in how to implement them in ArcMap.

What value by alpha maps effectively do is reduce the saturation and contrast of polygons with high alpha blending, making them fade into the background and be less noticable. I presented an applied example of value by alpha maps in my question asking for examples of beautiful maps on the GIS site. You can click through to see further citations for the map and reasons for why I think the map is beautiful. But below I include an image here as well (taken from the same Andy Woodruff blog post mentioned earlier).

Below I present an example displaying the percentage of female heads of households with children (abbreviated PFHH from here on) for 2010 census blocks within Washington, D.C. Here we can consider the reliability of the PFHH dependent on the number of households within the block itself (i.e. we would expect blocks with smaller number of households to have a higher amount of variability in the PFHH). The map below depicts blocks that have at least one household, and so the subsequent PFHH maps will only display those colored polygons (about a third, 2132 out of 6507, have no households).