ArcGIS Pro

Tips and Tricks for Working with Legends in ArcGIS Pro

Legends in ArcGIS Pro are powerful, but they can also be a little tricky. There are so many different options it can be hard to know where to start. To help, here’s a list of 10 tips and tricks for working with legends in ArcGIS Pro.


1. Add Selected Items

When you create a legend, you don’t have to include all the layers in the map. If you select specific layers in the Contents pane before creating the legend, only the selected layers are added to the legend. If you forgot to select a layer, no worries, you can drag it in after the legend has been created.

Selected layers in the Contents pane. These are the only layers added to the legend.
Only the selected layers will be added to the newly created legend.

2. Legend vs. Legend Item

A legend is made up of legend items. You can set properties at either the legend or legend item level. The legend contains properties that apply to the entire legend element, like the fitting strategy, title, word wrapping, and background. Legend items have properties that can be different for each layer including the patch size, the label text size, and if all the classes in the layer are included or only the ones visible in the map extent. You can set properties for each item individually, or multiple items at once.

To set properties at the legend level, select the legend in the Contents pane, right click and choose Properties to open the Element pane. Once the pane has been opened, if you select a legend item or items the pane updates to show the properties of the item or items. You can also open the element pane by right-clicking a legend item (or legend items!) and choosing properties.

Showing the legend and legend items in the Contents pane
The Legend and the Legend items are both visible in the Contents Pane. Changing the selection will change the properties available in the Element pane.

3. Reorder legend items

Once you’ve created a legend you can change the order the legend items draw anytime. Expand the legend in the Contents pane, select a legend item and then drag it up or down on the list to get the order you want.

Reorder legend items in the Contents Pane
Reordering legend items in the Contents pane will change the order they draw on the legend.

4. Change the fitting strategy

As layers are added, removed, or the legend is resized your legend grows and shrinks. How the legend items get arranged when the legend changes size is determined by the fitting strategy. There are four fitting strategies available:

The same legend 4 times each using a different fitting strategy.
The same legend (at the same size) looks different depending on what fitting strategy is used.

5. Style groups of text

You don’t have to update the text properties for every legend item heading individually. Headings, Layer Names, Group Layer Names, Labels, and Descriptions for the entire legend can be updated when the legend is selected by using the legend part list in the Format Legend pane. With the legend selected in the Contents pane, choose the text group you want to update from the list, and the changes are applied to all legend items. Or select a single legend item and use the list to set the text properties for only that legend item.

The legend part drop-down list in the Element pane.
Use the legend part list in the Element Pane to style groups of text.

6. Use indents

Indent pieces of your legend item using the indent options for a legend item. You can indent the layer name, the heading, and the classes. For example, if you have a layer symbolized by unique values you can indent the classes within that item.

Legend with class indents, and the Element pane showing the indent control
Set indents at the legend item level to change the look of your legend.

7. Update layer settings

Not everything is set at the legend or legend item level. Legends also use information from the layer properties. For example, the label text, description text, and legend patch shape are all properties of the layer and not the legend. This means if you want to update them, you’ll need to go to the layer’s symbology not the legend properties.


The symbology pane showing the label, description, and patch size
The label, description, and legend patch are just some of the properties set at the layer level that apply to the legend.

8. Sync with the map

Use the Synchronize with map options at the legend level to keep the map layers and legend items in sync. There are four sync options. They are particularly useful if your map isn’t quite finished when you start building the legend.

Note: The symbology of the layer is always connected to the legend. Updating the symbology in the map automatically updates the legend item. Also, deleting a layer in the map always deletes the corresponding legend item.

The sync properties in the Element pane
The four sync properties are available in the Element pane.

9. Borders and backgrounds (with spaces!)

Borders and backgrounds can help provide a clean look to your legend. They can be added on the Element pane, at the legend level. By default, when you add a border or background it draws right at the edge of your legend text or patches. This sometimes make the legend feel crowded. If you want to add some space, use the X gap and Y gap options for the border or background. Remember to set the same gaps for the border and the background if you are including both in your legend.

A legend with a black border and tan background. Both the border and background have a gap applied.
This legend has both a border and background, each with a gap applied.

10. Convert to graphics

For exact control over your legend items you can convert the legend to graphics. This changes your legend items into grouped text and graphic elements. You can then move, resize, delete, or format individual elements. Convert to graphics is a powerful tool for creating custom legends, but there is a catch. Once you’ve converted your legend to graphics it loses all the connection with the map. If you add layers, delete layers, or change layer symbology the legend graphics won’t update. You must make those changes to the legend manually.

Losing the connection to the map may seem like a reason to avoid converting to graphics at all costs. However, if you have a completed map where the symbology and layers likely won’t change then convert to graphics may be the best option for fully customizing your legend.

The convert to graphics button on the legend context menu in the Contents pane
Right-click on the legend in the Contents pane to convert to graphics. Once a legend has been converted to graphics, it is no longer connected to the map.

Those are just a few tricks for working with legends. To learn more check out these help topics:


About the author

I love good cartography, good burritos, and helping people figure out effective ways to share their data with others. Luckily, my work as a Product Engineer on the ArcGIS Pro Layout team lets me do that everyday.

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