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Display symbol label with multiple lines in legend

December 22 2009 | 11 comments
Categories: Map Elements

I would like to display a symbol label on two lines in the legend for a layer that is sybolized using unique values. I would like both lines of the label to be centered horizontally with the label.

Mapping Center Answer:

To make legend labels display on two lines, you need to add a description to the legend items. This is done by right clicking in the lend item on the Symbology tab of the Layer Properties dialog. Select Edit Description… and here you can type in the label name (or paste copied text) and then add a carriage return (by clicking Control + Enter) to split the label so it shows on two lines.

To have the description show up in the legend instead of the label, in the legend properties, on the Items tab, right click the name of the layer in the Legend Items pane and click Properties. Here there are a number of options that relate to labels and descriptions, but at the least on the General tab you can choose to show the descriptions and not the labels for the legend items.

You can find some related documentation here:

The first article describes how to create a description and the second article describes how to display the description in a legend.

Thank you! posted by Jennifer Corso on Jun 15 2011 8:59AM
Nice - solves many a headache. Thanks!
Happy to help! posted by Aileen Buckley on Jun 15 2011 1:23PM
Glad you found a solution!
Layer name and Heading posted by Melody Andrews on Jun 6 2012 5:09AM
What about wrapping the layer name or heading over two (or more) lines? Is there any way to do that?
Yes - in 10.1 posted by Aileen Buckley on Jun 6 2012 11:07AM
This is currently not avaiable in ArcGIS 10.0 or earlier. But it is a new option in ArcGIS 10.1! On the Legend Properties dialog box on the Layout tab there is a new option to "Wrap labels".
Wrapping layer or heading names - NOT the label na posted by Monique Elsley on Oct 3 2012 6:26PM
Although the 'Text Wrapping' option in 10.1 is useful, it won't let me wrap the name of the layer or heading that appears before the individual items start. Is there a way to 'wrap' or 'break' the name of my actual heading, which appears above the individual items', into multiple lines please? I have tried the very useful 'ctrl+alt' that breaks a description name but this doesn't work when I try it for the layer or heading name. Thanks for any advice!
workaround posted by Neil McCallum on Mar 8 2013 9:44AM
Hi, I wanted this answered as well, but I figured out a work-around that might be useful in certain circumstances.

You can either create a "dummy" symbol in layer properties/Symbology at the top of the list (make the symbol invisibly by sizing to 0, or making no colour). Then make the label what you would have wanted in the second line of the symbol Header. Alternatively you could make the default category your "dummy" and label that in order to add detail to the Header.

OR, you could group some of the symbols by making several headers. Select -> right-click -> Move to Header. That will add some detail to your legend, and may be useful in some cases.
Text wrapping for legend labels and descriptions n posted by Aileen Buckley on Mar 8 2013 12:57PM
In ArcGIS 10.1, you can now wrap lgend labels and descriptions (this is still not possible for legend titles and headings, however, so Neil's work around might still be an option to try out).

See the Legend Properties dialog > Layout tab. There is a section in the bottom left there that lets you specify some settings for text wrapping. Basically you can set maximum widths and text that is longer than that will automatically wrap. More info on legends in 10.1 at
You CAN wrap titles and headings! posted by Aileen Buckley on Mar 8 2013 1:07PM
My bad -- I forgot -- you CAN wrap titles! And with the new functionality in ArcGIS 10.1, you can also now wrap headings.

To wrap legend titles, do it the same as you always could, by editing the title and inserting carriage returns in the dialog.

The headings are included along with the legend labels when you set the label and/or description wrapping.
The wrap tool sucks. posted by Margo Aye on Jun 17 2014 7:01AM
I can't get the Control + Enter to work in 10.1, the new legend wrap tool is lame. It either wraps it into too many lines or not enough. I want control back; as to where I can put the line break. It seems ridiculous to me that you have to make so many "dummy" tools for the legend. ESRI should be more diversified to legend controls, as most all maps contain these important and signifying areas of descriptive information.
Wrapping posted by Aileen Buckley on Jun 18 2014 8:30AM
Ctrl + Enter still works when editing the description in the Layer Symbology dialog. It never was supported for Label (layer name) or Heading. We didn’t take anything away from that, just added options for the label and description wrapping in the legend. It might take some trial and error to get the wrapping widths set to just the right settings for each case, but you can still edit the description the same as before if you prefer. If you do want that kind of control you’re probably better off not turning on the automated description wrapping in the legend properties, which only wraps at spaces. If you do both the legend description wrapping and adding in your own line breaks with Ctrl + Enter, both will be in effect.
My point is still valid. posted by Margo Aye on Feb 12 2015 2:30PM
I would attach an example but I can't add attachments to this text box. In my key have it split into two columns. The first column layer has a long title, (41 characters) and I want it split so my key isn't 8 inches wide. However the first layer title in my second column is not very long (22 characters). I turn the "Wrap Labels" on and it wraps the first column perfectly... the second column it takes the last word and wraps it. I don't want it to wrap that second column's last word (hint hint maybe a wrap option for each column would be nice). I have my label width to wrap at 150 as this will wrap the first line into two lines... now if I change that 150 to 200, 250, 500(it doesn't matter) it will NO matter what- wrap that second column title's last word... at the 17 character mark. So my options at this point is to manipulate the key by creating a "dummy" layer, or create two keys, or suffer and have a very wide awkward looking key. My point is painfully valid... the wrap tool is bogus in two column situations, and now I have to spend 15 minutes making alterations to the key, for what was a 2 second fix in 9.1. The control + enter does not work in 10.1 for layer headings. It works in the description box but when you have multiple symbols, the description box is not an option. I hope it comes back in 10.? I have a ton of ideas- wait- more like three ideas of how you could fix it, if interested... but you'll have to go through 6 menus and then four sub menus, a tab and then a tab within a tab and then a ten second pause/flash thing that makes you think the software might be crashing causing complete panic because you can't remember when you saved your work last, and then 5 OK boxes to get to the Submit box... which will probably be greyed out.

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