Is there a way to make North Arrows look better?

Question: Is there a way to make North Arrows look better? I know you can change the overall color of a
North Arrow from say the standard Black to Red…but what about changing the individual elements? I have attached a picture I took of a North Arrow that I recently saw on a wall and wondered if it was something I could reproduce in ArcMap. (see attached pic)

Attachment: Picture of North Arrow

Answer: For the standard north arrows, which are based on font glyphs, what you see is pretty much what you get. However, a good deal more is possible. North arrows are based on Marker symbols, which can be created using an enhanced metafile (EMF) to supply the artwork. These files can be created using ArcMap or most standard illustration software packages (Adobe, Corel, etc.). So, literally anything you can draw can be used as a north arrow.

To use ArcMap to create the EMF file, I first resize my layout page to be a square, and then move the empty default data frame off to the side. Then I draw whatever I need, and finally export (File menu) the drawing to EMF.

Use the Style Manager to create a new marker symbol by selecting the Mark Symbol folder on the left and then right-click on the right, choosing “New”. In this case you’ll be making a Picture Marker symbol, and you’ll browse to and use the EMF file.

To make the North Arrow, continue working in the Style Manager, but select the North Arrows folder on the left, and create a new north arrow. In the lower right of the North Arrow properties dialog, click the Symbol button and add the picture marker symbol.

So, it may involve a bit more time to create such a custom north arrow, but it’s definitely possible.

Formerly a Mapping Center Ask a Cartographer  Q & A.

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  1. rkbaber says:

    I have a Standard License and tried to add a customized north arrow using the above instructions. When in the Style Manager, trying to create a new marker symbol, right clicking showed a menu, but none of the options were active. So I wondered if a higher level license was required.

    • abuckley says:

      No higher level of license is required. But edits to the default style are automatically grayed out (not active). Instead of editing an existing north arrow, you need to make a new north arrow. You can do this in a couple of easy ways. (1) find a north arrow you like in the Esri default set and then copy and paste it into your personal style in the north arrow folder — it will be editable there.
      Or (2) right click in your personal style and create a new north arrow by navigating to either emfs or marker characters installed on your local machine.

  2. Joe Cup says:

    I’m trying to make an emf in ArcMap – how do you make the layout square? I want the emf to be square and don’t have access to any other programs that can create/export to .emf files (all I have are raster graphics editors & CAD programs than can only do .wmf)