I've recently been dealing with a map requestor who wants maps resized at the very last minute -- from 8.5x11 to 22x34, or from large poster-sized to "something that can fit in a report" (those vague ones are the best). Obviously there are some "people management" things I can do to help him better plan his projects and requests, but beyond that I still need to produce multiple sizes of the same map with a minimum of time investment.

It is tedious to manually adjust all the elements -- legend, title, labels, various text fields -- to create a new layout. I did find "Scale Map Elements proportionally to changes in Page Size" in the Page and Print Setup dialog:

page and print setup dialog

However, it still leaves me with things to do:

  1. It doesn't work on all map elements (particularly text rectangles)
  2. It does nothing to the labels within the map; the 16-point font labels that are great for large poster maps are much too large for small figures (and similar scale issue if making the map bigger)

What are additional strategies for making an ArcMap layout more easily scalable? (My goal is to have as few font-size tweaks as possible.)

  • 1
    Mentioned below in a comment, sorta, but if I can, I usually kick out a PDF even when it isn't requested for just such an emergency. PDFs size-up very nicely, like you mention (yay vector graphics!), without raster data in the map. With raster data in the map you can allow for sizing-up by saving the PDF with a dpi-setting well more than you need (say 300 to 600 dpi). Then when it's up-sized (equivalent of zoomed-in) the raster still looks sharp - this assumes your raster has a fine enough cell size to not pixelate when printing the PDF to a larger format. Else see GetSpatial's Answer below.
    – user23715
    Sep 18, 2014 at 23:10

7 Answers 7


I think there are a couple of ways of looking at this question.

  1. You can see it from a pure mathematical and procedural standpoint of what factor do I multiply things by to change the size of this layout from small to large.
  2. Look at it from a cartographic standpoint. What does it mean to the layout, the look of the map, and the information you are trying to convey, when you change the scale from small to large, or vice-versa?

I'm going to go out on a limb and say there isn't any easy button you can press to make it easy to move from one scale to another. My reasoning behind this is that there are certain elements that work a certain way, and are appropriate at one scale, that don't work the same way at a different scale.

One example of this is a title. In a larger graphic, you may want to have a large title that is centered on a map. This could allow it to be visible from a distance if the map will be at the front of a room, or on a wall. That same map, scaled to fit on letter size paper, will not require a title that is the same size. In fact, you would want to do the opposite of having it large, centered and prominent. You will likely want to move it off to the side, and fit it into a smaller area. With a smaller map size, you want to maximize the area of the map, and thus the features you are trying to show, as opposed to the title information.

Here is an example of a map that I created recently. I was specifically asked to provide the map in two different sizes, one a standard 8.5x11, and the other a poster size to be mounted and displayed. I have linked to the pdf's to view them at actual size.

8.5x11 Map: 11x8.5 size map Poster Size Map: Poster size map - 35x34

With the differences in layout structure that are inherent to the different sizes of maps, there is no easy way of scaling one from the other. There are, however, some things that make it easier.

  1. Practice - The longer you work with the cartographic functions in ArcMap, QGIS, etc, the easier they will be to use. The more you work at different scales, you will start to find what dimensions work best for borders, what line widths, what text sizes, etc. are appropriate at different scales. Once you start to recognize this, it becomes quick work to open a new map layout, and throw down a border, title block, logo, etc., with the widths and spacing at the standard for that size.
  2. Standard layouts - The two layouts on my examples, are ones that I basically duplicate for all maps that I make in those general sizes. The label sizes, the title block, the spacing of the map outline vs the border, are all the same. Create templates at different sizes, and reuse them all the time.
  3. Use Automation - Make as many of the labels on the map, symbology, text elements, etc, as possible, driven by the map layers. If you do this, then you don't have to go and select a number of text elements when you change a scale. You can simple change the reference scale, and then go into the label section for a layer, and change the text size you want. If you use @Mapperz suggestion of Data Driven Pages in ArcGIS, it allows you to put even more text elements driven by data.

The main reason it is difficult to simply use a scaling factor to change the size of elements when changing the size of a map, is that different elements need to change different amounts. In the examples above, while the text size changed almost double between the two graphics, some of the borders changed by less than that, and some of the spacing changed by a different factor.

Every map you create has a specific purpose, to highlight specific data, or analyses. You want to make sure these are always the focal point of the map. In order to do this, you want to make sure that all of the other elements are consistent, balanced and regular. When you have something slightly off, like a map that scaled from one side, instead of the center, thus making uneven dimension across the map, it grabs your attention and detracts from the actual point of that map.

Here are some good cartographic design references:

  • Cartotalk: A public forum for cartography and design
  • Peterson GIS: Cartography Resources and Learning Materials for Map Makers
  • 1
    I like this Answer for being so thorough; it is a good reminder of why quality cartography shouldn't be rushed. Thanks!!!
    – Erica
    Aug 14, 2014 at 11:37

One option that might help with resizing labels more easily to a new scale is to change the reference scale. Once you've fit your map to the new page, using the data frame properties, general tab, go to the bottom where it has a drop-down menu called 'reference scale', and select (or any more specific scale setting). this can be a pretty quick fix for label sizes when resizing the map often


Suggestion in case anyone else runs across this thread/issue as I have:

In the layout view of ArcMap, group the ancillary elements in your current map then copy > paste them to the other map size that you need. Once you have pasted, expand the image by dragging one of the corners outward. You can then ungroup these elements and all you have to do is re-scale your map!

Happy Mapping!


Instead of making changes in the .mxd, export to a .pdf and page scale that up or down as necessary.

  • I've tried that, and have seen users distort the map when inserting into a report :\ It does work for printing and particularly upscaling, though.
    – Erica
    Aug 12, 2014 at 14:22

Take into account what Mapperz has said about scales.

What I try and think about when resizing is the aspect ratio. For example, 8.5x11 to 22x34 is not an easy fix since:

22 / 8.5 = 2.59
34 / 2.59 = 13.13 =/= 11

In order to easily resize a map, it helps if the ratio is similar. What I do in this situation is increase the white space around the margins if I'm working in ArcMap and move my elements around to fit. Typically, I then select all the text/legend etc and increase the font by the same amount.

However, I totally understand where you're coming from when a colleague just thinks technology/GIS works by a snap of the fingers, therefore should they ask for it done it needs to be done in what they deem is an appropriate (highly unlikely) time-frame.

In cases such as this, I don't make it a priority for the map to look pretty - if they rush you after you have given them a finished (pretty!) product they need to understand they should specify these dimensions BEFORE or at the time of development. In cases such as these where you are being rushed it comes down to:

Pick Two

  1. Accuracy
  2. Speedy
  3. Attractive

    I would try and communicate this effectively to co-workers which in itself can fall on deaf ears.

Another approach, is to export your map as pdf/png/jpeg what have you and resize from an image software such as photoshop or adobe. I find printing and resizing can work quite nicely outside of ArcMap if you need it to be snappy, but not necessarily accurate.

  • All good points. (I'm a huge fan of the "Pick Two" philosophy already -- perhaps I'll print it out, put it on the wall, and point at it when he comes by.) Adobe Illustrator would be an ideal solution, but we don't have access to it.
    – Erica
    Aug 12, 2014 at 15:37
  • Hahaha! Perhaps try something like GIMP if you don't have access to Adobe products?
    – GISHuman
    Aug 12, 2014 at 15:39

The legend can be particularly problematic. Sometimes you can take a screenshot of the legend block, or a snapshot from a pdf you've exported, and paste that into your new map and size it to fit. The other stuff can be handled by the suggestions already made like reference scale. If your two maps aren't too different in size and shape, you might even export the entire larger map to a high dpi tif and then insert that into a new layout as your only layer and export to pdf, if the rasterization is good enough. I've also sometimes selected all the legend elements, grouped them and then resized them with the handles to fit a different layout.


Scale Text - Data Driven Pages

" You can also represent the scale of your map with scale text. Scale text indicates the scale of the map and features on the map. Scale text tells a map reader how many ground units are represented by a map unit—for example, 1 centimeter equals 100,000 meters.

Scale text can also be an absolute ratio independent of units, such as 1:24,000. This means one unit on the map is equal to 24,000 of the same units on the ground. The advantage of absolute scale text is that map readers can interpret it with any units they want.

One drawback of scale text is that if a printed copy of the map is duplicated at another scale (enlarged or reduced), the scale text will be in error. Scale bars do not suffer from this limitation. Many maps have both scale text and a scale bar to indicate the map scale.**


  • I do tend to use scale bars preferentially to scale text (many map end-users besides this particular character reprint maps at unintended sizes) -- however, I am specifically interested in how to simplify the process of scaling the labels and map elements when I need to make a new map layout size.
    – Erica
    Aug 12, 2014 at 14:51

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