Introduction to Surfer

Welcome to Surfer, a powerful contouring, gridding, and surface mapping package for scientists, engineers, educators, or anyone who needs to generate maps quickly and easily. Producing publication quality maps has never been quicker or easier. Adding multiple map layers and objects, customizing the map display, and annotating with text creates attractive and informative maps. Virtually all aspects of your maps can be customized to produce the exact presentation you want.

Surfer is a grid-based mapping program that interpolates irregularly spaced XYZ data into a regularly spaced grid. Grids may also be imported from other sources, such as the United States Geological Survey (USGS). The grid is used to produce different types of maps including contour, color relief, and 3D surface maps among others. Many gridding and mapping options are available allowing you to produce the map that best represents your data.

An extensive suite of gridding methods is available in Surfer. The variety of available methods provides different interpretations of your data, and allows you to choose the most appropriate method for your needs. In addition, data metrics allow you to map statistical information about your gridded data. Surface area, projected planar area, and volumetric calculations can be performed quickly in Surfer. Cross-sectional profiles can also be computed and exported.

The grid files can be edited, combined, filtered, sliced, queried, and mathematically transformed. For example, grids can be sliced to create cross-sectional profiles, or the Grids | Calculate | Isopach command can be used to create an isopach map from two grid files. Grids can be edited with an intuitive user interface in the grid editor.


The Scripter TM program, included with Surfer, is useful for creating, editing, and running script files. A script is a text file containing a series of instructions for execution when the script is run that automates Surfer procedures. By writing and running script files, simple mundane tasks or complex system integration tasks can be performed precisely and repetitively without direct interaction. Surfer also supports ActiveX Automation using any compatible client, such as Visual BASIC. These two automation capabilities allow Surfer to be used as a data visualization and map generation post-processor for any scientific modeling system.

New Features

The new features in Surfer are summarized:

Who Uses Surfer?

People from many different disciplines use Surfer. Since 1984, over 100,000 scientists and engineers worldwide have discovered Surfer's power and simplicity. Surfer's outstanding gridding and contouring capabilities have made Surfer the software of choice for working with XYZ data. Over the years, Surfer users have included hydrologists, engineers, geologists, archeologists, oceanographers, biologists, foresters, geophysicists, medical researchers, climatologists, educators, students, and more! Anyone wanting to visualize their XYZ data with striking clarity and accuracy will benefit from Surfer's powerful features!

System Requirements

The system requirements for Surfer are:

  • Windows 7 SP1, 8 (excluding RT), 10 or higher
  • 32-bit or 64-bit operation system support
  • 1024x768 or higher monitor resolution with a minimum 16-bit color depth
  • At least 500MB free hard disk space
  • At least 512MB RAM for simple data sets, 1GB RAM recommended
  • 3D View requirements:
    •  Graphics card with OpenGL v3.2 or later, including the following support:
      • Vertex shaders
      • Fragment shaders
      • Geometry shaders
      • GLSL (GL Shading Language) 150
    • Graphics emulators, such as VMs and Parallels for Mac, may not support all the required features for viewing data in the 3D view

Fine Tuning Surfer Performance

  • Issues with 3D View features may be corrected by upgrading to the latest graphics drivers.
  • Many heavily computational operations, including gridding and contouring, are multi-threaded and processor reliant. A faster processor will improve Surfer's performance.
  • For processing very large data files, such as LiDAR or some vector data files, fast and large RAM storage capacity is recommended.
  • Click the File | Options command and on the General page, set the Max number of processors to use all processor cores.
  • To improve performance, click the File | Options command, and, on the General page, uncheck the check box for Save auto recovery information.

Installation Directions

Golden Software recommends installing only the latest version of Surfer.

Installing Surfer requires Administrator rights. Either an administrator account can be used to install Surfer or the administrator's credentials can be entered before installation while logged in to a standard user account. If you wish to use a Surfer single-user license, the product key must be activated while logged in to the account under which Surfer will be used. For this reason, we recommend logging into Windows under the account for the Surfer user, and entering the necessary administrator credentials when prompted. Golden Software does not recommend installing the current version of Surfer in the same location as any previous versions of Surfer.

To install Surfer from a download:

  • Log into Windows under the account for the individual who is licensed to use Surfer.
  • Download Surfer according to the emailed directions you received.
  • Double-click on the downloaded file to begin the installation process.
  • Once the installation is complete, run Surfer.
  • License Surfer by activating a single-user license product key or connecting to a license server.

Updating Surfer

To update your version of Surfer, open the Surfer program and choose the File | Online | Check for Update command. This will launch the Internet Update program which will check Golden Software's servers for any updates. If there is an update for your version of Surfer, you will be prompted to download and install the update.

You can also email your registered Surfer product key to and request to download the full product update. See the Check for Update topic in the help for additional information.

Uninstalling Surfer

To uninstall Surfer, follow the directions below for your specific operating system.

Windows 7

To uninstall Surfer go to the Windows Control Panel and click the Uninstall a program link. Select Surfer from the list of installed applications. Click the Uninstall button to uninstall Surfer.

Windows 8

From the Start screen, right-click the Surfer tile and click the Uninstall button at the bottom of the screen. Alternatively, right-click anywhere on the Start screen and click All apps at the bottom of the screen. Right-click the Surfer tile and click Uninstall at the bottom of the screen.

Windows 10

Select Settings in the Start menu. In Settings, select System | Apps & features. Select Surfer and then click Uninstall. To uninstall Surfer from the Windows Control Panel, click Programs | Programs and Features. Select Surfer and click Uninstall.

Surfer Trial Functionality

The Surfer trial is a fully functioning time-limited trial. This means that commands work exactly as in the full program for the duration of the trial. The trial has no further restrictions on use. The trial can be installed on any computer that meets the system requirements. The trial version can be licensed by activating a product key or connecting to a license server.

See Also

Welcome to Surfer Help

Surfer User Interface

Using the Online Tutorial

Using Surfer

File Types

Menu Commands

Map Types

Introduction to Scripter