How would you label this map logically?

I will preempt the question, with the statement it is for a fire truck, so we really have to worry about seeing the address numbers at 3 am with one contact in. I have tried a few different options and seek any suggestions.

enter image description here

  • what GIS software?
    – Mapperz
    Apr 16, 2014 at 18:35
  • 2
    Is this web based? Mobile? Printed on paper?
    – ianbroad
    Apr 16, 2014 at 18:43
  • Well, if it's paper the only way I see to label it is to print at a much larger scale. It's going to be a lot more pages. Otherwise, make it interactive/web-based.
    – ianbroad
    Apr 16, 2014 at 18:49
  • I am using ArcMap 10.2. It is for a printed map . Apr 16, 2014 at 19:23
  • 1
    What is the physical size of this map. Apr 16, 2014 at 19:38

5 Answers 5


Three possibilities come to mind right off:

  1. Increase your map scale for the entire book. This of course has the downside of adding (potentially lots of) pages.
  2. Create inset maps or additional detail map pages for dense areas such as those above. On the main map, you put a line around the area and then label that with an address range of what is contained in it.
  3. Create leader annotations with lists of addresses that are legible and lines pointing to their respective buildings/lots/etc. This will be something of a nightmare to maintain and update, and would rely on being able to find sufficient whitespace for the label blocks.

Based on my experience in creating plan sets and map books like you are attempting to do, I think some combination of one and two are your best bet.


For a printed map, placing labels dynamically is only the first step. This is where you design your colours, label size and basic placements. Step 2 is to export the dynamic labels into static or feature-linked annotations and place every label manually.

Personally, I would try making this map a little more generalized; Thicken all the named roads so that the road name label fits within each road. The curbs and the detail in the drives is also not necessary. Unless there isn't sufficient contrast, there is no need for text halos. The general rule of thumb for halos in cartography is to try to match the colour of the halo to the background otherwise the halos may make the final product look too busy. For the houses themselves, I would try to use PIN outlines or parcels instead which will give you a lot more room to place the house number label. If you really need the house footprint, place it in the parcel but do not use an outline. This way the label will stand out more. Then of course, place all labels manually to ensure perfect position - maplex is good but not good enough for a printed map, especially one that may be used in a fire truck.

I see you were trying to use key numbering. I don't think it will work with the house numbers. Personally I would turn it off. Instead add leaders to the labels and where you have dense clusters, spread the labels out manually and arrange them in an easy to read logical fashion. Leader lines will also serve as an anchor when you are manually arranging labels so you won't loose the origin of the label but where the label has enough room maples will still generate the leader but will not display it - the label itself will sit on the label point origin.

  • 1
    As someone who has worked on a map book for emergency response like OP, I want to offer a couple of considerations. First, manual placement of labels is not feasible at this city-wide scale - you're talking hundreds of thousands of them. Second, relating both to placed labels and generalizing features, what happens when the underlying data needs updated, as it frequently will? Massive amount of rework. Generalizing is good if the data is available (ie centerlines instead of polygons), but if OP has to do the conversion it is a lot of extra time initially and with each update.
    – Chris W
    Apr 16, 2014 at 23:09
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    Typically those like OP are relying on other departments to maintain data like streets, and have little control over its format. I agree there's extra detail in parking and drives, but they do need to be shown and if OP has to manually create and sync generalizations to simplify it that is a lot of work. Labeling parcels rather than buildings is also good idea when possible, but likely won't give more room as the lot is often the size of or includes multiple buildings in cases like example above. Shapes without outlines is another good idea.
    – Chris W
    Apr 16, 2014 at 23:16

Well, I don't know what software you're using to view or configure this in, nor do I know what source data you're using to produce this map; however, that being said, I will assume this is for some form of interactive map and you're using building polygons with the address numbers in a field and that you have a road center line feature class with address ranges for each segment (either low and high address or from left, to left, from right, to right), with segments being split at intersections.

If all that is the case, what I would actually do is to remove the individual building address labels at this scale as they are too crowded to be usable and therefore create more confusion than solution. At this scale have the road segments labeled (ex: either 100-199 labeled in the center of each segment, or 100 at the beginning right side of the line, 101 at the beginning left side of the line, 198 at the end on the right side of the line, and 199 at the end on the left side of the line (use values from your own road center-line data, that's just example to hopefully give you an idea). Then, when the user zooms in a bit more and fewer buildings show up and they are a bit larger, then turn off the road address range labels at that scale and turn on building address labels.

If this is for a printed map instead, then unfortunately, I think you might need to re-consider the scale of your map as there's no ideal way I can think of to do this, and even all the "as good as you can get it" options will take a LOT of manual label manipulation in annotations at this example scale.


If this is for a printed map, you could try labeling just the first and last houses on a block, or even one label per block, with the block number. That would let you use larger text. You could use graduated colors to indicate increasing address numbers from one end of the block to the other. If this is a quick reference for street navigation, you don't need to label every single house individually.

I would also consider getting rid of some of the finer details in the geometry of the houses and streets. The map reader probably doesn't need to know that one house has a driveway that's 2 feet wider than the house next door, or that one has a small sidewalk leading from the driveway to the house. The more white space you can create, the better your labels will stand out.

  • Is that possible with the labeling engine in ArcMap. If so how would you code the expression for the point you are referring to in the first paragraph. Apr 16, 2014 at 19:26
  • I don't know if it is. No matter how you generate the labels initially, ultimately as Jakub says you are going to be doing some manual arrangement of the labels.
    – Dan C
    Apr 16, 2014 at 20:07
  • Not sure how your road data is setup. Often, nationally maintained road datasets contain house range numbers and similar info. @Dan has some good ideas here but you would need to enter and maintain this info into your data. If you had rotation field with the residences you could export them to points then place dynamic label over the points and use rotation value - that could clean things up considerably. Apr 17, 2014 at 3:55

Judging by the picture and what has been already written in the answers and comments, there are a few options open to clearing up the labels.

My first suggestion is to significantly lighten up the colours used as this is a print map and everything comes out darker than what is on the screen, at least with the printers and plotter I use. You could also reduce or even eliminate the outlines on the polygons. This way the numbers will stand out better.

It appears you are labeling the parcels as straight within the polygon - if you do use this option then a font like arial narrow works well with labeling addresses that are squished together.

Using the leader lines is a good option for you as suggested by Jakub. If the labels are converted to annotation within the map document, you can select several labels are once, right click on them and use the align tool to make the labels appear more organized.

If it is not necessary to have all the parcels labeled, you may want to try using a modulus operator in the Label Expression. The one below is VBScript, using the Number field. If it is divisible by 3 with no remainder, the parcel is labeled.

Function FindLabel ( [Number] )
  If ( [Number] Mod 3) = 0 Then
FindLabel =  [Number]
End If
End Function
  • 2
    The one correction I would make to this is, if they are doing a project of any real significant size with this, as has been suggested about it being a map-book. You should really suggest major annotation datasets be stored in a feature linked, or at the very least feature unlinked, annotation feature class in a GDB, rather than the in-map annotation you suggest in your answer. They are, among other things, safer to work with because if MXD gets corrupted somehow, you don't loose all that hard work.
    – John
    Apr 16, 2014 at 22:40
  • Nice idea with the mod operator! Apr 17, 2014 at 3:59

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