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Gulf of St. Lawrence: Labeling cities along coasts
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Examples of city points labeled based on their importance and their relationship with the coast.
Examples of city points labeled based on their position relative to the coast.

What: Placing names for point features like cities that are on or near a coastline is not always handled well by automated name placement algorithms. Why: One the widely acknowledged masters of cartography, Swiss cartographer Eduard Imhof tells us how these names should appear:

“For esthetic reasons, names should be placed wholly on the land… and not half on water and half on land… Names of shore coastal and coastal places should be written neatly on the water surface. Names of places near the shore, but not lying on the shore, should be written completely on the land surface.”

From: Imhof, Eduard. 1975. “Positioning Names on Maps”, “The American Cartographer”, volume 2, no. 2. pp. 128-144.

How: In this map, we started with automated labeling and once we determined that we had the best automated results possible using refined labeling rules we converted our labels to map document annotation and manually finished the job.

  1. First we set up the automated label placement for the cities layer to label each class of city point with a different sized label. Here are the steps we followed:
    1. On the labeling toolbar, we made sure we checked the option to use the Maplex Label Engine
    2. From the Labeling toolbar, we opened the Label Manager and created three label classes based symbology categories.
    3. We used the Arial Font. We used 7.0 points for the City class, 6.5 points for the Small City class, and 6.0 points for the Town class.
    4. We used the default placement settings.
    5. To help avoid placing labels over the coastlines, we set the label weight ranking for the coastlines layer to 1000, this was only applied to the Polygon Boundary Weight. Use the label Weight Ranking button on the Labeling toolbar to change this setting.
  2. We converted our labels to map document annotation.
  3. We hand-edited the label placement when necessary to shift the labels to their optimal locations following Imhof's guidelines.
  4. We also changed the symbol for capitol cities to have to have an underlined symbol since this is a common cartographic convention used in atlases and reference maps.
  1. When using the label weight rankings, the Maplex Label Engine interprets values both absolutely and relatively. It is absolute in the sense that a value of 1000 will be strictly enforced, while other values are subject to interpretation. It is Relative in that if one layer has a value of 500 and another of 525, and the Maplex Engine will give priority to the labels with the higher value. It doesn’t matter whether you use intervals of 1, 5, or 100; the numbers are used to create a rank order listing. It is a good idea to leave gaps, to allow opportunities to insert another layer in the rank order by assigning a weight that is in between existing weights.
  2. Imhof, in the same article, goes on to say that "on small-scale maps which usually have a dense series of places and names, place all names of coastal places on the ocean. Moreover, set the names slightly outwards, curved away from the horizontal." We didn’t need to do the curved names on this map though this guidance is elegantly simple in concept, but very difficult to do properly through automation or even hand-editing.

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