ArcGIS Pro

Pro Map Text II: Annotation

In my last post, I gave you some tips on labeling a map. Today we’ll take on annotation. You can follow along with Darwin.ppkx (using “Labelled Map”). If you didn’t do the labeling tutorial first, that’s okay; you can start here if you want.

So what is annotation? It’s basically labels that you have full control over. They act like features—because they are features! They’re stored in an annotation feature class. They even have attribute tables.

Layer Properties page for an annotation layer

And most importantly, you can edit each individual annotation feature so it is positioned, sized, and styled exactly how you like.

Annotation is how you go from something like this:

Cobourg Penninsula with labels

To something like this:

Cobourg Penninsula with annotation, including curved text

Let’s dive in.

Open Darwin.ppkx and open Labelled Map.

Labelled Map tab along the top of the map view

You’re about to convert the labels on this map into annotation, but only those labels that are in your current map extent will be included, so if you can’t see the entire map right now, right-click the pink MapExtent layer in the Contents pane and choose Zoom to Layer.

On the ribbon, on the Map tab, click Convert To Annotation.

Convert To Annotation button on the ribbon

In the Geoprocessing pane, for Output Geodatabase, choose darwin.gdb and click Run.

A new group layer, named GroupAnno, is added to your Contents pane.

GroupAnno group layer in the Contents pane

Your map looks no different because labeling has been turned off for all of the layers and replaced with the new annotation layers—ready for editing.

On the ribbon, on the Edit tab, click the Move button.

Move button on the ribbon

Click a piece of text and drag it into a better position. Click Finish on the toolbar when you’re happy with the placement.

Finish button on the Editing toolbar

I think that Point Farewell could also be improved with some center alignment.

If necessary, select the Point Farewell label on the map. On the ribbon, click Attributes.

Attributes button on the ribbon

In the Attributes pane, under Annotation, click Center.

Center Align button on the Attributes pane

Next, let’s fix a river label. Zoom to the West Alligator River in Kakadu National Park.

West Alligator River label on the map

Your text may look different. That’s okay.

On the ribbon, click the Annotation tool and click the West Alligator River text.

Annotation button on the ribbon

This piece of annotation happens to be multipart text. If you hover over each word, you can move them individually. However, your goal is to create a river label with a simple curve. As with all other things cartographic, simple is almost always better.

Right-click the text and choose Convert to Single Part.

Convert to Single Part in the Annotation editing context menu

The text is now all in one curve, but it has too many vertices to be considered simple. Right-click the text again, point to Curvature, and choose Horizontal.

Horizontal Curvature in the Annotation editing context menu

Right-click again, point to Curvature again, and this time choose Curved.

On the ribbon, click the Vertices tool.

Now you have a nice, simple, two-point curve. Move those points around to create an elegant spline that hugs the river.

West Alligator River text curved alongside the river

Click the Finish button and save your edits.

Next, let’s label Kakadu National Park. But first, I recommend pausing to look up some photos of Kakadu National Park.


Mapping places you’ve never been to before comes with its hazards (doing research), but the reward is increased knowledge and understanding of the world. Or at least another item for the travel wish list.

Select the KAKADU N.P. text and open the Attributes pane.

This park is much bigger than the others, so you can get away with larger text. Change the font size to 12. In the text box, replace N.P. with NATIONAL PARK and stack the words.

Click Symbol to access more text properties.

Symbol button on the Annotation Attributes pane

Under Formatting, change Letter spacing to 200%.

Letter spacing set to 200%

Click Apply.

Now your label is much larger without the font itself being too large. But it still doesn’t convey the expanse of the park very well.

Kakadu National Park label with wide letter spacing

With the Annotation tool selected, right-click the text and choose Convert to Multiple Parts.

Now you can drag each word around until they are spread across the park.

Kakadu National Park label with words spread widely apart

Don’t be too precious with the placement of these words just yet. By the time you’ve rearranged all the other labels in the park, they’ll need to be moved again.

Save your edits and save your map.

All right. It’s time to work on Darwin.

Crowded text near the city of Darwin

Every map is going to have a place that looks like this. It just might be the biggest difference between maps of fantasy worlds and maps of the real world. The real world likes to put all of the important things in the same place.

What you need to do is eliminate many labels. If you’re going to do that properly, you need to research the area to find out which labels are important and which are not. You can look at other maps in atlases or on the internet to guide you. I have already done this work for you on the place-names. (And my apologies to the people of Darwin if I chose poorly!) But there are still plenty of river and road labels for you to delete.

Delete button on the ribbon

But what if the thought of deleting features makes you uncomfortable? You can remove annotation from your map without deleting.

Select a piece of text that you don’t want to show on the map and open the Attributes pane.

Attributes button on the ribbon with Elizabeth River text selected

Update the Status attribute to Unplaced.

Status set to Unplaced on the Attributes pane

The text will disappear from the map. If you want to review the annotation you removed in this manner, open the Symbology pane and check Draw unplaced annotation.

Draw unplaced annotation checked on the Symbology pane using the color red

Tip: This is also where you’ll find missing text if you didn’t choose the Never remove option when you were setting up labeling properties.

Even with heavily thinned labels, many compromises will have to be made. For example, the ideal place to put a point label is to the upper right.

Batchelor label placed to the upper right of its point

But not if it interferes with other labels. The next best place is to the upper left.

Batchelor label placed to the upper left of its point

Of course, the overlapping road label could also be moved. But the Batchelor label would still be crossing over multiple roads and a river, which is not ideal. So we’ll try position number 3: the lower right.

Batchelor label placed to the lower right of its point

It’s still crossing too many lines. The fourth-best option is the lower left. And I think this one is slightly better than the last.

Batchelor label placed to the lower left of its point

In the example above, you can also see how matching label color to feature color really helps in crowded label scenarios. Here it is clear that the white label goes with the white point and not with the green park.

Once you’ve resolved all of the conflicts and compromises (don’t expect it go quickly), you can turn off the pink dots and admire your lovely annotated map.

Completed annotation around the city of Darwin

You can refer to the Finished Map in the same project for examples.

In my next post, I’ll show you how to make knockouts for labels that cross over roads or other lines. You can find all four parts of this series here: Map text in ArcGIS Pro.

About the author

Heather is a cartographer and artist who mixes both practices to express and understand landscapes. She writes and edits lessons for the Learn ArcGIS website. View more of her work at


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