Creating a Map Layout from Start to Finish - Scale Bars

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Scale Bars and Scale Text

Scale bars and scale text are another example of a data dependent map element. Like the north arrow, it is most likely a good idea to include both a scale bar and scale text on a general reference map, but thematic maps may not always benefit from one. A map showing an attribute that doesn’t deal with scale or the scale might not matter, such as in a map showing average wheat yield per state. With a wheat yield map, the ability to measure the length of Kansas is most likely not important and a scale bar may just be taking up white space.

  • Scale bars, unlike scale text, will remain true on a map that has been resized outside of the GIS. This should be kept in mind when making the choice to include scale text along with a scale bar or not.
  • When selecting a scale bar, choose the one that shows the information without detracting visually from the map. Care should also be taken to adjust the division values to show numbers that make sense to a reader (0.25 miles, not 0.3827 miles) as well as selecting a unit of measure that matches the map and is logical to the reader (not leaving a scale bar in decimal degrees).
An example of scale text in both a statement of equivilency (top) and a representative fraction (bottom)An example of a scale bar where care was not taken to adjust the values to make sense to a readerAn example of a scale bar where care was taken to adjust the values.

Adding Scale Bars and Scale Text in ArcMap

Scale Bars

1. From the Insert menu, select “Scale Bar”
2. Select a style of scale bar by clicking to highlight it and click on the “Properties” button.

Note: The Properties can be accessed later by double-clicking on the scale bar in layout view.
3. In the “Scale and Units” tab, change the “When resizing..” dropdown from “Adjust width” to “Adjust divisions and division values”.

4. Change the “Division Units” to a logical value if needed.
5. Depending on the scale of your map, change the number of subdivisions.

Large scale: 1-2 subdivisions; Small scale: 3-4 subdivisions
Scalebars Adjustdivisions
6. Change the “Division Value:” to a logical value, close to the default number, as that number is close to the scale.

For example, if the number is 23, change it to 25 or if it’s 2540, change it to 2500.
7. Play with and adjust the settings in the “Numbers and Marks” and “Format” tabs as needed.

Note: Click on the “Number Format...” and “Symbol...” buttons to find more settings to adjust.

Scale Text

1. From the Insert menu, select “Scale Text”
2. Select a style of scale text by clicking to highlight it and click on the “Properties” button.

Note: The Properties can be accessed later by double-clicking on the scale bar in layout view.
3. Adjust the properties as you see fit for your map
4. Adjust the format as you see fit for your map