Work with graphics layers

Graphics layers are containers for graphic elements—geometric shapes, lines, points, text, or pictures. They provide a way to include simple notations on a map or layout that highlight particular areas or label places.

You can use graphics layers to visualize a map without creating features. For example, you can add rectangle and text elements to a graphics layer to highlight a property for lease and label its nearby streets. When you add individual graphic elements to a graphics layer, they remain positioned relative to other data if the map scale or coordinate system changes. Additionally, graphics layers can have a reference scale, and a label and feature weight.

Maps can contain more than one graphics layer, with multiple types of graphic elements. Graphics layers can be separate or grouped, but graphic elements are selectable across different graphics layers. This means you can modify graphics while simultaneously performing other tasks.

In layouts, graphics layers in map frames can be edited when the map frame is activated. You can also add graphic elements directly to a layout; these exist outside of graphics layers as stand-alone elements in the layout. To learn more, see Add graphics, text, and pictures in a layout.

Graphics layers cannot be created in scenes. They can be added to scenes, but to the 2D Layers category only. The contents of a graphics layer cannot be edited in a scene.


Graphic elements created in ArcMap are stored in annotation groups (instead of in layers as they are in ArcGIS Pro) and may be linked to a particular layer or the data frame. When graphic elements are imported from ArcMap, one graphics layer is created per annotation group.

Graphics layers do not have an attribute table, so are not stored in a geodatabase. If you wish to create notation in a geodatabase setting, consider using map notes.

Add a graphics layer to a map

To add graphic elements to a map, a graphics layer must be present. To create a graphics layer, follow the steps below:

  1. On the Map tab, in the Layer group, click Add Graphics Layer Add Graphics Layer.

    A new graphics layer appears in the Contents pane.

  2. Optionally, drag the graphics layer up or down to reorder it in the draw order.

    When a graphics layer is present in a project, the Graphics contextual tab appears on the ribbon.

  3. After the graphics layer is created, click the Graphics tab. In the Insert group, use the gallery to insert new graphic elements.

Explore graphics layers

The Graphics tab is accessible if at least one graphics layer is present in the map. In the Insert group, click the Target layer drop-down menu to choose the target graphics layer where new graphic elements will be stored.

The Graphics tab is composed of the following groups:



Set the target layer and use the graphic elements gallery to create elements in the target graphics layer.


Use the available selection tools to modify graphic elements. You can edit vertices, rotate or flip graphics, and merge graphics.


Use the gallery to apply symbols to the selected graphic elements or set symbol properties using the available controls.

Text Symbol

Use the gallery to apply text symbols to the selected text elements or set text symbol properties using the available controls.


Use the available tools to order, align, distribute, group, or ungroup the selected graphic elements relative to each other. The tools become active when one or more graphics are selected.


Cumulatively, graphics layers in maps cannot exceed 10 MB or contain more than 4,000 graphic elements. Map notes do not have a size or count limit.

Change the appearance of a graphics layer

Similar to feature layers, additional properties for individual graphics layers can be accessed from the Graphics Layer tab. To access this tab, select a graphics layer in the Contents pane.


Visibility Range

Set a Maximum Scale Maximum Scale and Minimum Scale Minimum Scale value to determine the scale range the graphics layer is visible in the map. Click Clear Limits Clear Scale to draw graphics layers at all scales.


Click the Transparency drop-down menu Transparency to adjust the graphics layer's transparency value or to apply layer blending to all layers beneath it in the drawing order. See Apply transparency and blending modes for more information.


Use the Swipe Swipe and Flicker Flicker effects to make comparisons to the rest of the data in the map. These effects are not supported with graphics layers in scenes.


Click the Symbology button Symbology to adjust graphic element visibility settings. Use Masking Masking Layers to mask features or other graphic elements with the current graphics layer.

Reference Scale

Define the Reference Scale Set Reference Scale value to determine at which scale the graphics layer appears at the intended size. When this property is set, changes in scale result in graphic elements changing size relative to surrounding features. You can also set a custom scale, or choose <None> to stop applying a reference scale.

Share graphics layers

Graphics layers can be saved as a layer file (.lyrx) or layer package (.lpkx) to share with your organization. When saved, all graphics layer properties and symbology are preserved for use in other maps, layouts, and projects.

When you share a web map that contains graphics layers, the graphics layers are converted to feature collections. Some symbology settings may not be preserved.

Publishing a graphics layer as a web layer is not supported. For more information, see Analyzer error 00102.

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