Why Layout Templates and Styles are the Secret to Better Maps

Do you like saving time, being more efficient, and more consistent in your map making? Of course you do!

And one easy way to do this is by making and actively maintaining layout templates for your maps, as well as creating styles for your symbology and labels. Your entire organization is going to thank you for learning about this.

Layout Templates

Let’s talk about your workflow in ArcMap. Are you currently doing a “Save As” with a map that you like, and then modifying it? And eventually the version “drifts” from the original until it’s actually pretty off?

There is a better way, and it starts with the Layout Toolbar. Find the “Change Layout” button, second in from the right hand side.

The window that opens up has a path at the bottom. You can click the folder button next to it, and select the MXD that you’d like to use as a template. Any MXD at all!

At AE2s, we’ve created a suite of template MXD’s in a variety of sizes and orientations:

That way, that the map maker can begin with a template that the GIS team has created and honed with all of the elements that we want all maps to show: even including dynamic text such as date, file path, coordinate system, and map user.

When everyone in your team uses this workflow for setting a layout, it’s also easy to update the templates and have all new maps reflect those changes.


ArcMap comes jam packed with a variety of symbology and label choices. But sometimes, we have symbology and labels we want to use frequently, or ones that become the standard for certain projects, or standards for your organization. ArcMap manages these through *.style files.

To start saving your own symbology and labels to a style, click the “Save As…” button. ArcMap has a default *.style file for you to add your symbology and labels to, but you can also designate your own, and save symbols in *.style files that are more specific and relevant by clicking the “…” button.

Once you have a lot of symbols and labels saved, there often comes a time when you want to edit them, delete, or rename. That’s where the Style Manager comes in.

Head to Customize > Style Manager to open up the window.

Then, you can click on the folder of interest, such as Line Symbols, to create new symbology, edit, cull, or combine (symbology can be copied and pasted between styles).

If your style isn’t immediately shown in the Style Manager, click “Styles…” to select, and then “Add Style to List…”


From this location, you can also create styles, or set a default list of styles as well.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there is a lot of power in using layout templates and styles. It is a little more work upfront to set everything up (vs. doing a “Save As”), but creating and maintaining templates and styles is an investment in your organization’s future success. You’ll find that maps across your organization will become more consistent, be of a higher quality, and not only that, it will be easier for those in your organization to create great looking maps quickly. I think that’s something everyone can get behind.