Reference grids

Reference grids, also referred to as grids, are networks of columns and rows used to divide a map into equal-area squares, independent of the map's coordinate system. Each column and row is labeled, allowing every square in the grid to have a unique identifier. Reference grids can be applied to rectangular map frames only since any other shape would result in non-equal-area divisions.

Reference grid example map

Modify reference grid properties

Once a reference grid has been added to a map frame, you can change its appearance by modifying its properties. You can then save it as a style to use again.

To modify a grid, right-click it in the Contents pane and click Properties to open the Element pane.

In the Element pane, on the Options tab Properties, you can set the following:

  • Name—Change the grid name, how it appears in the Contents pane.
  • Visible—Turn the grid on or off in the layout.
  • Automatically adjust—Automatically change the number of rows and columns based on the size of the map frame.
  • Number of Rows—Set the number of rows in the grid. This option is not available if Automatically adjust is checked.
  • Number of Columns—Set the number of columns in the grid. This option is not available if Automatically adjust is checked.
  • Neatline—Adjust the symbol for the border defining the geographic data extent of the map.


Grids are composed of combinations of the following components:

These components are managed on the Components tab Components in the Element pane.


Due to the dynamic nature of grids, there are limitations on modifying components. If you cannot achieve the necessary grid configuration by modifying the component properties, consider converting the grid to graphics and modifying the resulting graphics.

To add a component, click the Add button Add and choose from the list of available components. To remove a component, select it in the list and click Remove Delete. Use the arrow buttons Move Item Up Move Item Down to move selected components up or down in the drawing order.

Select a component in the Components list to modify its properties.


Labels are text for each row and column, creating a unique identifier for every square in the grid.

The label text is taken from the Labeling Scheme parameter. The labeling scheme can be set for rows and columns by selecting an option from the Rows drop-down menu and the Columns drop-down menu. The default options are ABCDEF, which contains all the letters of the alphabet, and 1234567, which contains all numbers starting at 1.

You can also select <custom> to open the Label Scheme dialog box and create a custom labeling scheme. Each custom scheme has a name that appears in the Rows or Columns drop-down menu and label values. To edit a custom scheme once it has been created, click the Edit custom button Edit Description to open the Label Scheme dialog box.

Click the Symbol button to modify the text symbol of the labels. Set the position of the labels relative to the map frame by specifying an Offset value.

Labels can be drawn vertically for the rows and columns map by checking the Vertical check box for each.


Tabs are polygon symbols for each row and column that act as a border around the grid. They can be used to highlight the height of the column, the width of the row, or the labels.

The following six types of tabs are available for reference grids:

  • Continuous
  • Rounded
  • Squared
  • Rectangle
  • Circle
  • Rounded Rectangle

Use the Type drop-down menu to choose a grid type. Three of the types—Continuous, Rounded, and Squared—are automatically sized to the width of the column or height of the row. The other types allow you to set the height and width using the Tab height and Tab width options.

Click the Symbol to modify the tab symbol. Check Alternating symbols to use two tab symbols in your grid.

Under the Visible heading, use the direction check boxes to specify which tabs are shown.


Gridlines are lines drawn on top of the map that show the row and column boundaries.

Click the Symbol to modify the appearance of the gridlines.


Ticks are linear marks at the edges of the rows and columns.

Click the Symbol to modify the tick's appearance. Set the position of the ticks relative to the map frame by specifying an Offset value.

Under the Visible heading, use the direction check boxes to specify which tabs are shown.

Intersection Points

Intersection points are point symbols showing where rows and columns cross. You can use intersection points, without gridlines, to create a grid of points on your map.

Click the Symbol to modify the symbol of the intersection points.

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