Creating Your Own Google Earth Folder

How to make a Google Earth folder/.kmz file for a book chapter:

FIRST, create an empty Folder.

Click on the “Add” tab on the top left tool bar, and choose “Folder.”  When the template comes up, type a name into the title box, including the chapter number and name of the book you’re working on.  Then hit the “OK” button at bottom right of the template:  that closes the Folder, and you should immediately see it appear at the bottom of the list in your Places box at middle left of your Google Earth screen.

Anytime you want to open the Folder to add, subtract or change things about it, right-click on the Folder title in the Places box, and choose the last entry on the list that comes up, “Properties,” and your basic Folder template will pop back up ready for editing.  For future reference, this is the way you’ll edit Placemark, Path, Polygon and Image Overlay layers, too – right-click on layer title, choose “Properties.”

One of the things you’ll want to do with most Folders is give a paragraph introduction so a user will know what that particular Folder is all about.  It’s just a matter of typing it into the Description box of your Folder template.  With the Folder open for editing, left-clicking anywhere in the Description box will bring up a flashing cursor in the top left of the box; whatever you subsequently type will show up there.  When you’re finished typing, hit the “OK” button at bottom to get out of editing mode.  The Folder layer title in the Places box at left will thereupon turn blue, alerting a user that something is embedded in it – and when that user left-clicks on the blue Placemark layer title, whatever you have typed into the Description box shows up in the middle of the map screen.  To make the message disappear from the main map screen, either hit the X at top right of the text box, or just click anywhere else on the map screen.

And you can create Folders inside other Folders on and on.

SECOND, create appropriate Placemarks.

Does your chapter talk about a spot on the earth’s surface that you need to visually bring to a user’s attention, and might there be a Google Maps Photos or Cities360 photograph or a photograph somewhere on the web with a nice view of it?  Then what you want to do is to create a Placemark as a layer inside your Folder.

Right-click on the title of the Folder you’re working in, left-click on the first item in the list, “Add,” and then left-click on the second item in the new list that comes up, “Placemark.”  A Placemark layer template will appear on the left side of your screen, and a flashing yellow Pushpin icon will appear near the middle of your screen.

Give your new Placemark layer a short title, perhaps including the page number in the chapter you’re illustrating.  Type any text you want the user to read in the Description box.  Mouse over the flashing Pushpin icon with the cursor, left-click and hold onto it to drag it exactly where you want it to appear on the screen, and then release it.  Zoom in or out or spin or tilt the view of this Placemark layer until it’s just to your liking.  If you’re doing this with a mouse, you can zoom in and out and also tilt and spin the view with the roller button depressed.  But you can’t use the mouse for N-E-S-W navigation because it’s busy engaging with the flashing Placemark icon; for that you have to use the small circle in the middle of the navigation tools at upper right (one of the few times I use those tools).  Then say “OK” to finalize that Placemark layer, and it will show up inside your Folder.

One of the most valuable uses of a Placemark is to reference a particular Google Maps Photos (2D photographs) icon or a Cities360 (3D photographs in which you can click and drag the view around) icon – links embedded in the Google Earth surface that pop open a photo.  Just position the Pushpin icon so it points to the photos icon you want a user to open, and in the Description box type something like this:  “Click on photos icon under the pointer for one good view of (whatever is being talked about).”  When a user clicks on the now blue Placemark layer title, that text comes up over or adjacent to the Pushpin icon.

You’re not limited to a yellow Pushpin icon; that’s just the default.  Clicking on the yellow Pushpin icon at top right of your Placemark template box brings up dozens of alternatives, as well as the options for changing the color of any of them, the scale, and even the opacity.  You might use light blue Pushpin icons, for example, for a set of Placemarks all on the same general theme, and bright red for a set on another theme . . . .

Found a photograph on the web, or some other interesting material that might help illustrate the book chapter for a reader?  You can type a web address into the Placemark’s Description box, but it’s easier to copy any website address [mouse over one such web address wherever you’ve found it to highlight it and then hit Control C] and paste it into the Description box [go to the Description box and left-click inside it, then hit Control V].  Users clicking on the Placemark’s blue layer title will have the website address pop up along with any text you’ve typed, and they can just left-click on the web address to have the computer go straight to it.  Again, for future reference, it works just this way with Paths and Polygons as well.  Text in Description box might read:  “For a good photograph of [whatever], click on the website below titled [“whatever”]:  and then enter the website.  When a user clicks on the blue layer title, the text in the Description box will come up on the screen with the website itself in blue; all a user has to do is click on it to bring it up.

THIRD, create appropriate Paths.

            “Path” is Google Earth-speak for a line.  Any linear feature you’d like to create on the map – river, road, route, barrier or border – you do with this.  Add a Path layer by right-clicking on your Folder layer, then left-click on Add and choose Path.  Then left-click to add points to your line, and right-click to remove them.  The last active point is highlighted in blue (the others are red, as long as you’re in creating/editing mode), and you can go back and mouse over any point to move it, add to it, or erase it (the square box of a cursor will change to a pointing hand when you engaged a given point).

You can make your Path (line) any color and any width of pixels wide.  This last means that as you zoom out, the line stays that set number of pixels wide and seems to grow in relation to the geography.

There are two especially nifty things you can do with any Path.

One is to right-click on the Path’s layer title, and then choose “Show Elevation Profile.”  A graph will appear along the bottom of the map screen, and if with your cursor you move that line along, a red arrow on the remaining map screen above will follow the Path in all its twists and turns.

The second is to “fly” that Path at a height (above ground), camera angle (from looking straight down to straight out ahead) and speed of your choice (though 1000 mph is about tops).  Depending on the Path, of course, good choices for those will all vary.  So in the Tools drop-down menu at top, choose Options, then Touring, and experiment with those three.  Once you’ve decided what works best, type recommendations for a reader to use in the Description box.  With any Path layer highlighted, clicking on the little box at bottom right of the Places box – a small Path symbol with a right-facing black arrow – will begin your “flight.”

 FOURTH, create appropriate Polygons.

            “Polygon” is Google-Earth speak for an area.  When you right-click in a Folder to create one and begin left-clicking its perimeter, you’ll see that you just have a closed Path.  You have a choice of Outlined, Filled or Both, and the Outline can be of whatever color and whatever thickness, and the Fill of whatever color and whatever degree of transparency (or opacity, its opposite, as it is in Google Earth).  Usually when you’re making a Polygon, it’s better to have it just outlined so you can see where to click the next point.  If you make two Polygons semi-transparent, of two different colors, the area of overlap will be a highly visible third color, a really useful feature.

One way I regularly use Polygons is to draw arrows on the map – to illustrate army movements, for just one example.  It’s just a matter of clicking points to resemble a rough arrow, and then going back and fine-tuning the shape.

FIFTH, make use of Image Overlay to determine the location of new Placemarks, Paths and Polygons.

            You can add a lot of information of your own to the Google Earth screen from other maps.  Digital maps, generally speaking, come in two formats – raster and vector.  Raster is made up of pixels, and the pixels expand when you zoom in.  In vector maps a point stays and point and a line keeps the same thickness no matter how far you zoom in.  GIS people joke that “raster is faster but vector is corrector.”  And the point here is that only vector maps work.  A .pdf map is raster, it won’t work.  But .jpg, .tiff, .gif, and lots of others are vector, and they will work.

It’s a matter of fitting them correctly into the Google Earth screen, and then copying whatever point, line or area data you want into new Google Earth layers.

The “fitting it in correctly” goes by the fancy name “georectify.”   Say you’ve located a vector map on the web that you want to use.  Mouse over its web address to highlight it, and hit [control C] to copy it.  Frame Google Earth in the screen so that it’s just a little bigger than the map you want to inlay.  Then in your Folder title hit Add and then Image Overlay, and a green box should show up on the screen.  Under “link” near the top of the editing box that comes up at the left, left-click in the empty box to bring up a cursor, and then hit [control V] to paste the map’s web address into the link.  Then hit Enter, and the map should appear on the screen.

Now, for the rest of the “georectify” problem.  Use the slide bar to make the image overlay semi-transparent, so you can see both the map and what’s under it on the Google Earth screen.  You drag the whole thing around by clicking and holding on the green cross at center.  And you shrink or expand it by grabbing a corner and pulling it towards the middle of the map or away from it – but when you do this, hold down the Shift key so it shrinks or expands proportionally, not just side-to-side or top-to-bottom.  Try to match unique features – the bend of a river or road, the curve of a railroad.  When you’ve got it as close as you can get it, say OK, and it will be a permanent layer in your Folder.

Now create Placemarks for any points you want to copy, and Paths for any lines, and Polygons for any areas.  When you’re through, turn off the Image Overlay layer, or just delete it.  Usually you’ll want to type where you got the map into the Description box of those layers you make based on it – the way you’d footnote a written source in a paper or book.

One neat trick Image Overlay lets you do is to take an area your readers are probably not familiar with, and superimpose it on an area they know well, or vice-versa.  Say I want to superimpose the outline of Alabama, correct to size and latitude, on the Levant.  It’s a three part process:

  • Find a digital (vector, not raster) map of Alabama somewhere on the web, and “georectify” it over the outline of Alabama as it shows up on the Google Earth screen – do everything BUT click OK.
  • Mouse to the green cross at the middle of the Image Overlay, and at bottom right of your screen see the latitude. Copy that number down.  Then click and hold on the green cross at middle of the Image Overlay and drag it across the Atlantic and Mediterranean (at times you’ll have to use the middle N-E-S-W navigation button at top right).  Get the map approximately where you want it east to west, and then move the map up or down until the latitude figure at bottom right matches the one where you started.  NOW you can click OK, which locks the Image Overlay into place.
  • Create a Polygon layer and use it to copy the outline of Alabama superimposed on the Levant. Then delete the Image Overlay layer.  Voila, you have the outline of Alabama, correct to area and latitude, superimposed on Israel, the West Bank, Syria and Jordan.

To conclude, there are other interesting bells and whistles in Google Earth, but with the techniques listed above you can add a level of understanding to many, many non-fiction books.  Truth be told, this website – – is in search of an org, and the creator of the site would generally welcome help in this enterprise!  He can be reached at

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