Work with a legend item

Modify legend item properties

You can work with an individual legend item by selecting it in the Contents pane after expanding the legend. You can also set properties for items simultaneously by selecting multiple legend items.

To access legend item properties, right-click a legend item and choose Properties from the context menu. This opens the Format Legend Item pane. Then choose Legend Item from the Properties drop-down menu.

From here, you can do the following:

  • Show or hide the layer name, group headings, labels, or descriptions.
  • Change the arrangement of patches, labels, and descriptions.

Legend items can be preformatted using default settings. Right-click the legend item and click Save as Default to change the default settings. When additional legend items are added to the legend, they will conform to the last saved default.


Legend items always display the legend patch set for the feature layer. You can change the patch by adjusting the layer's symbology.

Format a legend item

When legend items are selected, you can use the Format tab and Format Legend Item pane to format the text for layer names, headings, labels, and descriptions.


To work with the text of all legend items at once, you can either select them all or work at the legend level. When you make changes at the legend level, they are made to all applicable legend items. To learn more, see Work with a legend.

You can work with individual pieces of a legend item or all of its text at once. Follow the steps below to change the font of all text in a legend item and italicize only the descriptions.

  1. Choose one or more legend items in the Contents pane.
  2. On the Format tab on the ribbon, choose Legend Item from the drop-down menu in the Current Selection group.

    This allows you to work with the entire item.

  3. In the Text Symbol group, choose a new font from the drop-down menu.

    This updates the font type for layer names, headings, labels, and descriptions of the selected items.

  4. Go back to the Current Selection group and choose Descriptions from the drop-down menu.

    You are now only working with descriptions.

  5. In the Text Symbol group, set Italic as the font style.

    This italicizes only the legend item descriptions.

  6. Note that you can only set Italic as the font style if it is available for the current font.

You can also use the Format Legend Item pane. Using the pane instead of the ribbon gives you access to advanced text symbol properties.

Legend item properties

With the legend item selected in the Contents pane, you can modify its appearance from the Format Legend Item pane. To make changes, right-click the legend item and click Properties. The following sections in the Format Legend Item pane allow you to choose which parts of the item are shown, so you can then modify their arrangement, sizing, and indenting.


The following check boxes switch on or off parts of the legend:

  • Group Layer Name—Show the group layer name as a heading.
  • Layer Name—Show the layer name as a heading.
  • Headings—Show the headings specified in the layer properties.
  • Labels—Show the label for each legend class.
  • Descriptions—Show the description for each legend class specified in the layer properties.


The arrangement drop-down menu allows you to change how the pieces of a legend item are organized. The pieces are Patch, Label, and Description.

Depending on the fitting strategy set for the entire legend, optional check boxes may be available for further adjustments to your legend item. New column moves the legend item into a new column. Keep in single column prevents the legend item from displaying across multiple columns.


You can modify the space between the patch label and its description from the Patch Width and Patch Height drop-down menus or adjust it manually.

By default, point symbols are drawn at the size they display in the map. You can scale point symbols to fit inside the specified patch size by checking the Scale to fit patch size check box.

Feature display options

Check Only show features visible in the map extent to include a legend item only if the feature is visible in the map extent. If the legend item is for a feature with multiple classes, such as a layer symbolized by unique values, only the classes that appear in the map extent are included in the legend. Additionally, if a spatial map series is enabled on the layout, you can choose to show only features within the map series shape instead of within the whole map extent. If no features from that legend item are in the current extent, the entire item does not appear in the legend.

You can add feature counts to the legend by checking Show feature count. The number of features from the legend item class that are in the current extent appears adjacent to that class's label. If a legend item does not include labels, the count appears adjacent to the patch. Use the text boxes to customize the text that surrounds the feature count. Check Show thousands separator to display a thousands separator if your feature count is more than 1,000.


You can change the indenting fo the Layer Name, Headings, and legend Classes by selecting an indent value from the drop-down menu or typing it manually.

Converting map elements to graphics

For precise control over each item that composes a map element, such as a legend, you can convert the map element to graphics.

Once you convert a map element to a graphic, it is no longer connected to its original data and does not respond to changes made to the map. For instance, if you add another layer to the map after the legend has been converted to a graphic, the legend does not automatically update. Therefore, it is a good idea to convert elements to graphics only after your map's layers and symbology are finalized.

You can further ungroup the legend graphics so the individual elements (the patches, text, and so on) that compose the legend can be edited individually.

Related topics