Basic Map Layout in ArcGIS Pro

While web and mobile maps have become a dominant medium for communicating geospatial information, there are still situations you may encounter where printed or print-like maps are needed:

This tutorial covers some basics of printable map layout in ArcGIS Pro that is useful in a variety of situations, and can also serve as a starting point for developing more complex graphic designs.

Map Elements

Cartography is "the science or art of making maps" (Merriam-Webster 2020). People who make maps are called cartographers. The broad objectives of cartography are:

The determination of whether a map is "good" or not is subjective and evaluated within the norms of the community where the map is created and used. The optimal balance between utility and beauty will be determined by the application of the map.

However, there are cartographic techniques and conventions that have been developed by cartographers over hundreds of years of map making that are commonly accepted in the cartographic community.

One common cartographic convention is the use of a standard set of map elements as building blocks to construct maps. There are a wide variety of map elements and not all maps need to contain all of these map elements. The diagram below shows examples of commonly used map elements:

Map elements

Map Frame / Mapped Area

A map is "a representation usually on a flat surface of the whole or a part of an area" (Merriam-Webster 2021).

A map is composed of map symbols that represent features or characteristics on the surface of the earth. In GIS, map symbols are created by the GIS software based on geospatial data.

The map above is an example of a specific type of thematic map called a choropleth where differently colored areas represent different data values. The theme of this thematic map is the results of the 2012 US presidential election.

In ArcGIS Pro, a mapped area with the symbols are built in a window called a map. One or more maps can then be incorporated as map frames into layouts where you can add additional graphical content and marginalia.

When mapping two or more areas that are not physically close to each other, it is often helpful to use small inset maps to avoid wasting space mapping area that is not the focus of the layout.

The example map above follows the common convention of using inset maps to represent Alaska and Hawaii so that the map of the continental US can occupy the bulk of the area in the layout without unused space devoted to the Pacific Ocean or Canada.

In ArcGIS Pro, inset maps are created by adding secondary map frames to a layout.

Marginalia is a term that covers all the other map elements separate from the main mapped area that provide additional information about the map to help readers interpret the map. The name comes from the tradition of placing such information in the margins of a map, although the content today is commonly integrated into the overall map design (Intergovernmental Committee on Surveying and Mapping 2021).

Title / Subtitle

Most layouts have a short, prominent title that quickly summarizes for a reader what the map shows. Maps often also have subtitles that provide additional identity information that is removed from the title to keep the title pithy.


A legend shows what the different map symbols represent. Legends are vitally important when the map uses symbols whose meaning is not intuitively obvious, or when data values are expressed with different colors and/or sizes of symbols.

In the example choropleth above, the legend associates ranges of percents of Democratic voters in the 2012 election with specific colors. The colors range from red (low percentages of Democratic voters = high percentages of Republican voters) to blue (high percentages of Democratic voters).

Context Elements

Mapping symbols often need additional symbols or elements to provide geographic context so the map reader can get a sense of where the features represented on the map are actually located in space, and how those features are related to each other in space.

Thematic map symbols are commonly overlaid on top of a base map, which is a simplified reference map that provides geographic context for the thematic map symbols.

Scale elements help the map user in knowing what distances are represented on a map.

Orientation elements indicate direction. While maps commonly treat up as north, that is not always the case, especially with local maps of features (such as irregularly shaped college campuses) that are experienced without a clear sense of where north is. A north arrow is a graphic arrow added to the layout that shows which direction is north on a map.

A special case of an inset map is a key map, which gives the global location of the area being mapped. These are especially helpful when mapping small areas that are unfamiliar to the viewers, and these are commonly seen in news stories.

Graphical Elements

Layouts designed for printing on paper commonly have a frame line that wraps around all map elements and provides a clear demarcation of where the layout starts and ends. When maps were hand drawn, these frame lines could be very ornate, although that practice is less common with electronic cartography.

Borders that cleanly separate individual map elements from each other and keep the layout neat can be called neat lines, although that term is sometimes reserved for the internal border of the map frame inside the overall map frame line.

In design, negative space is the space around the subject of an image (Wikipedia 2021). On layouts and maps this is commonly white space, although it can be filled with a background color, subdued patterns, or the base map. Negative space reduces clutter and gives the eyes some resting points as it scans the layout.

On layouts designed for printing on paper, a margin is negative space placed around the edge of the layout. This convention is often useful because some printing processes cannot print all the way to the edge of the paper. It also provides space to physically hold a paper map without covering any map elements.

Negative space between frame and neat lines and the elements themselves is sometimes called padding. In the example above, padding is used between the entries in the legend and the neat line around the legend. Unfortunately, ArcGIS Pro does not add padding to legends by default, which requires tedious manual changes anytime you use the automatic border around a legend.


Metadata is data about the data, such as who created the data, when they created the data, etc. Metadata is commonly displayed on layouts so that readers can know where the information conveyed on a map came from and whether that information is relevant (or trustworthy) for a particular application. While this documentation is important over the life of a map, it is not usually the primary focus of the map design, so metadata is often placed in small text away from the center of the layout.

Typical metadata displayed as textboxes on layouts includes:

When a map is produced by or for an organization, a logo is commonly placed on the layout to clearly associate the map with that organization.

Example Data: World Bank Health Indicators

The examples in this tutorial use data from the World Bank, which is a group of international agencies that provide funding and knowledge to promote economic development in developing countries. It was one of the "Bretton Woods institutions" founded as part of an international agreement made during a 1944 conference in Bretton Woods, NH that was convened to plan for reconstruction after World War II and promote international cooperation that would help avoid World War III.

The World Bank collects a vast array of country-level data, and makes it available to the general public on their data portal as part of their mission to be a source of knowledge that promotes economic development. Many of these variables are associated with public health, which is firmly intertwined with economic development.

This data is available as the Minn 2019 World Bank Health Indicators feature service in ArcGIS Online. The metadata describing the variables in that layer is available here.

The World Bank

Starting ArcGIS Pro

ArcGIS Pro is the industry standard desktop software for enterprise GIS (GIS done in businesses and government organizations).

ArcGIS Pro only runs on Windows machines. Installation and licensing of that software is complex and usually handled by an organization's information technology (IT) department.

The following video demonstrates how to start and log in to ArcGIS Pro with an enterprise login - in this example the univofillinois organization at U of I.

Starting ArcGIS Pro with an enterprise login

Create the Map

This example will be based around a simple choropleth map. A choropleth is a thematic map where areas are colored according to some characteristic of those areas.

  1. After you start and log in to ArcGIS Pro, you will be asked to start a project. A project is a workspace keeps related groups of maps and analysis together in one package. Like a spreadsheet or word processing document, you can save a project and return to it later to continue adding material or to revise previous work.
  2. You should give your project a meaningful name so you can keep track of what is in your different projects.
  3. Give the map a meaningful name by right-clicking on the map in the Contents pane, Properties, General, Name. This will make it easier for you to keep your maps organized if you have multiple maps in a project.
  4. Add Data to the map. For this example Minn 2019 World Bank Health Indicators feature service from ArcGIS Online.
  5. Right click on the new layer and select Symbology to select the variable to be displayed. In this case we use Mortality Traffic per 100K, which is a rate of the number of people in a country that die in traffic accidents per 100,000 population.
  6. For a variable like this, keep the Graduated Colors and change the color scheme, if desired.
  7. In ArcGIS Pro the default classification Method is Natural Breaks (Jenks), which assigns groupings of values based on clumps of values that appear together in the data.
  8. By default, ArcGIS Pro (annoyingly) shows six decimal places for numeric values, which implies a level of accuracy that is rarely present. Change the Symbology, Advanced symbology options, Rounding to remove the unnecessary decimal places.
  9. Depending on what colors you choose, you might also consider changing the Base Map, although in this case, the default terrain map looks OK. You may want to avoid the dark gray canvas if you will actually be printing on paper.
Example Map

Figure Layout

Once we have gotten the map content the way we want it, we create a new Layout that will allow us to design how the map will look when inserted into a document as a figure.

  1. On the Insert tab, insert a new Layout.
    • For this example we create a Custom page size of 6" x 4" (width x height) for a figure that usually fits nicely in a report.
    • Give the layout a meaningful name by right-clicking on the layout in the Contents pane, Properties, General, Name. This will make it easier for you to keep your maps organized if you have multiple layouts in a project.
  2. Add a Map Frame for the map you created.
    • Right click on the frame, select Properties, Size the frame to fill the entire figure and Position the frame at the edge.
    • Remove the black frame around the map frame since it might not come in cleanly when the map is inserted in the document.
    • If you need to move the map inside the map frame, right click on the map and Activate the map so that dragging and zooming affect the map in the frame rather than the map layout.
    • When you are done adjusting the map, click the arrow at the top of the window to deactivate the map.
  3. Inserting a latitude / longitude Graticule (grid) can make the map look a bit more professional, although it can also be distracting. In this case, it seems distracting. You can remove a grid in the Contents pane.
  4. Insert a Dynamic text box for the Service layer credits and draw a small box outside of the figure to hide the base map source information.
  5. With a thematic map like a choropleth, you need to indicate what the symbols mean by inserting a legend.
    • If nothing appears, expand the box size to be large enough for the text. You can then drag the sides to reduce the side if needed.
    • Right click on the legend and select Properties the Display (paint brush) icon, and changing the colors and gap to add a border and background.
    • The legend gets its titles from the layer and variable names, so you may need to change those if they are not particularly meaningful. You can change them by right-clicking on the layer and selecting Properties -> General.
    • Since this displays one variable, remove the the layer name by right clicking on the legend, selecting Properties -> Legend Items -> Show Properties and turning off the Layer Name.
  6. Share and Export the layout to a PNG file. Portable Network Graphics (PNG) is a type of file that, unlike JPEG files, does not degrade the quality of the image to reduce file size. For small figure images, file size is not usually a major issue.
  7. You can then Insert the PNG file as a Picture in a Word or Word 365 document.
Figure map layout

Standalone Layout

You can also create print layouts that are ready to print directly. Cartographic convention dictates adding some additional marginalia information to the margins of printable maps.

This layout format places the marginalia at the bottom of the page and places neat lines (borders) around elements in a manner similar to the format commonly used for engineering diagrams.

  1. Insert a new Layout.
    • For this example we choose a standard US 8.5" x 11" paper size.
    • If your map is wider than it is tall, choose Landscape orientation. Otherwise, choose Portrait.
    • Give the layout a meaningful name by right-clicking on the layout in the Contents pane, Properties, General, Name. This will make it easier for you to keep your maps organized if you have multiple layouts in a project.
  2. Insert a Map Frame. Leave some space around the edges for a margin, and center the map on the page.
    • Insert a Dynamic text box for the Service layer credits and draw a small box outside of the figure to hide the base map source information.
    • If you need to move the map inside the map frame, right click on the map and Activate the map so that dragging and zooming affect the map in the frame rather than the map layout.
    • When you are done adjusting the map, click the arrow at the top of the window to deactivate the map.
  3. Insert Rectangles to add the bordered areas below the map frame.
  4. Insert a title.
    • Insert a Straight Text box.
    • Drag the box where you want the title, and type the title into the text box.
    • The box will expand to fit the text, and you can drag the edges in to resize the text.
    • If desired, you may want to change the font, make it bold, and center the text.
  5. Insert a Rectangle text box for the standard marginalia text:
    • The cartographer (you)
    • The date the map was created
    • The source for the map data
  6. Insert a North Arrow.
    • While north is normally up on maps, that is not always the case, and an orientation icon is a safe practice.
    • These come in a variety of styles and can add some aesthetic flair to the map.
  7. Add a Legend.
    • If nothing appears, expand the box size to be large enough for the text. You can then drag the sides to reduce the side if needed.
    • The legend gets its titles from the layer and variable names, so you may need to change those if they are not particularly meaningful. You can change them by right-clicking on the layer and selecting Properties -> General.
    • Depending on how many variables you are displaying and how you have titled your map, you may wish to remove redundant text. Right-click on the legend, select Properties -> Legend Items -> Show Properties and turn off the unneeded names.
  8. If you have a logo image, you can Insert Picture in the margin to give the map a brand identity.
  9. Finally, Share and Export a PDF of the map that you can print.
    • Portable Document Format (PDF) is a type of file developed by Adobe that preserves the formatting of a document as you created it so that documents appear the same on different computers or printers. This is the preferred output format for printable maps.
Standalone map layout

Managing Maps and Layouts

Opening the Catalog Pane

When working on a project for an extended period of time, you may accumulate multiple maps and / or layouts. In order to avoid confusion now and in the future about which maps and layouts are valid and what they contain, you should give your maps and layouts meaningful internal names, and remove unneeded maps and layouts.

You can manage your maps and layouts in the Catalog Pane.

Open the View ribbon and select Catalog Pane.

You can then view the maps and layouts by expanding the triangles beside the Maps or Layouts subheadings.

Opening the catalog pane

Renaming Maps and Layouts

You can rename maps or layouts in the catalog pane.

Renaming maps and layouts in the catalog pane

Closing and Reopening Tabs

If you close a map or layout tab in ArcGIS Pro, that map or layout remains a part of the project. You can reopen it in the catalog pane by double clicking on it.

Closing a tab and reopening it in the catalog pane

Duplicating Maps and Layouts

If you are creating a map or layout similar to one that already exists, you may be able to save time by duplicating your map or layout in the catalog pane.

Select the map or layout, Copy it, and then Paste it under the map or layout subheading in the catalog pane.

Note that maps or layouts must have unique names in ArcGIS Pro, so the software will append a "1" to the end of the duplicated layout. You can change that by renaming.

Duplicating a layout in the catalog pane

Deleting Unused Maps and Layouts

Over the life of a project you may accumulate maps or layouts that you no longer need. In such cases, it can be helpful to remove those unneeded maps or layouts so they do not confuse you if you reopen the project at a later date.

Deleting unused maps in the catalog pane

Saving a Project Package

An ArcGIS Pro project package is a file you can export from ArcGIS Pro that contains all the information about how your maps and layouts are set up, as well as any data you have added to the project database. When you are finished working on a project you should save it as a project package so that you can resume work on, fix problems, or use it as the basis for another project.

The easiest way to save project packages is to upload them directly to ArcGIS Online. This will enable you to reopen the project on any computer with ArcGIS Pro installed. It will also allow you to share your work with collaborators or instructors.

  1. On the Share tab and Package area, select Project.
  2. Give your project a meaningful name.
  3. Unless you are working with a group, you can usually just put the project name in the Summary and Tags boxes.
  4. Check the Share outside of organization box so that all files from your computer are included in your project package. This box is not set by default and you must check it any time you create a project package. This sharing feature will allow you to reopen your project on a computer different from the one on which it was created or last updated.
  5. You should usually uncheck the Include Toolboxes and Include History Items boxes unless you specifically have a reason to include customized tools in your project package. These settings can cause your upload to fail with cryptic messages.
  6. Click Analyze and fix any identified problems.
  7. Click Package to create the package and upload. This can take a few minutes if your project contains large data files like rasters.
  8. To get a link to your project package, view your Contents page in ArcGIS Online, click on the name to open the information page for the project package, and copy the URL from the location bar.
Saving a project as a project package

Reopening a Project Package

You can reopen a project you have saved as a project package by clicking Open another project from the ArcGIS Pro home screen.

Reopening a project package

Print Layout Checklist

  1. Meaningful Title: A map should have a title that indicates the contents of the map. The content of a map is not always immediately obvious to all people without a title, and a short, meaningful title gives a reader a quick understanding of what they are looking at.
  2. Correct Content: While it may seem obvious that a map should display what it says it displays, when you are working on a variety of tasks, it is easy to create a map using the wrong data, out-of-date data, or with titles that have been mixed up with another map. Always verify that your map content is correct before distributing the map.
  3. Correct Spelling and Grammar: The text in a map should conform to the professional language standards of the target audience. Misspellings and grammar errors reflect poorly on the cartographer and can cause the entire contents of the map to be considered unreliable. This is complicated by the absence of spelling and grammar checking tools in commonly-used GIS software, which requires additional vigilance by the cartographer (and preferably, an outside proofreader) to assure the use of spelling and grammar that is up to social norms, and appropriate for the target audience.
  4. Metadata: Maps should almost always contain some information about the creation of that map. This metadata can be unobtrusive, but should be visible somewhere on or adjacent to the map. Common items that should be considered:
    • Cartographer
    • Data source
    • Data date
    • Publication date
    • Publisher
    • Copyright
  5. Appropriate Projection: A map should use a projection suited to its use by the target audience. It is also common to include documentation of the projection somewhere on the map. While geospatial data commonly is distributed in WGS84 latitude and longitude, there are very few cases where you would display thatdata in unprojected WGS84 on a map, and, other than being a distortion of reality, such use is also a key indicator of limited cartographic skill.
  6. Appropriate Extent, Coverage, and Insets: Your map should cover as much of the area of interest as possible, while leaving enough border to give geographic context. When the area being mapped is not contiguous (such as the 50 US states), small inset maps of remote areas enable coverage. Insets are commonly used with Alaska and Hawaii on maps of the US.
  7. Page Orientation: The orientation of the map should match the area being mapped. In the case of the continental US, the mainland is wider than it is tall, so a landscape orientation is appropriate. In contrast, Illinois is taller than it is wide, so a portrait orientation may be more appropriate.
  8. Element Scaling Appropriate For Display Size: The size of elements such as text should be considered so the elements are legible in the medium where the map will be displayed. While text on a printed poster can be small, map text should be fairly large when used in a slide presentations.
  9. Colors Reflect Theme and Purpose (Categories vs Quantities): The colors you choose need to reflect both the purpose and the aesthetic of the map. Rainbows of distinct, contrasting colors are most appropriate for unordered categories. In contrast, shades of one or two colors are most appropriate for gradients of continuous values where a darker or lighter color clearly indicates a higher or lower value. One color choice you should almost always avoid is one that requires distinguishing between red and green. That will make your map unreadable to people with red-green color blindess, which represents around 8 percent of men and 0.5 percent of women with Northern European ancestry. Colors serve an aesthetic purpose, although the associations of different meanings to different colors are not necessarily universal or consistent across societies.. Color preferences represent individual subjectivities, but there is a science to the choice of color palettes and further research is suggested if this is an area of interest to you.
  10. Legend Present, Correct and Complete: Likewise, all significant thematic colors and symbols used on a map should have their meanings defined in a legend that is correct and complete.
  11. Context Elements In addition to the basic cartographic elements, the following map elements give spatial context to the contents of a map. They graphically indicate to the reader where the map contents are located on the surface of the earth. The choice of which of these to use will depend both on the spatial layout of your map and its ultimate purpose.
    • Base Map
    • North Arrow
    • Grid or Graticule
    • Key Map
    • Scale Bar
  12. Graphic Elements: There are a handful of cartographic elements that define the layout of a map. While of most significance for stand-alone print maps, they should also be considered for figures and web maps.
    • Neat Lines (Borders): Print maps commonly have borders around the edges that cleanly contain the contents of the map. These are called neat lines. These are less common on the web, and figures in articles.
    • Company and/or Client Logo(s): Maps are usually associated with companies or organizations like universities. Accordingly, use of a logo helps reinforce brand identity.
    • Alternative Visualizations: You should also consider whether a map is the most appropriate way of visualizing your data. Some geospatial information may be more meaningfully expressed on a graph or chart.