Using feature weight rankings to avoid placing labels on major streets

By Charlie Frye, Esri Chief Cartographer

Labeling toolbar with Label Weights button circled.

Notice in the first graphic below that the labels for “CAJON ST” and “CLIFTON CT” are placed over of major streets in a way that makes them difficult to read. This graphic is derived from my recent blog entry on the Maplex Street Placement option, and I was using the Street Placement option, but that left me with this problem. Well, this happened because I didn’t tell the Maplex Label Engine to treat the major streets differently.

Maplex Street label placement

I symbolized this map to show major streets more prominently, but just assigning a darker, wider symbol does not tell Maplex my intentions.  I could change the color of my major streets to a medium gray so that you could still see the text on top of the intersections, but that isn’t ideal — I shouldn’t have to change my symbology just because Maplex did what I told it to rather than what I meant it to do.

Instead I used another feature on the labeling toolbar (feature weight rankings) to give the Maplex Label Engine the information about what I wanted and it then produced the result in the next image.

Maplex Street label placement with major streets respected

In this example, notice not both labels that were problems in the above image are better placed relative to the nearby major streets. The way I did this was to assign weight rankings to my label classes, specifically to my major streets. 

The streets layer I am working with has three different line symbols, one for surface streets, which are medium gray lines, one for major streets, which are heavier black lines, and one for highways, which aren’t visible in these examples. Each kind of street my layer has a label class that defines the specific symbol and labeling rules. When I click the Label Weight Ranking button on the labeling toolbar (shown at the top) the Weight Ranking dialog box is shown.  Here is what it looks like for my simple map:

Maplex Street label placement with major intersections respected

I changed the feature weight for my major streets to 1000. That way no labels would be placed on top of major streets. The Maplex Label Engine uses feature weights as guidance for whether or not to place labels on top of features. Here are a few things I’ve found useful to know about setting feature weights:

In general, you can use feature weight rankings to tell the Maplex Label Engine about which space on your map is available to place labels, which space is not available, and which features on your map are relatively important so labels won’t be placed on top of them.

About the author

I am Chief Cartographer at Esri, and manage the Cartographic Projects Group on the Content Team. I have been with Esri in Software Products since 1994. I am currently the author of Esri's Ecological Land Unit services, global ecological content, and the World Population Estimate Services. Contact me at with questions or feedback.

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