Working with map scales

When you draw maps within a data frame, you can display the map at any desired map scale. You can also set up a series of desired map scales that allow you to select a map scale from a list.

You can specify the scale of your map by either typing in a value or choosing one from a list.

Choosing a map scale from the drop-down list. When you specify a scale, the map is zoomed to that scale.

If the scale box on the Standard toolbar is disabled, the data frame may be set to a fixed extent or fixed scale. To enable the scale box, click View > Data Frame Properties to open the Data Frame Properties dialog box. Click the Data Frame tab and select Automatic from the Extent drop-down menu.

Scale entry can be flexible. There are many ways you can enter values into the scale box.

You can add the current map scale to the list of scale choices by selecting <Use Current Scale>.

You will see two additional options in the Scale drop-down list when you are specifying a scale on a dialog box:

Customizing the map scale list

You can customize the standard scales that appear in the map scale list throughout ArcMap, along with the format with which scales are shown.

Using <Customize This List...>

When you click on Customize This List from the Scale drop-down list, the Scale Settings dialog box appears that allows you to build a series of map scale settings and to use a map scale list prepared by others.

Using the Scale Settings dialog box

You can add and remove map scales, and you can also save your scale settings and share them with other users or load a scale settings file for use on your maps.

Changes you make to the list of standard scales on the Standard Scales tab are stored in the active data frame in your map. Each data frame in your map document can have a different list of standard scales. In this way, you can tailor the list of standard scales to the specific map represented by each data frame in your map document. To make your current set of standard scales the default that will be used in all new map documents you create, click the Set As Default button on the Standard Scales tab. To reset your active data frame to use the default of standard scales, click Load > Default Scales.

You can limit the map display to the scales listed by checking the Only display these scales when zooming check box. When this box is checked, zooming in using any method that steps progressively through scales will be limited to the scales listed in this dialog. This option applies to rolling the mouse wheel, clicking the Fixed Zoom In Fixed Zoom In and Fixed Zoom Out Fixed Zoom Out buttons on the Tools toolbar and pressing the + or keys on your keyboard. By default it doesn't apply to the interactive Zoom In Zoom In and Zoom Out Zoom Out tools on the Tools toolbar.


To make the interactive Zoom In and Zoom Out tools snap to these scales, hold down CTRL as you use these tools.

You can also set how map scales appear using the Scale Format tab on the Scale Settings dialog box.

When creating or editing scale formats, you will have different options available depending on whether you are working with an absolute or relative scale format. For an absolute format, you can set the separator to use in the scale ratio. By default, a colon is used. For a relative format, you can set both the page and map units (for example, centimeters on the page equals miles on the ground), specify the equals indicator, and set appearance options such as the number of decimal places to show and whether to capitalize or abbreviate the units. You can also specify whether to Show thousands separators (for example, 24000 has no separators) or to Reverse the order of the scale (for example, 24,000:1).

Setting the Scale Format

Changes you make on the Scale Format tab are stored at the application level and apply to all your ArcMap sessions. The scale format information is not stored inside your map document.

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