Available with 3D Analyst license.

Triangular irregular networks (TIN) have been used by the GIS community for many years and are a digital means to represent surface morphology. TINs are a form of vector-based digital geographic data and are constructed by triangulating a set of vertices (points). The vertices are connected with a series of edges to form a network of triangles. There are different methods of interpolation to form these triangles, such as Delaunay triangulation or distance ordering. ArcGIS supports the Delaunay triangulation method.

The resulting triangulation satisfies the Delaunay triangle criterion, which ensures that no vertex lies within the interior of any of the circumcircles of the triangles in the network. If the Delaunay criterion is satisfied everywhere on the TIN, the minimum interior angle of all triangles is maximized. The result is that long, thin triangles are avoided as much as possible.

The edges of TINs form contiguous, nonoverlapping triangular facets and can be used to capture the position of linear features that play an important role in a surface, such as ridgelines or stream courses. The graphics below show the nodes and edges of a TIN (left) and the nodes, edges, and faces of a TIN (right).

Because nodes can be placed irregularly over a surface, TINs can have a higher resolution in areas where a surface is highly variable or where more detail is desired and a lower resolution in areas that are less variable.

The input features used to create a TIN remain in the same position as the nodes or edges in the TIN. This allows a TIN to preserve all the precision of the input data while simultaneously modeling the values between known points. You can include precisely located features on a surface—such as mountain peaks, roads, and streams—by using them as input features to the TIN nodes.

A TIN expects units to be in feet or meters, not decimal degrees. Delaunay triangulations are not valid when constructed using angular coordinates from geographic coordinate systems.

TIN models are less widely available than raster surface models and tend to be more expensive to build and process. The cost of obtaining good source data can be high, and processing TINs tends to be less efficient than processing raster data because of the complex data structure.

TINs are typically used for high-precision modeling of smaller areas, such as in engineering applications, where they are useful because they allow calculations of planimetric area, surface area, and volume.

The maximum allowable size of a TIN varies relative to free, contiguous memory resources. Ten to 15 million nodes represents the largest size achievable under normal operating conditions with Win32. Regardless, it's strongly recommended to cap the size at a few million for the sake of usability and performance. Anything larger than this is best represented using a terrain dataset.

Because nodes can be placed irregularly over a surface, TINs can have a higher resolution in areas where a surface is highly variable or where more detail is desired and a lower resolution in areas that are less variable.