Work with a legend item

In a legend, layers in the map are represented as legend items. Legend items contain a patch showing an example of the map symbols and explanatory text. You can add, remove, and reorder individual items in the legend to change how it looks. Additionally, you can adjust each legend item's properties such as the order of text, the size of patches, and the type of item used.

Legends are listed with a legend symbol Legend and legend items are listed with a legend item symbol Legend Item in the Contents pane. Expand the legend to see the items.


Some properties of the legend, such as the patch, are set with the layer's symbology. You can change the legend patch and certain other parameters by adjusting the layer's symbology.

Add, remove, and reorder legend items

You can add, remove, and reorder the items in a legend. You can also turn off legend items so they are no longer visible on the layout by unchecking them in the Contents pane.

To add items, select a layer or layers in the Contents pane and drag it to the legend group in the same pane.


A legend can include items from a single map frame only. You cannot drag layers from multiple map frames onto a legend.

To remove legend items, expand the legend in the Contents pane to see the items, right-click an item, and click Remove. Uncheck a legend item to turn off its visibility without removing it from the legend.

Reorder legend items by expanding the legend Legend in the Contents pane to see the legend items, and drag items up or down in the list to reorder them.

If the Layer order option is checked for the legend, reordering is not available. Instead, the legend items are kept in the same order as the layers in the map.

Edit legend item properties

After a legend item has been added to the legend, you can modify its appearance. Various modifications can be made depending on the symbology of the layer shown in the legend item. For example, you can nest the shapes inside of each other for proportional symbology but not for other types when there are not multiple shapes. You can modify a legend item's appearance in the following ways:


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

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

  1. Expand the legend in the Contents pane to see the legend items Legend Item.
  2. Select one or more legend items to modify in the Contents pane.
  3. Right-click the selected item or items and choose Properties to open the Element pane.
  4. Adjust the legend item properties in the Element pane.

    If you have multiple legend items selected, only properties common to all the selected legend items are available.

Text display options

In the Element pane in the Show section, you can turn on or off various text components of the legend item by checking or unchecking them. If a check box is disabled, that type of text is not applicable for that legend item. Not all legend items support all text types. For example, a legend item in which the layer being shown by the legend isn't in a group won't have the group layer name option enabled.

The following text components are available for legend items:

Text componentDescription
Group Layer Name

Show the group layer name as a heading. This option is only applicable if the layer represented by the legend item is in a group and it is the first item in that group.

Layer Name

Show the layer name as heading text above the patch and label.


Show the headings specified in the layer properties. This option is only applicable if the layer's symbology supports headings.


Show the label for each legend class


Show the description for each legend class specified in the layer properties. This option is only applicable if the layer's symbology supports descriptions.

Additionally, you can adjust the font, size, color, and other text components separately.

Learn more about formatting text in a legend

Legend item types

Legend element types control how the patches and text are configured relative to each other. For example, in a vertical legend item type, the patches and text are stacked vertically. In a nested legend type, proportional symbols are nested inside each other with text on the outside. Different legend item types are available depending on the type of symbology in the layer being represented in the legend item.

To change the legend item type, use the Type drop-down list in the Element pane. Only legend item types applicable to the layer type are shown in the list. Selecting a legend type updates the pane to show options applicable to that type. For example, the horizontal legend item type shows controls for setting the angle of the text above and below the horizontal patches. These angle options are not available for other legend item types.

The following legend item types are available:

Legend item typeDescription


The patch and text are next to each other in a horizontal line. There is one patch and one symbol per line. For symbology types with multiple patches, such as unique values and proportional symbols, the legend item has multiple lines.


The patch or patches are in a horizontal line with the text above or below. For symbology with multiple polygons per layer, the patches can be aligned to make a single solid bar. Additional text angle options are available when this type is selected.


The patch or patches are in a vertical line with text above and below.


The patches are nested inside each other with the text on the outside. Additional options are available to add leader lines from the patches to the text, only show the patch outlines, adjust the label text size to better align with the nested patch size, and label only the top and bottom patches instead of all patches. This type is only available for symbology with proportional or graduated symbols.


A bivariate legend item. The legend item matches the specifications for patch orientation and labeling set in the bivariate symbology.


A chart legend item. The legend item matches the specifications for size and legend pieces set in the chart symbology.

Arrangement and sizing

The order in which the text and patches draw for each legend item is set in the Arrangement drop-down list in the Element pane. You can set the order for Patch, Label, and Description. Any other text elements that are turned on draw above the legend patch.

Depending on the fitting strategy set for the entire legend, optional check boxes may be available for further adjustments to the legend item. The New column option moves the legend item into a new column. The Keep in single column option 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 on the map. To scale point symbols to fit inside the specified patch size, check the Scale to fit patch size check box.

Dynamic legend items

A legend item can be dynamic, meaning it only shows features visible in the current map frame extent. Check Only show features visible in the map extent in the Element pane 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. For legend items with a single symbol, if the layer is not visible, the legend item won't draw even though it remains checked in the Contents pane. For legend items with multiple symbols, such as those using unique values symbology, only the symbols currently visible in the map frame extent appear in the legend. This is useful if the layout contains a map series, because the legend can update for each page. Additionally, if a spatial map series is enabled on the layout, you can 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.


The Only show features visible in the map extent option is not available for some layer types including vector tiles, as well as layers with the clustering aggregation type applied. Additionally, certain layer symbology types, such as unclassed colors, use color ramps which do not support this option.

To add feature counts to the legend, check the Show feature count check box. The feature count is based on the extent of the symbols applied to features at the reference scale. Part of a feature's symbol may appear in the map frame even when the coordinate geometry of the feature is outside the map frame extent. Features in this state are included in the 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 the Show thousands separator check box to display a thousands separator if the feature count is more than 1,000.

Legend item groups

Some symbology types result in multipart legend items. The various pieces of these more complex legend items can be turned on and off.

Indent options

To change the indenting for the layer name, headings, and legend classes, choose an indent value from the drop-down menu or type it manually.

Save to a style

Once you've modified a legend item, you can save it to a style to use again in future projects without redoing the formatting. To apply a saved legend style to one or more selected items, choose the style from the Legend item gallery drop-down list Legend item gallery on the Format tab.

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.

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