Raster data organization

ArcGIS uses three ways to organize, store, and manage your raster data (raster data models). These structures, and the icon that represents each of them, are:

Raster datasets

Most imagery and raster data (such as an orthophoto or DEM) is provided as a raster dataset. The term, raster dataset, refers to any raster data model that is stored on disk or in a geodatabase. It's the most basic raster data storage model in which the others are built upon—both mosaic dataset and raster catalogs manage raster datasets. It's also the output from many geoprocessing tools that process raster data.

A raster dataset is any valid raster format organized into one or more bands. Each band consists of an array of pixels (cells), and each pixel has a value. A raster dataset has at least one band. More than one raster dataset can be spatially appended (mosaicked) together into a larger, single, continuous raster dataset.

Raster datasets can be stored in many formats, including TIFF, JPEG 2000, Esri Grid, and MrSid.

Raster datasets are represented with the Raster dataset icon icon.

Raster dataset overview

  • Any valid raster format
  • An array of pixels
  • One or more bands
  • Saved as files on disk or within a geodatabase
  • 70+ supported formats
  • Can be served as an image service
  • Can be used as a data source in many geoprocessing and analysis tools
  • Can be used in the Image Analysis window

Raster dataset example

Learn more about raster datasets


When adding your raster data to ArcMap, you may notice a new icon in the Catalog window: Raster product icon. This represents a raster product.

Raster products are designed to make adding imagery from specific sensors or data providers to your map simpler because each raster product has a unique set of enhancements and band combinations to provide an optimal view of your data. It is the information in the metadata files that is used to generate the raster products, such as satellite imagery like Landsat 7 or QuickBird.

Learn more about the raster product

Mosaic datasets

A mosaic dataset is a collection of raster datasets (images) stored as a catalog and viewed or accessed as a single mosaicked image or individual images (rasters). These collections can be extremely large both in total file size and number of raster datasets. The raster data is added according to its raster type—which identifies metadata, such as georeferencing, acquisition date, and sensor type, along with a raster format. The raster datasets in a mosaic dataset can remain in their native format on disk or, if required, be loaded into the geodatabase. The metadata can be managed within the raster record as well as attributes in the attribute table. Storing metadata as attributes enables parameters such as sensor orientation data to be managed easily and allows fast queries to enable selections.

Mosaic dataset diagram

The raster data in a mosaic dataset does not have to be adjoining or overlapping but can exist as unconnected, discontinuous datasets. For example, you can have images that completely cover an area or you can have many strips of images that may not join together to form a continuous image (such as along pipelines).

The data can even be completely or partially overlapping but be captured over different dates. The mosaic dataset is an ideal dataset for storing temporal data. You can query the mosaic dataset for the images you need based on time or dates and use a mosaic method to display the mosaicked image according to a time or date attribute.

Mosaic datasets are represented with the Mosaic dataset icon icon.

Mosaic dataset overview

  • Collection of raster data viewed as a single image or catalog
  • Stored within a geodatabase
  • Applies processing on the fly
  • Ideal for managing and serving large collections
  • Raster datasets are referenced (not stored within)
  • Raster datasets can be in different projections, resolutions, pixel depths, and number of bands
  • Can be used as a data source in many geoprocessing and analysis tools
  • Can be used in the Image Analysis window

Mosaic dataset example

Mosaic dataset overview

Learn more about the mosaic dataset

Raster catalogs

A raster catalog is a collection of raster datasets defined in a table format in which each record represents an individual raster dataset in the catalog. A raster catalog can be large and contain thousands of images. A raster catalog is typically used to display adjacent, fully overlapping, or partially overlapping raster datasets without having to mosaic them into one large raster dataset.

Raster catalogs are represented with the Raster catalog icon icon.

Raster catalog overview

  • Collection of raster data
  • Viewed as a catalog
  • Raster datasets can be managed within or as links on file system
  • Stored within a geodatabase

Raster catalog example


The raster catalog has been superceded by the mosaic dataset, which has many more capabilities, uses, and functions. Therefore, it is recommended that you manage raster data using a mosaic dataset instead of using a raster catalog.

Related Topics