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Erase Tool in GIS

Erase Tool Diagram

What is the Erase Tool?

The Erase Tool removes the area that is overlapping with the erasing features.

The input layer is the feature that will be erased. Then, the erasing layer determines what to erase.

Whatever gets erased is permanently removed from the output, keeping just the remaining features.

So everything that lies outside the erasing layer ends up in the output layer.

What is an example of using the Erase Tool?

Although it’s not a common geoprocessing tool, erasing features has a lot of uses.

Here are some examples of when you can use it:

  • If there’s a forest fire, erasing features will remove all burnt down tree stands.
  • When water levels continually increase, erasing areas can depict shoreline erosion.
  • For tornado damage, this tool can erase anything torn down in its path.

Also, this tool is great for data cleanup because it can erase unwanted overlay features.

Erasing two features

Errors and Troubleshooting Erasing

The Erase Tool is straightforward, but you can still encounter typical issues using it. Here are the most common errors and how to troubleshoot them:

  • This tool requires an Advanced License in ArcGIS, so you can’t use it without one. A workaround is to open a QGIS session and try the Difference Tool.
  • If the output has fewer records than what you expect, check that you don’t have any records accidentally selected. It’s only what you select that will be used as erasing features.

If this tool gives you the 999999 error, this is the generic error code. Make sure to check out our guide on how to fix the 999999 error in ArcGIS.

How to use the Erase Tool in ArcGIS

Erase Tool ArcGIS

If you want to erase features, this tool is available in both ArcGIS and QGIS.

In ArcGIS, you can find this tool in the Analysis Tools within the Overlay Toolset.

The input features are what you want to erase. The erase features define what will be used to erase the input features. Then, all you need to do is set your output feature class location and name.

But you won’t be able to access this tool if you only have a basic license in ArcGIS.

How to Erase in QGIS

Difference Tool QGIS

In QGIS, the equivalent tool is the Difference Tool within the Vector | Geoprocessing Tools | Difference.

There is no variation between these two geoprocessing operations for both GIS software, as they both produce identical output.

QGIS 3 gives more options on which features you want to select that the Difference Tool will use in the algorithm.

Summary

The Erase Tool is an underappreciated tool in GIS that helps you clean up your data.

Personally, I like it because it’s always helpful to erase things!

Also, it’s not only limited to polygons, but you can also erase points and lines as well

How do you use this overlay tool? Please let us know with a comment below.

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