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Conversion of Shapefile to KML : An overview of tools available

For Google Earth users interested in converting their Shapefiles to KML format, I have researched many tools and programs available and have described and summarized their features below. You will see that they vary in terms of output resolution, symbol and label customization and accessibility. Most require the shapefile to be geographic WGS 1984 coordinate system as that is what is supported by Google Earth. I use ArcGIS for the coordinate conversion, but there are open source programs that will do this as well, and there are also several free converters available online. All products are free but may require proprietary software to run, such as ArcGIS or Google Earth Pro.

Product Advanced symbology (define unique or graduate value) Labels Attribute Table Transfer Customize Balloons Notes

This is an online tool
No No Yes No Need to register with site.

This is a downloadable stand-alone product
Yes Yes — all or none Yes — user can select variables Yes I highly recommend this product.

Program able to change projection and datum.

Product has problems combing usage of labels and advanced symbology
Google Earth Pro

This is a $400 upgrade to Google Earth
Yes No Yes — all features are transferred No  

Plug-in for MapWindow GIS (open source)
No Yes Yes — user can select variables Yes Program is able to change projection and datum

Conversion Tool within 3D Analyst
Yes No Yes No  
ArcGIS ArcScript:Export to KML tool

ArcScript available from:
Yes Yes Yes No I highly recommend this product.

Excellent Results

GeoCommons : Finder :

GeoCommons Finder is a browser-based application for finding, organizing and sharing geospatial data. Users can upload their own GIS files and use the tools available in the application to convert to other formats such as .shp, .csv and KML. GeoCommons also has a mapping component to it called the GeoCommons Mapper where users can map the data they have uploaded, or data that others have uploaded. This is a very simple program to use, but it also offers only a very simple conversion tool, with very little user input for kml templates. Once in GE, the user can define a single symbol colour. It automatically offers an icon for every single feature, but this can be removed in GE’s layer properties.

The process of uploading your Shapefile to their online database is very simple.


Once uploaded, you can access your stored layers and then download them to your local computer in the file format that you would like.


Results in Google Earth :

  The resulting KML files offer a high resolution display of features.


Shp2kml :

Shp2kml is an excellent stand-alone application that transforms Shapefiles into KML files. The product includes a projection and datum converter as well, for those files that are not in the geographic WGS 1984 coordinate system.

The program offers several advanced features that others don’t : unique and gradual values for themed features (i.e choropleth mapping) :

Mapping by Unique Value   Mapping by Gradiant Value


Labels :


A note about labels : In order to activate the label feature, the product displays icons for every feature. This icon can be turned off in Google Earth in the layer’s properties, but it will remove all unique and graduate value symbology. Therefore, I do not recommend labelling features when using advanced symbology.



Each feature has associated icon. These icons can be removed in the layer property field but all advanced symbology will convert to single symbols.


And customized balloons:


The 'balloon' where attribute information appears when features on the map are clicked are completely customizable. Users can select the attribute fields, and the colours of the balloon.


The application also offers a preview of the map as well as access to the attribute table.

Results in Google Earth :


The resulting KML files offer a high resolution display of features.

Google Earth Pro

Google Earth Pro, a $400 upgrade to Google Earth, supports a wide variety of geospatial files, including Shapefiles. Users can add Shapefiles to the virtual globe (in geographic WGS 1984 coordinate system) and apply a template style to it which selects the name field and symbol colours.



Both single symbols and thematic mapping are supported. Numeric ranges can be user-specified and can be added into individual folders so it is visible in Google Earth Pro’s table of contents.


Google Earth Pro does not support labelling, nor does it offer customized balloon information and settings.

Results in Google Earth :


To create a KML file from this shapefile, simply right click on the layer — and "save place as" will save to KMZ format (compressed KML format).

Shp2earth :

Shp2earth is a plug-in for open source MapWindow GIS. An evaluation copy is available for free which allows the conversion of up to 500 features. Users can add Shapefiles into MapWindow GIS in any coordinate system, customize the colours, symbols and labels and convert to a geographic WGS 1984 KML file. Unlike other utilities, this one allows users to transfer the label information and in Google Earth have the choice to keep the labels turned on or off. Users can also select individual labels to appear. Unfortunately, it doesn’t support thematic mapping (advanced symbology).



Results in Google Earth :


ArcGIS : Utility in ArcMap

This conversion tool is ArcMap will convert shapefiles or mxd to KML. The Shapefiles must be in geographic WGS 1984 coordinate system. All symbol settings and attribute information will be converted as well. There are however no label features included.



Results in Google Earth :


ArcGIS — Export to KML tool

An open source ArcScript "Export to KML" tool is available for download from The user can customize the layer’s symbology settings and then go through the properties of the Export to Google Earth KML utility to customize further settings.


The user can customize the labels, attribute information and even add timeline information for use in Google’s timeline bar. The labels display as a separate file and may be turned on and off independent of each feature.

Results in Google Earth :


- Published July, 2009

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