An overview of working with text

Maps convey information about geographic features, yet displaying only features on a map—even with symbols that convey their meaning—isn't always enough to make your point. Adding text to your map improves the visualization of geographic information on your map.

There are various kinds of text you can add to your map. Descriptive text can be placed near individual map features. For example, you might add the name of each major city in Africa to your map. You can also add text to draw attention to an area of the map, such as the general location of the Sahara Desert. You can also add text that improves the presentation of your map. For example, a map title provides context; you might also consider adding other information such as map author, data source, and date.

Using different kinds of text

Because text serves so many different mapping purposes, ArcGIS offers several different types. The main types are labels, annotation, and graphic text. A label is a piece of text that is automatically positioned and whose text string is based on feature attributes. Labels offer the fastest and easiest way to add descriptive text to your map for individual features. For example, you can turn on dynamic labeling for a layer of major cities to quickly add all the city names to your map. Because labels are based on attribute fields, they can only be used to add descriptive text to features.

ArcMap has two labeling engines. The Standard label engine is the default label engine included with ArcGIS, and the Maplex label engine is an additional extension that provides further capabilities for placing your labels.

The second option when working with text is to use annotation. Annotation can be used to describe particular features or add general information to the map. You can use annotation like labels to add descriptive text for map features or just to add a few pieces of text manually to describe an area on your map. Unlike labels, each piece of annotation stores its own position, text string, and display properties. Compared to labels, annotation provides more flexibility over the appearance and placement of your text because you can select individual pieces of text and edit their position and appearance. You can use ArcMap to convert labels to annotation. Annotation can be further divided based on where it is stored—in a geodatabase, in a map document, or in one of the read-only formats that ArcGIS supports.

Map document annotation is

Geodatabase annotation is

Learn about annotation groups versus geodatabase annotation

In ArcGIS, some types of annotation can be displayed but not edited. These types include ArcInfo Workstation coverage, PC ARC/INFO coverage, Spatial Database Engine (SDE) 3.x, computer-aided design (CAD), and Vector Product Format (VPF) annotation. Annotation in these formats is read-only, but ArcGIS provides tools to convert them to geodatabase annotation or map document annotation, both of which are editable formats.

Learn more about importing coverage or CAD annotation

Learn more about importing SDE 3, VPF, or PC ARC/INFO coverage annotation

Graphic text is useful for adding information on and around your map that exists in page space—as opposed to annotation, which is stored in geographic space. Dynamic text is a type of graphic text that, when placed on a map layout, will change dynamically based on the current properties of the map document, data frame, or Data Driven Page. If you want to place text information on your map page that does not move as you zoom and pan on your map, you should use graphic text. Graphic text can only be added to ArcMap in layout view.

Learn more about dynamic text

Options for storing your text

Before you begin working with text, you should understand the text storage options in ArcGIS.

First, labels are not stored, they are generated dynamically, and only labeling properties are stored—the settings used to create labels on the fly. If you are working in a map, your labeling properties will be saved when you save your map document (.mxd). Labeling properties can also be stored in layer files (.lyr). Use layer files to transfer labels between two maps without having to set up labeling again in the new map.

ArcGIS provides two main options for storing annotation—in a geodatabase or in a map document.

Geodatabase annotation is stored in a geodatabase in annotation feature classes. You can think of geodatabase annotation as a special type of geographic feature, stored together with other geographic data in a geodatabase. Like point, line, and polygon feature classes, annotation feature classes can be used in many different maps.

Map document annotation is stored in map documents in annotation groups within each data frame. Choose map document annotation if you only want to use your text in one particular map. You can use annotation groups to organize map document annotation, or you can put all your annotation into a single <Default> annotation group that automatically exists in every map document data frame.

Graphic text is always stored in a map document. Like map document annotation, graphic text is added to a particular map. Graphic text is stored on the map layout page and cannot be organized into groups.

Both annotation and graphic text are forms of graphics, and you can use the tools on the Draw toolbar to create and edit these types of text. In addition, specific tools are available in ArcMap for working with geodatabase annotation.

What kind of text should I use?

The type of text that you should use is based on where you are starting from with your text and how you want to use text on your map. If you only want to add a few pieces of text and what you want to identify might not be based on attributes, then you can use graphic text or map document annotation.

If, however, you have much feature-descriptive text, you may want to use a different method. If you already have the text, such as existing coverage annotation, then you can add the annotation layer to a new map. Use labels if you want to add text based on your feature attributes.

If you have ArcEditor or ArcInfo and you are starting from scratch with your features and text, create a new feature class and a feature-linked annotation class. You'll be able to build your annotation automatically as you create your data.

Learn more about feature-linked annotation

Performing text tasks in ArcGIS Desktop

There are many text-related tasks that can be performed in ArcMap and ArcCatalog. If you have labels, map document annotation, or geodatabase annotation, the Common text related tasks table will explain how common tasks are completed and point you to other topics that help explain the tasks.

Recommended reading

To learn more about working with text in ArcGIS, follow these links to other topics:

Working with dynamic text