Convert labels to annotation

Geodatabase annotation is stored as an annotation feature class in a geodatabase. You can convert labels to annotation using the Convert Labels To Annotation tool. When converting labels to annotation, you must decide whether to create standard or feature-linked annotation features.

Storing feature-linked annotation in a geodatabase creates a relationship between the annotation and the feature it annotates. Then, if you move the feature, the annotation moves with it. If you delete the feature, the annotation is also deleted. If you change the attribute of the feature on which the annotation is based, the text of the annotation changes.


Labels can also be converted to graphic text in the map using the Convert Labels to Graphics tool. Graphic text is useful for adding simple text to a map but has limitations with editing and storage.

Similar to converting labels to annotation, you can convert unplaced labels to nonvisible graphics and then display and edit them.

Prepare labels for conversion to annotation

You must set scale and label properties carefully, as they determine the size, position, and appearance of the new annotation.

Before converting labels to annotation, pay attention to the following scales:

  • The current map scale—This scale appears in the Scale box at the bottom of the Map view.
  • The map reference scale—This is the scale at which feature symbology and dynamic labels appear on the screen at their specified symbol size.

Annotation is created to have the same size and position as the labels you convert. When you convert labels to annotation, the annotation reference scale for the new feature class is taken from the map reference scale, if set. If the map reference scale is not set, the annotation reference scale for the new feature class is taken from the current map scale.

Selection is honored by the Convert Labels To Annotation tool. If features are selected, only labels for those features are converted to annotation.

If you encounter issues with memory usage while converting labels to annotation, only convert the labels within the displayed extent or use the Tiled Labels To Annotation tool to convert labels to annotation for layers in a project based on a polygon index layer.

If you encounter the map graphics storage limit of 4,000 elements or 10 MB when converting labels to graphics, only convert the labels for a single layer instead of the entire map, convert labels for a smaller extent, or create an SQL query to label and convert fewer features.

Convert labels to annotation

The Convert Labels To Annotation tool converts labels to annotation for a single layer or for the entire map.

To convert labels to annotation, follow these steps:

  1. Add the data to your map that helps you determine the best size, placement, and appearance of the labels you want to convert to annotation.
  2. Zoom to the scale at which you will normally view the annotation, regardless of whether you'll view it in ArcGIS Pro or on a hard-copy map.
  3. In the Contents pane, right-click the map name and click Set Reference Scale.

    This sets the reference scale to be equal to the scale you zoomed to in the previous step.

  4. Symbolize features.
  5. Display labels and set their size, position, and appearance.
  6. Choose label priority, label and feature weights, and label placement options to increase the number of labels that are displayed before converting.

    Some labels may not be displayed on the map currently because there is no room for them. You can still convert these labels, but to display them with the new annotation, you must manually place each one after the conversion.

  7. Open the Convert Labels To Annotation tool to convert the labels to annotation. Click Convert Labels To Annotation Convert labels to annotation in the Labeling group on the Map tab, or open it from the Annotation toolset in the Cartography toolbox.

    You can also open the tool by right-clicking a layer in the Contents pane. This defaults the setup of the tool to convert for a single layer.

  8. Specify whether you're converting labels to annotation for all labeled layers in the map or for a single layer.

    If converting for a single layer, that layer must be specified and be present in the map.

  9. Decide which extent contains all the labels you want to convert. Specify this on the Convert Labels To Annotation tool.

    • Current Display Extent Map View—The extent will be based on the active map or scene. This option is only available when there is an active map.
    • Draw Extent Square and Finish—The extent will be based on a rectangle drawn on the map or scene. This option will create a feature class in the project geodatabase and add a layer to the map. The feature class will have the same coordinate system as the map.

      This option is not available in the Environments dialog box. It is only available from a tool parameter with an extent data type or from the Environments tab on a tool dialog box.


      When the Enable and disable editing from the Edit tab editing option is checked, you must enable editing on the Edit ribbon tab to draw the extent.

    • Extent of a Layer Layer—The extent will be based on an active map layer. Use the drop-down list to choose an available layer or use the Extent of data in all layers option to get the combined extent of all active map layers, excluding the basemap. This option is only available when there is an active map with layers.

      Each map layer has the following options:

      • All Features Select All—The extent of all features in the layer.
      • Selected Features Area from Selected Features—The extent of the selected features in the layer.
      • Visible Features Extent Indicator—The extent of visible features in the layer.

        The extents from the Selected Features Area from Selected Features and Visible Features Extent Indicator options are only available for feature layers.

    • Browse Browse—The extent will be based on an existing dataset.
    • Intersection of Inputs Intersect—The extent will be based on the minimum or intersecting extent of all inputs. If no inputs overlap, a null extent with all zeros will result.
    • Union of Inputs Union—The extent will be based on the maximum or combined extent of all inputs.
    • Clipboard Paste—The extent can be copied to and from the clipboard.
      • Copy Extent Copy—Copies the extent coordinates and coordinate system to the clipboard.
      • Paste Extent Paste—Pastes the extent coordinates and, optionally, the coordinate system from the clipboard. If the clipboard values do not include a coordinate system, the extent will use the map’s coordinate system.

      The extent coordinates are copied to and pasted from the clipboard using the same formatting and order as the ArcPy Extent object: x-min, y-min, x-max, y-max, and the spatial reference.

    • Reset Extent Reset—The extent will be reset to the default value.
    • Manually entered coordinates—The coordinates must be numeric values and in the active map's coordinate system.

      The map may use different display units than the entered coordinates. The use of a cardinal direction (N, S, E, W) is not supported. Use a negative value sign for south and west coordinates.

  10. Decide whether to convert the labels from all layers into a single output feature class or to create a single output annotation feature class for each layer.

    If the Convert labels from all layers to a single output feature class option is checked, you can specify whether to merge similar label classes or to maintain all label classes. These options are only available when creating annotation that is not feature linked.

  11. To convert labels into an existing annotation feature class, use the Annotate Selected Features tool.

    Once converted, annotation feature classes can be appended using the Append tool if the schemas are the same or the Append Annotation Feature Class tool if the schemas are different.

Place unplaced geodatabase annotation features

By default, unplaced annotation is not displayed on the map. Complete the following steps to place unplaced geodatabase annotation features:

  1. To draw the unplaced annotation, right-click the annotation feature class in the Contents pane and click Symbology to open the Symbology pane. Then check the Draw unplaced annotation check box to draw the annotation using the specified color.
  2. On the Edit tab, click the Attributes button in the Selection group to open the Attributes pane.
  3. Select the unplaced annotation feature to place and then change the value of the Status field from Unplaced to Placed in the Attributes pane.
  4. Optionally, use the editing tools from the Tools gallery to edit the annotation feature.