Map of Twin Cities area

Lab: Uff da! Labeling Minnesota (2/2)

This lab cheerfully prepared with the help of Zach Bodenner, Great White North Cartography

Part B: Manual label adjustment

Part A of this lab covered automated labeling, which may sometimes be all you can do if deadlines are tight.  But, for when you have a little more time to finesse things, or there’s just that one label that won’t cooperate, manual labeling adjustments are the way to go.

For this exercise, you will update your map of Minnesota by adjusting your labels from the automated placement lab.  Start with a copy of your Minnesota map as submitted for the prior assignment. Make any large scale adjustments (font, size, color, etc.) before proceeding, and make sure you have a geodatabase set up in your lab folder (see Canvas for details).  The goal is to adjust only a few labels, not all of them.

Adding manual labels

The US/Canada border label can’t be done using automation because it’s a polygon, and the table values don’t contain what we need.  So, use the tools in the Insert ribbon (Layout view) to add those labels.  Find a nice spot on the border that is easy to label and use the Text option to add your labels.

Insert Text
Manual text options on the Insert ribbon

Note: Political borders are labeled with the name of each jurisdiction on its respective side of the line.  Labeling it “US/Canada border” is not helpful, and will be marked down.


You may find it helpful to use the Curved Text option to recreate any river labels that need to be moved, since just moving them will bring the curve from their prior location, which may not fit the new location.

Here’s a short video on Splining Text in ArcMap, which is essentially the same process.


Converting dynamic labels to annotation

Most of the rest of your labels should be fine as is.  If you decided to make any changes to your fonts, now is the time to do that, before you convert to annotation.  Don’t forget to check settings for label stacking, position, etc.  Once you’ve finalized the settings, you are ready to convert to annotation.  Zoom out to the full extent of the map before beginning, and verify that you have your default geodatabase set.

To convert labels to annotation, select Convert Labels to Annotation on the Map ribbon. Select the geodatabase (.gdb) you created in your folder as the Output Geodatabase. Leave all other settings on default and click Run. This will convert all labels on the map to annotation, and you’ll see them listed in the Contents pane.  To convert layers individually, turn the other layers off first, or select individual layers under Convert in the conversion pane.  Make sure to give each export a new name under Output Layer, otherwise you will overwrite the old version and lose your previous work.

Output layer option
Setting the Output Layer for annotation


Once your labels become annotation, they will show up as additional layers in your Contents pane.  You can turn them on or off as needed.

To adjust annotation, switch to the Edit tab on the ribbon.  Use the Select tool to choose a label.  Use the Move tool to reposition labels, and the Attribute tool to change font settings.  Here, you can make changes to the label text (e.g. abbreviating Saint to St.), and also to the font.

Click the green checkmark at the bottom of the screen (Pro 2.4: box with a pencil in it) at the bottom of the screen to apply an edit and refresh the map.  Save Edits (the Save button on the Edit ribbon, distinct from saving the map, which does not save edits) frequently, and don’t forget to also periodically save the project (regular Save button).

IMPORTANT: Once you convert to annotation, you can interact with each label individually. This can be problematic if you accidentally move a label you didn’t want to, so be very careful, and make use of the layer lock in the Contents pane to lock down layers while you’re working on others.

My sample workflow looks like this: Cities are the most challenging, because they are the most constrained in their positioning.  So I’ll lock all other annotation except cities, and get that mess around St. Paul sorted out. Once I’m happy with that, I’ll lock Cities, unlock counties, and then work with the county labels.  Once I’m happy with those, I’ll lock them… and so on.  If you make a change to some labels that goes horribly awry, delete just that annotation group, turn the labels back on for that layer, convert to annotation (be sure to give it a new name at the bottom of the pane), then try again.

Since the labels are all now individual text items, that means that if you want to make a widespread change (such as changing from black to dark gray), you will have to touch every single label in that group. To change multiple labels at once, select them all, then highlight the group in the Attributes pane before making changes to the symbol.  (Alternately, remove the annotation layer, turn labels back on and make the changes, then redo the annotation.)


Tips for Success

  • Sometimes adding manual text is easier. Adding (Inserting) manual labels happens in the Layout window; annotation happens in the Map window.
  • Only visible labels convert to annotation. Zoom out to your MN1 bookmark before converting to annotation, so you don’t miss anybody.
  • Don’t forget those hidden labels. Check “Convert unplaced labels to annotation” to have any missing labels be available as annotation
  • Add the hidden labels to the map. To view unplaced annotation, right click the annotation layer in question (drill down to the specific annotation), select Symbology, and in the right hand pane, check “Display unplaced annotation”.
  • Keep accidentally selecting the geography instead of the labels? Switch to List by Selection (at the top of the ToC) and turn off the feature layers.  This makes only the labels selectable.
  • Annotation lives in the geodatabase. If you accidentally delete an entire annotation layer from your map, just open Catalog and re-add it from the geodatabase.


Bonus tip: If you’ve added a fancy font for your title, and it’s not showing up in ArcGIS Pro, here’s a hack to get around that.


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