Arrange a legend

Once a legend has been added to a layout, you can modify its appearance and specify how the legend responds to changes in the map. Changes to the legend can be made either at the legend level, which affects the overall appearance and behavior, or at the legend item level, which affects the appearance of one or more individual items.

Change the legend's appearance

There are several legend-level options to change a legend's appearance. The following changes are set at the legend level: legend title; legend fitting strategy; word wrapping for labels and descriptions; legend spacing; and setting a border, background, and shadow. The border, background, and shadow for a legend are set the same way for all layout elements.

To modify the legend's appearance, complete the following steps:

  1. In the Contents pane, right-click the legend and click Properties Properties to open the Element pane.

    Be sure to click the legend element, not a legend item. Legend items have different properties.

  2. In the Element pane, select the tab containing the properties you want to change.

    Options tab Options

    Turn on or off the legend title, and adjust the title text.

    Legend Arrangement Options tab Legend Arrangement Options

    Contains fitting strategy, word wrapping, and spacing properties.

    Display tab Display

    Contains border, background, and shadow properties.

  3. Adjust the properties as desired.

If you can't achieve the desired look for your legend by adjusting the properties, consider converting it to graphics. To do this, right-click the legend in the Contents pane and choose Convert to Graphics Convert To Graphics. This changes the legend into groups of graphic elements that can be manipulated individually. However, once a legend is converted to graphics, it loses all connection to the map. Any changes to layer symbology, or adding and removing layers, will not be reflected in the legend.

Fitting strategy

The legend fitting strategy controls how items flow in a legend, the number of columns the legend has, and how the legend changes to fit additional items. Changing the fitting strategy can have a significant impact on how your legend looks. The fitting strategy is especially important if your legend needs to be dynamic, updating to changes in the map, like in a map series. The Legend fitting strategies topic details the different fitting strategies and their properties.

Word wrapping

On the Legend Arrangment Options tab Legend Arrangement Options, you can enable text wrapping for legend labels and legend descriptions. By default, legend columns are wide enough to accommodate all the label and description text for the longest legend item on one line. Enabling word wrapping allows the text to flow onto another line once it's exceeded a set length using standard character breaks. This is useful when you have long legend labels or descriptions.

You can choose to wrap the legend item labels, the legend item descriptions, or both. 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.

To learn about formatting the various text items in a legend, see Text in a legend.


On the Legend Arrangment Options tab Legend Arrangement Options, you can adjust the gaps between the various pieces of the legend. The following options are available:

Gap typeDefinition

The vertical gap between symbology categories. This is measured from the bottom of the last category to the top of the next category heading.


The vertical gap between classes in a single legend item, for example, classes for a layer rendered with unique values.


The horizontal gap between each legend column.

Group layers and items below

The vertical gap below the group layer name.

Headings and classes

The vertical gap between the legend item heading and the classes in that item.


The vertical gap between different legend items.

Labels and descriptions

The horizontal gap between a legend item's label and its description. Not all symbology types support descriptions.

Layer names and items below

The vertical gap between the layer name and the item directly below it. This could be the heading or the legend item patch and label.

Patches and text

The horizontal gap between the legend item patch and its label or description.

Title and items

The vertical gap between the legend title and the legend items.

Interactions between the legend and the map

Changes made in the map have an impact on the legend. For example, if a layer is removed from the map, the corresponding legend item must be removed from the legend. This is done automatically. However, other connections between the map and legend can be changed.

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

Synchronization optionDefinition
Layer visibility

The legend displays only the visible layers in the map. This is on by default.

Layer order

Legend items are reordered to match the drawing order of the layers in the map. You cannot manually change the legend item order. This is off by default.

New layer

A new item is added to the legend when a new layer is added to the map. This is on by default.

Reference scale

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. This is on by default.

To set these, complete the following steps:

  1. In the Contents pane, right-click the legend and click Properties Properties to open the Element pane.

    Be sure to click the legend element and not a legend item. Synchronization options are a property of the legend and can't be changed when a legend item is selected.

  2. On the Element pane, select the Options tab Options.
  3. Check or uncheck any of the synchronization items listed under the Synchronize with map heading.

You can also choose to show all the items in the legend, or only items visible in the current map extent. This is done at the legend item level. See Work with a legend item for more information.

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