Let’s Talk About Labels

As map makers we use maps as a medium to convey and inform information to our readers, a pivotal part of our workflow is labeling our maps to help us.

By looking at the map below, I think we could use some better labeling and positioning make locating features easier. The labels for a few of the cities such as Darwin and Birdum are difficult to read as the boundary of Australia is overlapping and in the west Fremantle and Perth seem to be one city. Additionally we can see that there are two rivers but they are not labelled. It is also probably a good idea to label Australia.


Let’s get down to business and begin to clean up our map so our readers are able to better identify and locate features using different labeling tools.

Labelling allows you to place descriptive text onto or next to features on a map. These labels are dynamically generated from the attribute table of a layer in your map. There are two ways to manage map labels within your map document: Standard Label Engine and the Maplex Label Engine. The Maplex Label Engine is now standard at all license levels within ArcMap (starting at version 10.1). You can set the default label engine by navigating to the Customize Drop-down menu and navigate to ArcMap Options as seen below:


Labels are stored in the map document or in a .lyr file or a map layer package. Best practice suggests using labeling engine when attribute tables change often and you need automatic conflict detection. So let’s try to use Maplex Label Engine to help us clean up some of our labels within our map.

I first turned on the labeling toolbar and then navigated to the Label Manager. As you can see you are able to edit the symbology for individual feature classes and even use SQL queries to label differently within layers. I think this is a good place to start for labeling both my cities and my rivers layer as I am able to manage labels on a layer level.

While looking through the Label Manager I run across a River Placement option under Placement Properties, this would be a great way to label my water bodies so I will go ahead and use this for my rivers layer. Now not only are my rivers easily identifiable but they are labelled according to the shape of the river feature.


Next I move onto the labeling and placement of the cities layer as I would like to try to move the cities away from all boundary lines.


The label placement can be quite helpful when it comes to many situations but I cannot seem to find the right placement to suit all cities even using the Best Position.


Another functionality we could try to use is the Weight Ranking function on the Label Toolbar. The weight ranking function allows you to prioritize your feature boundaries and labels to give some higher priority or weighting than others. However when we try to give the boundary of Australia a higher importance to “force” the labels to move some features are not able to be labelled as seen in the red text below.


Since neither of the label engines were able to provide management of labels on an individual level that we needed for the Cities layer let’s try converting our labels to annotation.

There are two-types of Annotations: Map and Geodatabase. Map Annotation is stored within your map document and is helpful for when you need to add a few pieces of map text that do not have corresponding features such as the name of a mountain range.  Meanwhile Geodatabase Annotation is stored as stand-alone feature class in a geodatabase. Geodatabase annotation allows you to gain cartographic control of your map text by allowing you to move individual pieces of map text when in an edit session. You can store geodatabase annotation as feature-linked (when features are moved or updated, so is the annotation) or stand-alone (there is no connection between the features and the annotation). Geodatabase annotation also allows you to share your labeling with other users and other map documents.

So let’s go ahead and change our cities feature class labels to geodatabase annotation, by right-clicking the layer and navigate to Convert Labels to Annotation and follow through the dialog window.ConvertLabelsToAnno

After changing my Cities labels to Annotation, I am now able to move the labels to manually adjust their position (after starting an edit session) as you can see below.


Another way you can add labels to your map is through the use of graphic text. Using graphic text is great way to add text to your map when you do not have an attribute table that contains the information. To add new text to your map you will need to navigate to the Text tool on the Draw toolbar as seen below. For example, we could use Graphic Text to label the entire country of Australia.


As you can see we have been able to drastically improve the quality of our map through the powerful tools within labeling.

I hope you will find them helpful!

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