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Using extent rectangles

Release 9.3
Last modified April 24, 2009
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About extent rectangles

Note: This topic was updated for 9.3.1.

Extent rectangles are a way to show the extent of one data frame within another data frame. This is useful when you are creating inset and overview or reference maps. When you have more than one data frame in a map, you can specify which one should show the extent of any of the other data frames.

Extent rectangles are dynamic in that you can change the extent of either data frame and the extent rectangle will update automatically. Extent rectangles also update when the data is rotated or when the projection is changed.

The top graphic below shows an extent rectangle. The bottom image shows a detailed data frame view.

Extent rectangles

If you just saw the purple map at the bottom, you probably wouldn't know that it is representing the mideastern part of Texas. By adding an overview map of Texas that has an extent rectangle, you'll have a better idea about the location of the bottom map's features.

You need to have two data frames in a map to add an extent rectangle, then you will open the Data Frame Properties for the data frame that will be receiving the extent rectangle.

How to use extent rectangles

  1. Create a map with two or more data frames where at least one data frame is showing an extent that is completely within the extent of the other.
  2. Right-click the data frame that will be receiving the extent rectangle in the table of contents and click Properties.
  3. Click the Extent Rectangles tab.
  4. Click the data frame with the smaller extent in the Other data frames box.
  5. Click the > button to add it to the Show extent rectangle for these data frames list.
  6. To format the extent rectangle, click it in the Show list and click the Frame button.
  7. Click OK on all dialog boxes.


  • You can create extent rectangles for data frames that use different coordinate systems; ArcMap will automatically project the extent rectangle.
  • You can use extent rectangles to show the positions of several different data frames on a single data frame.
  • You can use a data frame with a large extent to provide context for another data frame—for example, showing the location of a state within a country. If the area on the map is familiar to your audience, it may not be necessary to add any more information.
  • Sometimes the area that you show in the detail data frame does not have a commonly recognized outline. In this case, it may be useful to show its position with an extent rectangle.
  • You can change the extent of either data frame when you have an extent rectangle—the rectangle will automatically be updated to reflect the new relationship of the data frames.
  • When you have several data frames in a map, it's helpful to name them clearly and descriptively so it's easier to know which to choose when creating an extent rectangle.

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