Attached is an example of a generic inset map designed in ArcMap 10. For all the wonderful things that this software can accomplish, there has to be a more sophisticated way to produce better looking inset maps than my default method.

I would like to see different methods of producing inset maps that are more unique and creative than the one I displayed. Ideally, I would like to see examples and explanations that can be produced in GIS software like ArcMap, rather than software such as Illustrator.

Are there any solutions, suggestions and steps to produce a more professional, cleaner inset map?

enter image description here

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    ArcGIS Resource Center - blogs.esri.com/esri/arcgis/2008/03/04/…
    – Mapperz
    Commented Jul 16, 2012 at 13:11
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    Can you be more specific regarding what you don't you like about the inset map?
    – user3461
    Commented Jul 16, 2012 at 13:26
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    Like Kevin I would like to see this question become more targetted to "how do I produce an Inset that looks like this ..." rather than remaining open ended.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Jul 25, 2012 at 0:46

5 Answers 5


A few suggestions:

  • Add a thin white border to your inset map, to separate it from the main map. In your example, the thin black line doesn't do enough to differentiate the inset from the main map:

enter image description here

  • When adding leader lines from the inset map to the inset frame (which shows the extents of the inset map on the main map), do it in Layout view and make sure you have "Snap to grid" turned on, so that the leader lines intersect perfectly with the corners of the inset map and the inset frame. Set the grid to a small increment like 0.1" to give you more leeway to place the inset and leader lines. I'd also consider using a single leader line with an arrow pointing at the inset map, it's less clutter in the main map window and gives you more options for threading the leader line around other main map elements you may not want obscured:

enter image description here

  • I'm guessing you're using an Extent Rectangle to make the red inset frame in the example above, and that's why the leader lines don't match up exactly. Instead, just draw a square/rectangle in Layout view using the graphics tools to show the inset extent. It's more laborious, and it won't show the inset's extents absolutely perfectly, but it looks better.
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    Good suggestions Dan. I think what you can do to get close to perfect if you really want to "draw" the extent, is first create the graphic in the dataframe of the inset. Then save this graphic as a shapefile so it can be copied into the main map and displayed as an outline there.
    – SaultDon
    Commented Jul 16, 2012 at 16:01
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    I think shifting the inset frame so that it is not completely contained in the larger frame helps clarify that the inset is not merely a rectangle drawn in larger frame. A drop shadow is also a good indicator, though I would use it on the frame itself, not inside the frame as in SaultDon's example.
    – Llaves
    Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 17:39
  • @Dan: These are great. I really appreciate the clean lines, simplicity and dataframe outlines.
    – Aaron
    Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 23:37

I like keeping them simple in regards to the outline and leader line. Below are two examples of Key Maps, though not Insets they show two things that can be done to enhance the readability of yours.

1) In yours, you have two leaders (which would look better if attached to the corners), try to reduce them to one:

Inset map with simple leader.
The red square is the extent indicator for a larger map (not shown). To make it a single line, check "Use Simple Extent" in the "Extent Indicators" tab from the data frame properties window.

2) You can also try to add something else, like a drop-shadow to the dataframe of the inset to help is stand out:
Inset with dropshadow.
In your case, the dropshadow would be applied from the Frame tab in the dataframe properties window. In the example above, this is two dataframes of the same Provincial outline, offset in the layout to simulate a dropshadow.


As an alternative to ArcMap, I just installed ArcGIS Pro 1.1 which now supports extent indicators.

In my first test of using leader lines I created the style below which I don't think could be done out-of-the-box using ArcMap.

There are various other styles and options to experiment with there.

enter image description here


You may look at data driven pages.
The default use is to have a dataframe with the "inset" and an overview frame smaller on the page.
But there would be nothing keeping you from setting up the overview frame as a large map With the pages as each inset you want highlighted, and then put the inset frame on top or next to the overview frame.
Did that help? You can search ddp or datadriven pages here and on the ... esri resources site


What ever we want we can make a layout setting. I have attached an example an hierarchy based zooming using cartographic technique.enter image description here

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    Whilst the above is a nice map I find it difficult to immediately figure out the location that the two insets relate to on the main map. In addition, the yellow faded background detracts the viewers' attention away from the focus of the map.
    – veedub
    Commented Jul 25, 2012 at 8:57
  • I am accept Mr.Veedub. Thank for your feedback. i will rectify in future. Commented Jul 25, 2012 at 9:35

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