Search Google Earth
User Guide

Importing Your Data Into Google Earth

Use the Data Import feature to import your custom geographic data into Google Earth and view it as you would any of the layers in the Layers panel. When you use this import feature, you are importing two basic kinds of data:

Note - The GIS import feature is available only to Google Earth EC and Google Earth Pro users. However, all versions of Google Earth can import generic text files.

Once you import vector or imagery data into the Google Earth application, you can save your modified data just as you would other types of placemarks or overlays.

Importing Vector Data

Google Earth supports the following kinds of vector data:

The process of importing vector data files is simple:

  1. Import the vector file using one of the following ways:
    • Drag and drop - Locate the file on your computer or a network server and drag it over the Google Earth 3D viewer.
    • Select Open or Import... from the File menu - When you choose this option, you can specifically select the type of data you're importing (i.e., TXT, SHP, TAB) or indicate All data import formats from the select menu.

    You can also open a file from a machine on the network as you would open any file. In addition, if you want to open a file located on a web browser, you must first download the file and all related files to your computer or local network and then open it.
  2. At the prompt, choose whether or not to apply a style template. If you select Yes to apply a style template, you can define a new one at that point, or select an existing one if one has already been defined for that data file. For more information, see Using Style Templates.

Once imported, the vector elements appear in the 3D viewer and the imported file is listed under the Temporary Places folder. Labels, icons, color, and description appear just as they do for other types of places and folders depending upon how you have defined them using the style template.

Note: If you don't use a style template to modify the appearance of the data you've ingested, Google Earth looks for a Name field to use as the label for your data. This label appears in the 3D viewer next to points as well as in the listing beneath Temporary Places. If your data does not contain a Name field, the first available field that contains text is used as the label for data.

The rest of this section covers the following topics:

Using Third Party Vector Data

Google Earth EC and Google Earth PRO users with the data import module can import the following vector file formats:

Most third-party GIS vector data comes as a collection of related files that operate together to produce all the vector data you see in Google Earth. Be aware that if expected data does not display in the 3D viewer, it might be due to missing support files. Those vector file types that require additional support files are indicated in the list above.

Note - You can also use generic text files to create your own point data for use in Google Earth. This feature is also available to Google Earth Plus users.

Using Generic Text Files

In addition to importing vector data in SHP, TAB, and other formats, you can define your own point data and import it into Google Earth.

Note - Only point data can be created and imported using generic text files.

Generic text files need named columns whose values are separated either by commas, spaces, or tabs. Do this by creating your data in a spreadsheet application such as Microsoft Excel and then saving the file as either CSV or TXT format. Alternatively, you could use a programmatic method to extract data from a database and produce a final output file in either CSV or TXT format.

Note - If you attempt to import more than 5000 features (i.e., 5000 point data lines) into Google Earth, this process can take a long time.

For more information on using generic text files, see:

Required Location Fields

At minimum, generic text file that you import must contain one or more fields that specify the location of the point on the earth in order for the data to be correctly positioned in the 3D viewer. This can be specified either with address fields or with geographic coordinates.

Note - You cannot use a mix of geographic coordinates and address fields in a single file.

Using Addresses

Your data file can use street-level addressing to position each point on the Earth's surface. Google Earth can ingest georeferenced and non-georeferenced information. At this time, Google Earth can only ingest such information for addresses located within the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, France, Italy, Germany, and Spain. Google Earth cannot place any address that contains a P.O. box.

The following types of address formatting are supported:

Using Geographic Coordinates

You can use geographic coordinates (latitude, longitude) to indicate the position of the point data in your text file. For importing generic text files, Google Earth supports coordinates described in

Refer to Entering Advanced Coordinates for a detailed description of the latitude/longitude coordinates supported in Google Earth as well as the type of syntax supported.

Optional and Descriptive Fields

You can use any number of fields in your custom data file to label and describe the points and display them the Google Earth application. Optional fields can be defined as the following values:

With style templates, you can take advantage of these field types to create useful visual effects in the 3D viewer such as graphs or color-coding of data based on the values in the fields.

Viewing Vector Data Fields

After you have imported vector data into Google Earth, you can use the Table Window to display the data fields contained within the vector data. To do this, select Table from the Tools menu. The window appears over the Google Earth application, listing the data fields of all placemark items in tabular form.

The Table window displays internal data fields for all vector data currently listed as well as all other entries in the Places panel. You can use the scroll bar to the right of the window to scroll through numerous entries, and you can collapse the display of items you don't want to see by removing the check next to the name of the item you want to minimize.

The Table window offers the following features:

Modifying Vector Data Display

When you import point and line vector data into Google Earth, you can determine how you want your data displayed in one of two ways:

Importing Imagery

You can open GIS imagery files in Google Earth and have the files correctly projected over the proper map coordinates in the 3D viewer. Google Earth supports the following types of GIS imagery:

In addition, you can also import the following images. Because they do not contain projection information, you must manually edit their coordinates for correct positioning:

Note - All imagery files must contain the correct projection information in order to be accurately re-projected by the Google Earth software.

The rest of this section covers:

Opening GIS Imagery

Use any one of the methods below to open the imagery file in Google Earth:

Google Earth then attempts to reproject the image to a Simple Cylindrical, WGS84 coordinate system. From this, it creates an overlay with the image converted to PNG format. The overlay edit window appears, and you can set the location of the new overlay in any folder inside the Places panel. You can also set the properties for the GIS imagery as you would any other overlay.

The following should be noted when importing GIS imagery data:

Note - Currently, files using NAD83 projection are not supported by Google Earth.

Saving GIS Imagery

Once you have imported imagery data into Google Earth, you can save content changes made to the imported GIS data as follows:

A Note About Projections and Datums

Google Earth uses Simple Cylindrical projection with a WGS84 datum for its imagery base.

Google Earth uses Simple Cylindrical projection with a WGS84 datum for its imagery base

  1. Simple Cylindrical (Plate Carree) Projection
  2. Google Earth Image Base

Typically, the data you import into the Google Earth application is created with a specific geographic coordinate system, such as a Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) projection and a NAD27 datum (North American Datum of 1927). Each geographic coordinate system may assign slightly different coordinates to the same location on the earth. When you import data into Google Earth, your data is interpreted according to the Google Earth coordinate system.

In the majority of cases, reprojection works as expected. In some situations, the transformation might not work properly. In that case, you can use a third-party tool to transform your data from its original coordinate system into the one used by Google Earth.

The rest of this section provides a brief overview of map projections and datums.

What is a Map Projection?

A map projection is a mathematical expression that is used to represent the round, 3D surface of the earth on a flat, 2D map.

A map projection is a mathematical expression that is used to represent the round, 3-dimensional surface of the earth on a flat, 2-dimensional map

  1. 3D Earth
  2. Mercator Projection

This process always results in distortion to one or more map properties, such as area, scale, shape, or direction. Because of this, hundreds of projections have been developed in order to accurately represent a particular map element or to best suit a particular type of map.

Data sources for maps come in various projections depending upon which characteristic the cartographer chooses to represent more accurately (at the expense of other characteristics). In the example above, the Mercator projection preserves the right angles of the latitude and longitudinal lines at the expense of area, which is distorted at the poles, showing the land masses there to be larger than they actually are.

The following are some common map projections:

spacer Projection Description Example
Albers Equal Area Conic Typically used for small regions or countries extending in an east-to-west direction, but not continents. Preserves angles between meridians and parallels. Attempts to minimize distortion for both shape and linear scale, but neither is truly correct. The example here shows how this projection looks over the entire earth. Albers Equal Area Conic Example
Oblique Mercator (Hotine) A cylindrical projection like the Mercator projections, but where the cylinder is shifted to align with a region that is oblique and follows neither a north-south nor an east-west axis. The region to be mapped typically is a small portion along the length of the meridian and close to it laterally. For example, this projection was developed originally for mapping the Malaysian peninsula. Oblique Mercator (Hotine) Example
  Chamberlin Trimetric Used by the National Geographic Society for mapping most continents. This projection is a three-point equidistant one, intended to preserve the distance between three reference points relative to any other point. Chamberlin Trimetric Example
  Lambert Conformal Conic A projection ideal for middle latitudes and/or where the territory to be mapped has an east-west orientation. This projection is often found in USGS maps created after 1957. Scale is most accurate at the expense of area. Lambert Conformal Conic Example

When building whole-earth databases, a single global projection is the most convenient to use. Google Earth uses Simple Cylindrical projection for its imagery base. This is a simple map projection where the meridians and parallels are equidistant, straight lines, with the two sets crossing at right angles. This projection is also known as Lat/Lon WGS84.

Google Earth uses Simple Cylindrical projection for its imagery base

  1. Simple Cylindrical (Plate Carree) Projection
  2. Google Earth Image Base

What Is a Datum?

While a projection is used in mapping to define the earth on a flat surface, a datum is used to describe the actual shape of the earth in mathematical terms. This is because the earth's surface is not perfectly round, but ellipsoid in shape. A datum also defines the association of latitude and longitude coordinates to points on the surface of the earth, and defines the basis for elevation measurements.

As with projections, there is more than one mathematical interpretation of the earth's shape. Google Earth uses WGS84 datum.

spacer As with projections, there is more than one mathematical interpretation of the earth's shape
  1. North Pole
  2. Equator
  3. South Pole
  4. Semi-minor axis or polar radius
  5. Semi-major axis or equatorial radius

spacer   Semi-major axis Semi-minor axis
  NAD83 6,378,137.0 6,356,752.3141
  WGS84 6,378,137.0 6,356,752.3142
  Clark 1866 6,378,206.4 6,356,583.8
  Airy 1830 6,377,563.4 6,356,256.9

Updated on