Add text on a map

Maps convey information about geographic features, yet displaying only features on a map—even with symbols that convey their meaning—isn't always enough to make your point. Adding text to your map improves the visualization of geographic information on your map.

There are various kinds of text you can add to your map. Descriptive text can be placed near individual map features. For example, you can add the name of each major city in Africa to your map. You can add text to draw attention to an area of the map, such as the general location of the Sahara Desert. You can also add text that improves the presentation of your map. For example, a map title provides context. You can add other information such as map author, data source, and date.

Kinds of text

Because text serves so many mapping purposes, ArcGIS Pro offers several types. The main types are labels, annotation, text map notes, and graphic text in a layout and graphic text on the map. A label is a piece of text that is automatically positioned and whose text string is based on feature attributes. Labels offer the fastest and easiest way to add descriptive text to your map for individual features. For example, you can turn on dynamic labeling for a layer of major cities to quickly add all the city names to your map.

ArcGIS Pro has two labeling engines: the Standard Label Engine and the Maplex Label Engine, which provides further capabilities for placing your labels.

The second option when working with text is to use annotation. Annotation can be used to describe particular features or add general information to the map. You can use annotation in the same way as labels to add descriptive text for map features or just to add a few pieces of text manually to describe an area on your map. Unlike labels, each piece of annotation stores its own position, text string, and display properties. Compared to labels, annotation provides more flexibility over the appearance and placement of your text because you can select individual pieces of text and edit their position and appearance. You can use ArcGIS Pro to convert labels to annotation.

Text map notes are annotation feature classes that are added as templates to the map. These annotation feature classes are stored in the project's geodatabase.

Graphic text in a layout is useful for adding information on and around a map that exists in page space—as opposed to annotation, which is stored in geographic space. Dynamic text is a type of graphic text that, when placed on a map layout, changes dynamically based on the current properties of the map.

Graphic text can also be stored in a graphics layer in a map. Unlike layout text, these elements are stored in geographic space. These text elements provide a way to annotate a map without the need for a geodatabase.

Options for storing text

Before you begin working with text, you must understand the text storage options in ArcGIS Pro.

First, labels are not stored; they are generated dynamically, and only labeling properties are stored—the settings used to create labels on the fly. If you are working in a map, the labeling properties are saved when you save the project (.aprx). Labeling properties can also be stored in layer files (.lyrx). Use layer files to transfer labels between two maps without having to set up labeling again in the new map.

Geodatabase annotation is stored in a geodatabase in annotation feature classes. You can think of geodatabase annotation as a special type of geographic feature, stored together with other geographic data in a geodatabase. Like point, line, and polygon feature classes, annotation feature classes can be used in many different maps.

Graphic text in a map is stored in a graphics layer. This graphics layer is stored in the map and provides limited editing and storage.

Which kind of text to use

The type of text to use is based on the text you have and how you want to use text on the map. If you only want to add a few pieces of text and what you want to identify is not based on attributes, you can use graphic text in your map, text map notes, or geodatabase annotation. If, however, you want feature-descriptive text, use labels to add text based on feature attributes. You can then convert these labels to feature-linked annotation for further editing of their placement.

Common text-related tasks

Below are some common tasks you can perform with text. Instructions are provided to complete each task with labels and geodatabase annotation.

TaskLabelsGraphic text on a mapGeodatabase annotation

Create a set of labels, a graphics layer, or an annotation feature class.

By default, each feature layer in ArcGIS Pro has one set of labels. You can create label classes to subdivide these labels or to label a feature multiple times.

Add a graphics layer to a map.

Create an annotation feature class in the Catalog pane.

Insert text map notes from the Insert tab.

Convert labels to annotation.

In ArcGIS Pro, view the list of label classes, graphics layers, or annotation feature classes.

Listed in the Labeling view of the Contents pane.

Listed in the ArcGIS Pro Contents pane.

Listed in the ArcGIS Pro Contents pane.

View the attribute table for text.

Labels are generated from feature attributes and do not have their own attributes.

Graphics text does not have attributes.

Open the layer attribute table in ArcGIS Pro.

View the reference scale.

In ArcGIS Pro, on the General tab of the Map Properties dialog box.

In ArcGIS Pro, on the Graphics Layer tab. To access this tab, select the graphics layer in the Contents pane.

In ArcGIS Pro, on the Source tab of the Layer Properties dialog box, and also in the Annotation Feature Class Properties pane.

Set the reference scale.

In ArcGIS Pro, on the General tab of the Map Properties dialog box.

In ArcGIS Pro, on the Graphics Layer tab. To access this tab, select the graphics layer in the Contents pane.

The reference scale is set when you create an annotation feature class.

Create text on your map.

In ArcGIS Pro, right-click a layer in the Contents pane and click Label Features.

Use the text tools on the Graphics tab. To access this tab, select the graphics layer in the Contents pane. The Auto Text tool Auto Text Tool automatically derives the text string from the label expression of the feature clicked.

Start editing and use the templates to add annotation. If you have feature-linked annotation, new annotation is automatically created as you add new features.

You can also use Annotate Selected Features.

Select and move text in ArcGIS Pro.

You cannot select or move labels.

Use the Select tool on the Graphics tab. To access this tab, select the graphics layer in the Contents pane.

Start editing and use the Modify tool.

Change the appearance of the text symbol in ArcGIS Pro.

On the Labeling ribbon or in the Label Class pane.

On the Graphics tab or in the Format Text pane. To open the pane, select one or more elements in the map view, right-click an element, and choose Properties.

Start editing and edit the annotation symbol attributes.

Use symbol substitution to temporarily change the appearance of annotation for the map.

Link text to features.

By definition, all labels are linked to features.

In ArcGIS Pro it is not possible to link graphic layers to feature layers.

Only annotation stored in feature-linked annotation feature classes can be feature linked.

Convert text to a different format.

Prepare labels for conversion.

Convert labels to geodatabase annotation.

Convert labels to graphics.

Graphic text elements can be converted to annotation using the Graphics To Features tool.

Annotation cannot be converted to a different format in ArcGIS Pro.

Improve text performance.

Use Summary to ensure there is no duplication of SQL queries in the label classes. Also, use feature weights sparingly and set the visible scale ranges for the labels.

Do not use graphic text if you have more than a few hundred pieces of text.

Use geodatabase annotation to store large amounts of text.

Text-related tasks in ArcGIS Pro

Set text defaults

By default, new maps open using the Maplex Label Engine. You can change the default label engine to the Standard Label Engine and set a default font name and font style for labeling. This will not change the label engine and font for existing maps, only for newly created maps.


When new annotation feature classes are created, they will also use the default label engine, font name, and font style.

  1. Open the Options dialog box.

    If a project is currently open, click the Project tab on the ribbon.

    Start ArcGIS Pro and click Settings at the bottom of the start page.

  2. Click Options.

    The Options dialog box appears.

  3. Under the Application heading, click the Map and Scene tab and expand the Label Engine expander to change the default label engine.
  4. Under the Application heading, click the Text and Graphics tab to change the default font properties.