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Top 10 ArcGIS Printing Checks

Date: 18/4/2013

Turn good maps into great maps by running some final checks before you print it out. In this blog I’ve put together a list of 10 things to check before printing from ArcGIS that ensure that my maps are as good as they can be.

By way of an overview I’ve provided an annotated reference example map below highlighting the items to check - click on the map to open it full size.

Example Map Printed from ArcGIS - click to enlarge


Why Use GIS in Petroleum?

1. Scale Bar and Scale Text

A map scale helps the end user understand the relationship of the map units to the real world. Either a scale bar and/or scale text must be included on all maps unless, of course, the map is not to scale in which case it should be clearly marked. When creating a scale bar, check that the intervals are relevant and useful, avoid unnecessary repetition of intervals and round off numbers to the nearest scale.

Scale Bar and Scale Text


2. Geodetic Information

Latitude and Longitude are not unique. Make sure that projection, spheroid and datum information are always included as a minimum. Where possible, include the EPSG code.

Geodetic Information

See for more information. For custom projections, full projection parameters should be provided.  

3. Locator Map with Extent Indicator

Include a locator (overview) map to show the extent of the main mapped area within a larger region, to provide geographic context. Clearly a locator map is redundant when the main mapped area is continental or global in extent.  

Locator or Overview Map

4. Legend and Symbology

A legible, uncluttered and easy to understand legend makes it easy for end users to understand the symbology used in the map.

  • You should group points, lines and polygons where possible.
  • Make sure that only items visible in the current map extent are in the legend.


ArcMap 10.1 allows you to do this by using dynamic legends. A good way of checking is to run through each item in the legend and see if all the features on the map can be easily identified.

5. Citations and Audit Trail

Include data source and any copyright information for all layers used in the map. You should also include ‘Audit trail’ information, such as:

  • The date on which the map was produced.
  • The name of the cartographer.
  • The internal file reference for the digital source file.    


6. Measured Grids and Graticules

Some tips for making sure that the grid/graticules work well are:

  • Check the interval spacing - avoid having too many tightly spaced grid lines on the maps as it can clutter the map and obscure features. See recommended grid line spacing below.
  • Measured grids should generally be used on larger scale maps.
  • Consider using crosshairs for graticule intersections on larger scale maps.


Suggested Grid Line Separation by Paper Size

Grid and Graticule Examples

7. Font Sizes

Make sure that the text across the entire map is legible and avoid using oversized fonts. The table below gives suggested font sizes for Arial text, in upper case.

Font Size Guidelines by Paper Size

8. Spell Check

You should ensure that the map is free from typos and spelling mistakes. ArcGIS 10.1 doesn’t have a built–in spell checker, but there are commercial tools available from other companies.

9. Labels

Check if all the labels in the map are clearly visible and required. Using too many labels can result in a cluttered map which can block underlying features and leave the end user confused.

10. Map Orientation

Finally, some cartographers feel that there isn’t a need to include a north arrow on each and every map, mostly due to the fact that the majority of maps are oriented with North ‘Page Up’. However, including a properly-aligned North Arrow can never harm a map, it can only help keep things clear and avoid confusion, so I’d recommend using one.

If you have any great tips of your own to share feel free to post a comment below.


Posted by Dhowal Dalal, GIS Consultant, Exprodat.

Comments Comments (13)

Good maps require thinking - and education

I just want to quote a statement of Daniel Huffman on this type of lists: "A list of requirements for how to make a good map is dangerous because it tempts beginners into shutting off their critical thinking and their creativity. Rather than consider why something should be done, or trying something new, they simply follow the list." See the full, nice to read article under: kind regards, Christoph

Posted By: Christoph Traun - 14/05/2013 08:26:23

Good list, should be read once a year

Yes, the proper use of a bar scale is consistently violated. Some comments: The green color in the legend for gas does not match with the gas fields on the map page? There is a lot of white space that could be optimized. Large bar scale, enlarging map to the right? Thanks for sharing

Posted By: Patrick Horton - 29/04/2013 17:57:07

What about an easily understood title

Having a title that accurately describes a map is a must; everyone wants to know whats in the map before they actually start interpreting it

Posted By: P. Smith - 25/04/2013 17:27:48

Great stuff

Regarding the legend and symbology, often less is more. If the symbology is intuitive, i.e. rivers/lakes are blue, parks green etc. Then usually these dont need to appear in the legend.

Posted By: Andrew Smith - 23/04/2013 07:38:08

Well spotted !

Well done and thank you for spotting the deliberate mistake ! ;-) The north arrow in the map has now been modified to point to True North.Ē

Posted By: Dhowal Dalal - 22/04/2013 16:54:13

Good tips

Thank you. These points are very helpful for many GIS-specialists. Nowadays we often forget about map design and to embed essential information. Though the points in the post are fundamental for cartographer and everyone begins to learn cartography from such steps

Posted By: Kargashin Paul - 20/04/2013 15:21:30

Add to number 1...

Good tips! I would add to number 1: if using metres as the unit of distance in a scale bar, make sure you have it spelled metres and not meters, which is the default in ArcGIS, and only makes any sense in 1 country in the World!

Posted By: Jon Ball - 20/04/2013 15:02:52

Helpful before finishing a project

I enjoyed this post, it is helpful to have a list like this, before finishing a project.

Posted By: Melissa Smith - 19/04/2013 18:51:49

Great, quick tips

#10 is good... to a limit. A north arrow can also confuse or mislead depending on the projection used. For instance, when using a polar projection, a north arrow would look just weird. And when using an Albers projection for the whole North American continent, north is quite variable. The north arrow would only be relevant at one longitude. Certainly, many users are smart enough to figure this out... but, well, you get my drift. Thanks! Ill refer my students to this list, if you dont mind.

Posted By: Bruce Kessler: Kessler GIS - 19/04/2013 16:14:02

Your North arrow doesnt point North

All of the things you list here are good things to consider putting on a map. Thank you for this list. One reason some cartographers dont like North arrows is that they frequently do not point North. On a map like your sample map that has curved parallels, there is not one direction that is North all across the map. Compare the North Arrow to the meridians drawn on the sample map, and you will see that there isnt any place where North is straight up. I only use a North arrow when there is a need to alert users that North is significantly different from vertical.

Posted By: Gerry Daumiller - 19/04/2013 15:42:51

#1 is really number one.

I cannot accurately express how annoyed uneven scales make me. Theres never really an excuse to have a map at 1:2123 or a scale bar that is chopped up into useless blocks. Glad to see Im not alone on that one!!

Posted By: Kevin - 18/04/2013 21:14:24

Good Pointers

Good pointers. Thanks for the interesting articles.

Posted By: Suzan Atkinson - 18/04/2013 20:39:18

Excellent tips

Excellent tips Dhowal, as these questions always come up and correct information on a map is critical!

Posted By: Mike Phillips - 18/04/2013 12:30:52

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