Work with graphic elements in a map

Graphic elements can be simple geometric shapes—rectangles, circles, lines, or points—or they can be complex polygons, linear or curved text, or images. When a graphics layer is added to a map in ArcGIS Pro, you can create graphic elements in maps and draw them in layout map frames and scenes.

Every graphic element in a graphics layer has its own name, and each graphics layer can have a scale range and spatial reference. If the map's coordinate system changes, graphic elements remain in their assigned geographic position. However, because graphic elements are not features, they do not have associated attributes and cannot be queried.

You can also create and work with graphic elements in layouts. For more information, see Add graphics, text, and pictures in a layout.


Graphic elements created in ArcMap are converted from annotation groups to graphics layers when they are imported to ArcGIS Pro. They no longer associate with a particular layer or part of the data frame.

Create graphic elements

To create graphic elements on a map, follow these steps:

  1. Open a map, and ensure that a graphics layer is present in the map.
  2. On the Graphics tab, in the Insert group, click the Target layer drop-down menu to set the target graphics layer.
  3. Choose a type of graphic element from the gallery.

    Rectangle text Rectangle text

    Freehand line New Lasso

    Right Triangle Right Triangle

    Polygon text New Polygon Paragraph

    Arc Arc

    Half-Circle Half Circle

    Straight text New Text

    Point Point

    Cross Cross

    Curved text Curved Text

    Rectangle New Rectangle

    X X

    Auto text Auto Text Tool

    Polygon New Polygon

    Cloud Cloud

    Circle text New Circle Paragraph

    Circle New Circle

    Arrow Arrow

    Ellipse text New Ellipse Paragraph

    Ellipse New Ellipse

    Curved Arrow Curved Arrow

    Picture New Picture

    Lasso New Lasso Area

    Double Arrow Double Arrow

    Line New Line

    Rounded Rectangle Rounded Rectangle

    Curved Double Arrow Curved Double Arrow

    Curved line New Curve

    Triangle Triangle

  4. Click the map to create the first vertex of the element. Point graphic elements require a single click.

    For line and polygon graphic elements, move the pointer and click the map again to create a segment.

  5. Double-click the map to complete the graphic element. The most recently chosen graphic element type appears at the top of the gallery for quick access.

By default, the application switches to selection mode after a graphic element is created. If you plan to add multiple elements to the map, click to expand the Insert gallery on the ribbon and enable the Keep the last tool active option. This allows you to continue to add graphic shapes, pictures, or text.

After a graphic element is created, use selection tools to move it, resize it, change its color or symbol, and arrange its position relative to other graphic elements.

Auto text

The Auto Text tool Auto Text Tool speeds the task of adding descriptive text for features. It derives the text string from the label expression of the clicked feature. This text string can be seen in a ToolTip when hovering over the feature. If features conflict, the topmost feature will be annotated.

Right-click while using the Auto Text tool Auto Text Tool to change the placement and symbol options.


Use positioning from layer

Unchecked—Place where clicked. This is the default.

Checked—ArcGIS Pro finds the best location for text using the label engine that is specified for the map and the label properties that are set for the layer.

Use symbol from layer

Unchecked—Use the default text symbol for the project.

Checked—Use the symbol from the layer. This is the default.

Auto Text tool parameters

Select graphic elements

Graphic elements use a specialized set of interactive selection tools. These tools are available on the Graphics tab, in the Edit group. Similar to feature selection, you can select graphic elements interactively by clicking or drawing a selection shape around the elements. You can cut, copy, and paste graphic elements between layers by right-clicking the element and selecting the option or using keyboard shortcuts. If the element is grouped with other elements, you can click the group, and click the individual element again to select it.

To work with all graphic elements in a map, across all graphics layers, click Select All Select All. Click Clear Selection Clear Selection to deselect all graphic elements.

To avoid selecting graphic elements from all graphics layers, in the Contents pane, click List By Selection List By Selection and uncheck the box to disable selection for those layers.

You can also use the selected graphic elements of the graphics layer to set your map's extent or clip the map's layers to a custom extent on the map's Properties dialog box. Only nontext shapes—rectangle, polygon, lasso, circle and ellipse—can be used to clip to an outline.


Graphic element selection tools operate independently from the feature selection tools on the Edit tab. You cannot use feature selection tools to select graphic elements, and vice versa. However, graphic elements do remain selected when using feature selection tools and can be copied, cut, or pasted from the Edit tab if the graphic elements were the last copied, cut, or pasted items.

Graphic element operations

When one or more graphic elements are selected, you can apply a variety of graphic operations to them. The Graphics tab contains tools for editing, arranging, and symbolizing graphic elements. If snapping is enabled, you can use other types of tools (such as the Measure tool) on graphic elements in the map. However, graphic elements cannot snap to other graphic elements in the map.

Move graphic elements

There are many ways to move graphic elements in a map. You can click and hold the mouse to drag them to a new position, or use keyboard shortcuts to move the graphics across the map. For more precise movement, right-click a graphic element, and under Nudge, select the direction to move the graphic. Alternatively, on the keyboard, press Ctrl + an arrow key to slightly move the selection, or Shift + a direction for larger movements.

You can also specify the graphic element's exact x,y position (in map units). Right-click a graphic element and choose Properties to open the Element pane. Under the Placement tab Size, expand Position and specify the x position, y position, or degrees of rotation.

To rotate a graphic 90 degrees at a time or to flip the graphic on its x- or y-axis, on the Graphics tab, in the Edit group, click the Rotate Or Flip drop-down menu Rotate Or Flip and choose an option.

Edit vertices

You can edit the vertices of a graphic element if it is a line, polygon, circle, or ellipse. Select the graphic element, and on the Graphics tab, in the Edit group, click the Edit Vertices tool Edit Vertices.

Click and drag a vertex to stretch or resize the graphic element. You can hover over any of the graphic element's vertices to view its x,y coordinates, or around the edge of a vertex to rotate the graphic element.

Similar to layout graphic elements, picture and point graphic vertices cannot be edited.

Arrange, align, and order graphic elements

You can arrange, align, distribute, and reorder graphic elements relative to the position of each. On the Graphics tab, view the Arrange group to access the tools.

Select multiple graphic elements, and click the Align drop-down menu Align to arrange the elements in a map. The Align tools arrange elements vertically or horizontally to the left, right, top, or bottom. The elements are aligned to the pixel or edge of the first selected element in the map view by default. Aligning to the middle or center aligns to the centroid of the graphic element.

Click the Distribute drop-down menu Distribute to space selected graphic elements evenly in the chosen direction. You can choose from the following options:


Distribute Horizontally Distribute Horizontally

Evenly distribute elements between the leftmost and rightmost selected elements so there is an equal amount of space between element edges. If there is not enough space between the two elements for all the selected elements, the distribution space is expanded so all elements fit without overlapping.

Distribute Vertically Distribute Vertically

Evenly distribute elements between the topmost and bottommost selected elements so there is an equal amount of space between element edges. If there is not enough space between the two elements for all the selected elements, the distribution space is expanded so all elements fit without overlapping.

Distribute Horizontal Centers Distribute Horizontal Centers

Evenly distribute elements between the leftmost and rightmost selected elements so there is an equal amount of space between element centers. The leftmost and rightmost elements do not move.

Distribute Vertical Centers Distribute Vertical Centers

Evenly distribute elements between the topmost and bottommost selected elements so there is an equal amount of space between element centers. The topmost and bottommost elements do not move.

Make Same Size Make Same Size

Make the selected elements the same height and width as the first selected element.

Make Same Width Make Same Width

Make the selected elements the same width as the first selected element. The heights of the elements do not change.

Make Same Heights Make Same Height

Make the selected elements the same width as the first selected element. The widths of the elements do not change.

Click the Bring Forward button Bring Forward or Send Backward button Send Backward to change the drawing order of graphic elements. You can select one or more elements at a time. You can also click the drop-down menu and choose Bring To Front Bring To Front or Send To Back Send To Back to move graphic elements directly to the top or bottom of the drawing order of the graphics layer.

Group graphic elements

Some workflows benefit from grouping graphic elements. For example, you can move, rotate, flip, or resize the graphic elements together as a group. You can also edit the symbols of grouped graphic elements at the same time.

To group graphic elements, on the Graphics tab, in the Arrange group, click Group Group. Click Ungroup Ungroup to ungroup the selected elements.

When a group of graphic elements is selected, click an individual graphic element in the group again to focus the selection to that particular element.

Merge graphic elements

If two or more graphic elements overlap, you can combine or remove parts of two or more graphic elements to form a new graphic using simple overlay operation tools. With the graphic elements selected, on the Graphics tab, in the Edit group, click the Merge Shapes drop-down menu Merge Shapes and choose an option from the list.


Union Union

Combine selected graphics into a single graphic.

Intersect Intersect

Combine overlapping graphics by keeping only the intersecting areas.

Remove Overlap Remove Overlap

Combine overlapping graphics by keeping everything except the overlapping areas.

Subtract Subtract

Combine overlapping graphics by taking the first selected graphic and removing the overlapping areas, as well as any other selected graphics.

With each operation, the properties of the first element selected are transferred to the resulting element.

Set graphic element properties

You can modify the appearance of any graphic element in a graphics layer. You can change its size, symbol, or color, rotate its angle, and so forth. On the Graphics tab, in the Edit group, select one or more graphic elements in the layer. Then follow one of the workflows described in the sections below.

Most graphic element types use a default symbol when they are created. You can change the default symbol of certain graphic element types, or directly modify the symbols of selected graphic elements.

Change the symbol of a graphic element

On the Graphics tab, in the Symbol group or Text Symbol group, use the available tools to change the properties of the selected graphic elements. The availability of properties depends on the type of graphic elements selected.

Additional symbol settings, such as symbol effects, are available in the Element pane. To open the pane, select one or more elements in the map view, right-click an element, and choose Properties Properties. Click the Symbol or Text Symbol tab to define and edit the graphic element's symbol layers. If multiple types of graphic elements are selected, these tabs may not be available.

For some text and picture graphic elements, you can use the Display tab Display to create a border, background, or shadow for the graphic element.

  • Border—A line around the outside of the element
  • Background—A symbol the same shape as the element that draws behind the element
  • Shadow—A symbol the same shape as the element, offset to create a drop shadow highlighting the element

Graphic element visibility

Selected graphic elements can be made visible, or they can be hidden but not deleted from the map. In the Element pane, on the Options tab Properties, expand General and check or uncheck the Visible check box.

In some cases, nonvisible graphic text elements are created when unplaced labels are converted to graphics using the Convert Labels To Graphics geoprocessing tool. To draw these nonvisible graphic elements, select the layer in the Contents pane, and on the Graphics Layer tab, in the Drawing group, click Symbology Symbology. In the Symbology pane, check the Draw non-visible graphic elements check box, and optionally define a color. This color overrides any default color settings for the nonvisible elements.

Convert graphic elements to features

Graphic elements such as points, lines, polygons, and text can be converted to their equivalent feature geometries with the Graphics To Features geoprocessing tool. Converting graphic elements to features is useful to assign attributes, to use advanced symbology techniques, or to convert the graphics to 3D features.

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