Last modified January 2, 2008
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Generally, labeling is the process of placing descriptive text onto or next to features on a map. In ArcGIS, labeling refers specifically to the process of automatically generating and placing descriptive text for map features. A label is a piece of text on the map that is dynamically placed and whose text string is derived from one or more feature attributes.
The following steps provide a work flow for using labeling in your map.
To display labels for a layer, specify the attribute or attributes of the feature on which you want to base your labels—for example, a street name or soil type—and turn labeling on. ArcMap automatically places labels on or near the features they describe. You can also control the font, size, and color of the text to help differentiate labels for different types of features.
When you turn on dynamic labeling, ArcMap places as many labels on the map as possible without any overlap. In areas where features are tightly clustered together, some features may not be labeled. As you zoom in on your map, more labels will dynamically appear.
Learn more about displaying dynamic labels
By default, labels will not scale as you zoom in or out on your map. That is, they stay the same size on the page regardless of the map scale. Though they stay the same size on the page, they will, by default, take up more geographic space on the map as you zoom in, and less space as you zoom out. Once you've decided on a map scale, you will probably want your labels to scale as you zoom in and out. You do this by setting a reference scale for your data frame.
To gain more precise control over which features are labeled and where labels are placed, you need to work with more advanced labeling properties. Specifically, you can adjust which features are labeled and where labels are placed with respect to features.
There are three ways to control which features are labeled:
To control where labels are placed, you should use label placement properties. As with label priority and weights, these settings work on a layer basis, or you can use label classes to subdivide features in the same layer and assign them different placement properties. Label placement properties let you specify where each label is placed on the map with respect to the feature being labeled. ArcMap has different label placement options for point, line, and polygon features. In addition, installing and enabling the Maplex for ArcGIS extension will give you a different, enhanced set of label placement properties.
Learn more about label placement options
If you need exact control over where a given label is placed on your map, you should convert your labels to annotation. Text stored as annotation is editable, which means that you can select and move individual pieces of text as well as change their display properties (font, size, color, and so on). For example, you might want to convert labels to annotation so you can manually move a few pieces of text to make room for one piece that ArcMap was unable to place due to space constraints. When you convert labels to annotation, ArcMap provides you with a list of all the labels that weren't placed and lets you interactively place them on your map as needed.
If you have an ArcEditor or ArcInfo license, you can convert labels to a special kind of annotation called feature-linked annotation. Feature-linked annotation is annotation with some of the benefits of labeling.