Better Map Labels


One of the biggest challenges in making data dense print maps is the labeling process. Well placed labels make maps immediately more understandable. Fortunately, there are a few time saving techniques outside the default that might just change the way you label, without having to resort to annotation.


The Labeling Toolbar

We all know that we can design with the way our labels appear by going to the Layer Properties.



But did you also know there is a Labeling Toolbar? You can turn it on by going to Customize>Toolbars>Labeling, or by right clicking on your general toolbar area and selecting Labeling from the toolbar options.



By clicking on the Label Manager, you can now manage all your labels in one place.




One nice piece of functionality is having the ability to copy the labeling parameters for one labeling class and paste it into another. This technique is incredibly useful if you have multiple feature classes that need to be labeled the same way (like a contour data set that is tiled).



The Labeling Toolbar also lets you do things like assign priority ranking, weight ranking, and one of my favorites: pause labeling (which is great when dealing with a large amount of labels that you just don’t want to see for a little bit).



Another major highlight of Labeling Toolbar is that it lets you access the Maplex Labeling Engine. Enabling Maplex unlocks (as Esri puts it) “a special set of tools that allows you to improve the quality of the labels on your map.” What this means is that you now have more options for defining how your label actually shows up.

Maplex used to be a separate extension purchase, but starting with the release of ArcGIS 10.1, the functionality of Maplex is included in the core ArcGIS for Desktop software.

To turn it on, simply expand the Labeling Toolbar and Select Maplex Labeling Engine.



You might notice that your labels are already placed a little better right off the bat (as the algorithm for label placement is a better in general).

But the real power is in the tools now available to you in Placement Properties (or just called “Properties” if you are going through the Label Manager). The way these options let you to tweak the placement algorithm is much richer. In particular, I really like the Stack Label tool and the Conflict Resolution tab.



This is just a brief look, but I hope you found something useful that improves the way you place labels. Do you struggle with labels too? What is your favorite labeling tip? I look forward to hearing your thoughts and questions!


2 thoughts on “Better Map Labels

  1. Nice post! If you go to Customize tab, ArcMap Options, and then Data View you can set Maplex as your default. Then you never have to mess with the old label method. You can also set your default text size and font too. 🙂

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