ArcGIS Pro

Pro Map Text III: Knockouts and Map Notes

Type knockouts are an optional, advanced, and fancy step in map-making, but one that will really take your labels to the next level.

To follow along, open Darwin.ppkx to the map named Annotated Map. If you want to know how we got to this point, check out these previous posts:

What are knockouts? They are used to make text more legible when it is forced to cross over lines and other features.

Without knockouts:

Label without knockout masks

With knockouts:

Label with knockout mask

The trick is to arrange all of your text so that no knockouts will be necessary. But of course that’s usually impossible. In the Darwin map, I did all right—I only have three labels that I find problematic (Djukbinj N.P., Tabletop Range, and Garig Gunak Barlu N.P.). I’ll make knockouts for those three labels only.

Select the offending bits of text on the map.

Open the Feature Outline Masks geoprocessing tool.

For Input Layer, choose the annotation feature class you want to work on.

For Margin, set the size of the knockout. You may need to experiment. I settled on 1 pt.

Feature Outline Masks tool with parameters filled

After running the tool, a new polygon layer is added to your map. It forms a buffer around your text.

Label with Polygon mask

In the Contents pane, turn the feature outline mask layer off. You don’t want to see it. You just want to use it as an invisible feature that will mask the road layer underneath.

In the Contents pane, select the Roads layer. On the ribbon, click the Appearance tab and open the Masking menu.

Check the box for the feature outline mask layer.

NationalParksAnno_FeatureOut checked in the Mask sources list on the ribbon

And now the magic has been applied. Roads will not draw anywhere where there is a mask.

Label with masks "knocking-out" roads
Label with masks "knocking-out" roads

I used annotation masks in a slightly different way elsewhere on this map, this time to create a kind of stencil text. Read on to find out how.

In Darwin.ppkx, open the map named Key Map.

This is the key map (also known as the inset map or locator map). It looks like this on the layout:

Locator map of Australia to the left of Darwin on the layout

I want to label this continent as Australia. But it seems silly to make labels and convert them to annotation when there’s only one label, doesn’t it? Instead, I’ll skip the label step and move directly to annotation.

On the ribbon, click the Insert tab.

In the Layer Templates group, there are a bunch of Map Notes that you can insert into your map. Expand this gallery and click the last option: Text Map Notes 1:250,000. This adds an empty annotation layer to your map.

Text Notes layer in the Contents pane

On the ribbon, click the Edit tab and click Create.

In the Create Features pane, click Text Note Large and click the Curved Annotation button.

In the text box, type AUSTRALIA.

Curved Annotation button

Click the map to draw a curve. Generally speaking, you want to keep annotation curves as simple and gentle as you can.

Bezier curve drawn over the center of Australia

Double-click to finish.

The curve disappears. You can’t see any AUSTRALIA text. That’s because the scale of the annotation is too small compared with the scale of the map. The text is still there—and highlighted—it’s just tiny.

Tiny highlighted text in western Australia

You can just change the font size to something ridiculous like 5000. Or you can run the Update Annotation Reference Scale tool at 1:85,000,000.

Update Annotation Reference Scale tool

Select the annotation feature and open the Attributes pane. Change the font to Century Gothic Bold. For size, type 5000. I also chose center alignment.

Click the Symbol button to access more properties. I changed the Letter spacing to 50%.

Letter spacing set to 50%

Don’t worry about the color of the text, because you’re not going to show it. Instead, you’re going to use these letters like a cookie cutter.

Save your edits and open the Feature Outline Masks tool. For Input Layer, choose Text Notes – 250000, and keep the Margin at 0 Points.

Feature Outline Masks tool

After running the tool, you’ll have a new polygon layer on your map that looks exactly like your annotation layer. Turn them both off.

In the Contents pane, select the Australia layer. On the ribbon, click the Appearance tab.

In the Masking menu, check the box for TextNotes250000_FeatureOutli.

TextNotes layer checked in the masking menu

And now the white land layer has holes cut out of it just like a stencil that spells AUSTRALIA.

Map of Australia with stencil label

Which I think looks just swell on top of the basemap in the layout.

Labeled keymap on the layout

You’re almost done with this map of Darwin. My next post will complete the project with layout text. You can find the full 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


Next Article

What's new in ArcGIS Survey123 (October 2020)

Read this article