Google Earth: The Basics of Creating Placemarks

Open up Google Earth, turn on the Layers section, and you’ll find placemarkers all over the world, provided by Google and their content partners. However, it’s very easy for you to add your own markers and this page will give you the basics of doing that.

Once you have a collection of markers, it’s only a couple of steps to turn them into a self-running tour. Directions for that are here.

Simply Adding a Placemark

First, find the location you want to mark. For example, do a search for disney world and once you arrive, zoom out a little. You may also want to click the X at the bottom of the Search section to remove all the clutter on the map.

Click the push pin icon Screen Shot 2012 03 26 at 8 14 35 AM in the tool bar at the top of the Earth window. This will place the icon in the middle of the current view and open the New Placemark window. Click and drag the push pin to the correct location.

Screen Shot 2012 03 26 at 8 23 04 AM

In the Name box, enter the name you want displayed beside the marker on the map.

In the Description box, you’ll be entering the information your user will see when they click on the marker. This can be simple text but also can be much more elaborate, including displaying images, embedded links, and more HTML code.

At this point, you’re finished and can click OK. An item with the same title will be added in the Places panel in the left column, usually under the My Places folder.

Test your marker by clicking once on the push pin icon or on the name of the marker in you My Places section.

Getting Fancy With Placemarks

The first section was just the start. There are many different ways to customize your placemarkers. Here are a few of your options.

After a while you’ll get tired of a plain yellow stick pin for your icon. To change that, right click on your marker and choose Get Info (Mac) or Properties (Windows/Linux), which will display the Edit Placemark window.

Click the icon in the upper right corner to display the Icon window.

Screen Shot 2012 03 26 at 8 30 08 AM

Click on anyone of the icons to replace the yellow push pin.

edit placemark.jpg

Click on the Style, Color tab to change the color of either the label for your placemark or the color of the icon itself. You can also change the size each and determine how transparent each is. Both of these are useful when your mark is being placed on lighter backgrounds.

You can also make your placemark invisible by setting the Opacity for both to 0. This technique is useful when building a self-running tour where your user won’t be interacting with the map, or for a presentation when you want to control everything from the My Places section.

edit placemark2.jpg

The options under the View tab determine how this section of the globe will be seen when users select your marker and fly to it. You could enter all this information by hand but the best way to handle it is to use the standard navigation tools to get everything just as you want it and then click the Snapshot current view button at the bottom of the window. Right-clicking on the icon and choosing Snapshot current view does the same thing.

The fourth tab, Altitude, is a little advanced for this tutorial. It adjusts how far about sea level the marker is placed and can be useful when placing markers in a location with lots of 3D buildings.

If you get carried away with the settings and “lose” your marker into the terrain, remember that you have a Reset button under the View tab.

Creating Your Own Icons

This is a great idea for building custom projects or when you just don’t find what you need in the collection Google provides.

Images created as 24-bit PNG images which support alpha-transparency (partial transparency; translucent appearance), 16 million colors, and are the best choice for Google Earth icons. Most image editing software will provide the tools necessary.

The ideal size for icons is 64 x 64 pixels. For larger or smaller icons use 32 x 32, 128 x 128, and other dimensions that are factors of two, because they scale better in Google Earth.

Above all keep your icons simple. Avoid using text since it will be illegible at small scales. Select a clean design that informs without being distracting to your user.

Your icons can be uploaded from your computer or linked to at a location on the web. If you use graphics on your computer, the icons will only be available within Google Earth on that particular computer. Using a web URL make them available to anyone, anywhere.

Other Resources

Google Earth: Creating Fancy Balloons – What you’ve done on this page is just the beginning of what you can do with adding information to Earth. Check out the next steps with this tutorial.

Google Earth Tutorials – Learn more about adding placemarks and much more about using Google Earth. This section includes some excellent video tutorials.


  1. says

    I have purchased a new computer. I wish to re-establish my stick pins from my old computer to my new computer. How is this done? Are my stick pins held in a user file on the computer, or are they held by Google at the main office?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *