Creating a Map Layout from Start to Finish - Neatlines

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The neatline is a thin line that encircles each data frame on the final map. It’s job is create a boarder and define where the edge of the map is for both the main map and any inset maps that you may have. Neatlines, depending on the map, may be optional. There are times when the neatline can add to the map (like in the simple map of America above) and other times when it may draw a reader’s attention away from the main map data (like the example below). As new cartographers, it’s best to start with using a neatline every time and begin to experiment without them later.

Adding neatlines to your layout is fairly easy, it’s a simple as selecting “Neatline” from the Insert menu. However, it’s necessary to understand the available options to place the neatline correctly.

When we look at the screenshot below, we see that there are three placement options:

  1. Place around selected elements
    • Use this option to place a neatline around the selected data frame
  2. Place around all elements
    • Use this option to place a neatline at the extent of all elements added to the map (data frames, north arrows, legends, text boxes, etc)
  3. Place inside margins
    • Use this option to place a neatline just inside the printable margins

Other options include those to increase the gap between the neatline and the boundary of the data frame, the choice to round out the corners of the neatline, and select the line type and line weight (border) as well as a background or drop shadow.

Note: While this dialog box will allow you to add the neatline, unless you check the box for “Create separate neatline element”, you will need to use the “Frame” tab found in the Data Frame Properties to change elements of the neatline, which is also a second way to add a neatline “around selected elements”.