Work with a legend

Once a legend has been created, you can modify its overall appearance and behavior. To do this, highlight it in the Contents pane. Under the Format tab, you can make adjustments to the text symbol, alignment, size, and position for the entire legend. To modify individual legend items, select them in the Current Selection group on the Format tab.

To learn about working with individual legend items, see Work with a legend item.

Legend properties

You can modify additional legend options by opening the Format Legend pane. Right-click the Legend in the Contents pane and click Properties. On the Options tab, you can do the following:

  • Change the name of the legend.
  • Set the legend's visibility.
  • Lock the legend so it can no longer be selected on the layout.
  • Choose the map frame the legend references.
  • Change and show the legend's title.
  • Word wrap text in the input field.
  • Show properties for all legend items.
  • Sync fonts when adding items.

To change properties for all the legend items at once, click the Show Properties button. You can change which legend items are shown and modify their Arrangement, Sizing, Indentation, and other Feature Display Options. When the Sync fonts when adding items check box is checked, the font of any new legend item is automatically updated to the font that is being used by the legend.

There are four options to synchronize the behavior of the legend based on changes made to the map:

  • When Layer visibility is checked, the legend displays only visible layers. When this check box is not checked, layers are shown in the legend regardless of visibility.
  • When Layer order is checked, the items in the legend are reordered to match the drawing order of the layers.
  • When New layer is checked, a new item is added to the legend when a new layer is added to the map.
  • When Reference scale is checked, the symbols in the legend change scale based on the map's reference scale. The size of symbols in the legend matches the size of symbols on the map.

Legend arrangement

You can modify the Fitting Strategy, Word wrapping, and the Spacing between legend element items on the Legend Arrangment Options tab Legend Arrangement Options of the Format Legend pane.

Fitting strategy

By default, legend items fill the entire frame. Legend items enlarge or decrease as you resize the legend frame, and the frame enlarges or decreases when legend items are added or removed.

The following fitting strategies change the behavior of the legend and its items:

  • Adjust font size—Adjusts the legend to fit the frame by reducing the font size as needed. Items that do not fit are dropped from the legend. When selected, an additional option, Columns, is available to set the number of columns in the legend.
  • Adjust columns—Adjusts the legend to fit the frame by flowing items to new columns as needed. Items that do not fit are dropped from the legend.
  • Adjust frame—Adjusts the frame to fit the legend. The frame size is auto-adjusted to fit legend items as they are added or removed. When selected, an additional option, Columns, is available to set the number of columns in the legend.
  • Adjust columns and font size—Arranges the legend items to fit the frame. If necessary, it reduces the size of the items so they fit. Items that do not fit are dropped from the legend.


If part of a legend item does not fit, the entire legend item will be dropped from the legend. For example, if a legend item contains 15 classes but only 10 classes fit, the entire item will be dropped. At this point, no additional items are added to the legend even if a smaller legend item later in the list will fit. Keep this in mind when ordering your legend items. If any items have been dropped from the legend, the following symbol appears Overflow.

For each fitting strategy, you can check the Set equal widths check box to set each column in the legend to the same width.

The fitting strategies that adjust font size include an option to specify the Minimum font size threshold so as the legend is adjusted, the font size will never be smaller than the size you have specified.

When fitting the legend into the frame, column settings for individual legend items are respected unless the Fitting Strategy is set to Adjust columns or Adjust columns and font size. When either of these options are used, the column settings for individual items are overridden and a new column is made whenever the height of the legend frame is exceeded.

Word wrapping

Under Word wrapping, you can enable text wrapping for legend labels and legend descriptions by checking the Labels and Descriptions check boxes and setting maximum width values.

The label and description widths are used along with patch and gap measurements to set the total column width. If a column does not have labels or descriptions, the label and description widths are not added to the total width of those columns. Text wraps after it reaches the limit using standard character breaks. If a piece of text doesn't fit, it is truncated and this symbol appears Overflow. The measurements you set for description and label width remain constant even if you resize the legend frame. They do not adjust proportionately like other measurements.


When either label or description wrapping is enabled, wrapping is automatically enabled for headings and layer names, too. They wrap to the total width of the item. Legend titles also wrap to the total width of all the columns.


Adjust gaps to specify the vertical and horizontal spacing between legend elements. You can adjust the following options by changing their point value under Spacing:

  • Categories—The gap between symbology categories. This space is measured from the bottom of the last category to the top of the next category heading.
  • Classes—The gap between legend classes.
  • Columns—The gap between each column.
  • Group Layer and item below—The vertical gap below the group layer name.
  • Headings and Classes—The gap between the category heading and the legend classes.
  • Items—The gap between legend items.
  • Labels and Descriptions—The gap between labels and descriptions.
  • Layer Name and Item below—The gap below layer names.
  • Patch and Text—The gap between the patch and its label or description.
  • Title and Items—The gap between the title and the legend items.

The legend size respects these settings. If you resize the legend manually, these values adjust accordingly.

Update the referenced map frame

If you have multiple map frames on a layout, you can change the map frame the legend references. When the map frame referenced by the legend is changed, the legend updates to contain all applicable layers on the map contained in the newly referenced map frame.

  1. In the Contents pane, right-click the legend and choose Properties from the context menu.

    The Format Legend pane appears.

  2. In the Format Legend pane, if necessary, expand Legend.
  3. Use the Map Frame drop-down menu to choose a different map frame.

Add, remove, and reorder legend items

After a legend has been created, you can remove or add any applicable legend items from the associated map. The Contents pane lists all the legend items. You can also remove a legend item by right-clicking it in the Contents pane and selecting Remove. To reorder legend items, press the Drawing Order button List By Drawing Order in the Contents pane, then select the legend items and drag them into the order you prefer.

Update legend patch size

You can set the default legend patch size by right-clicking the legend item in the Contents pane and choosing Properties. In the Format Legend pane, you can change the Patch Width and Patch Height. To scale point symbols to fit inside the specified patch size, check the Scale to fit patch size check box.


Legend items always display the legend patch set for the feature layer. The patch can be changed by adjusting the layer's symbology.

Add or modify a title

To add or modify the legend title, right-click the legend in the Contents pane and choose Properties. Legend title settings are in the Format Legend pane on the Options tab. To display a title, expand Legend and check Show. Edit the text for the title in the text box. To remove the title, uncheck Show.

Format a legend

You can format legend fonts and add a background, border, or shadow.

Font changes made to the legend apply to all items in the legend. When you select the legend and change the font color, it applies to all text in the legend, including the title, layer names, headings, labels, and descriptions. You can also select a specific piece of the legend to change its font and other settings.


When a border, background, or drop shadow are added to a legend, they resize to surround the legend items and not the frame.

The following example updates the font for all text in the legend, makes only legend item headings bold, and adds a border with an offset.

  1. Select the legend in the Contents pane.
  2. Under the Legend tab, on the Format tab, in the Current Selection group, verify that Legend is selected.
  3. In the Text Symbol group, choose a new font.
  4. In the Current Selection group, expand the selection drop-down menu, and choose Headings.
  5. In the Text Symbol group, set Bold as the font style.
  6. If the Format Legend pane is not already open, right-click the legend in the Contents pane and click Properties. In the Format Legend pane, click the Display tab Display.
  7. Under the Border heading, click Border Symbol.
  8. Choose a style item from the gallery.
  9. Click the Back button Back to return to the Display tab.
  10. Under Border, change the values for X Gap and Y Gap.

To learn more about working with individual legend items, see Work with a legend item.

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