ArcGIS Pro: Ribbons, Toolbars, and UI Hacks

There are many reasons to use ArcGIS Pro. Maybe you need 64-bit geoprocessing or lightning fast mapping to get your job done. Perhaps your project requires multiple layouts and maps, or you wanted to finally step into 3D GIS. Pro’s full integration with ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS Enterprise also provides some amazing possibilities.

Whatever your reason, the first time you opened ArcGIS Pro you were confronted with something different – a ribbon-based application with a contextual user experience. It doesn’t look anything like ArcMap. You might be asking: “Where are all the buttons I am familiar with, and what is this ribbon thing?” Maybe you’ve used a ribbon before in a word processing, spreadsheet, or email application, but never with GIS.

ArcGIS Pro ribbon

The ribbon is the primary interface for working in ArcGIS Pro. Hundreds of essential GIS commands and tools (buttons) are located in contextual ribbon tabs associated with whatever view you have active.

Looking at a map? You are presented with ribbon tabs for:

  • Navigating, adding data, and selecting features (Map tab)
  • Performing spatial analysis (Analysis tab)
  • Editing and creating new features in your map (Edit tab)
  • Packaging or publishing a map layer or the map itself (Share tab)
  • And more.
Map ribbon tab

Map ribbon tab in ArcGIS Pro 2.1

ArcMap toolbars

This is obviously much different from how buttons are laid out in ArcMap. ArcMap’s tools and commands are on a number of toolbars, including:

  • The Standard toolbar has a wide range of commands, like Open and Save map document, Cut, Copy, and Paste, Undo, Redo, Add Data, Editor, etc.
  • The Tools toolbar provides interactive tools to Zoom In, Zoom Out, Pan, zoom to Full Extent, Select features, Clear Selection, Identify, Measure, and Find.
  • And roughly 40 other toolbars for every GIS command or tool in the book.
ArcMap toolbars

Standard toolbars in ArcMap

After years of working with a full-featured professional software like ArcMap, the toolbars, buttons, and their locations may be second nature to you. I can definitely say you are not alone.

The learning curve

I’ve observed a pattern with those who have downloaded ArcGIS Pro to start using it for their work or just to see what it’s all about. A gradual but often quick progression that can start with some frustration at not knowing where to find a command or tool. Typically after a few days a proficiency starts to develop, but still some jumping between ribbon tabs might occur to find a less frequently-used button. Finally, after a few weeks, mastery of the ribbon is attained as you have a mental map of all the commands and tools needed to perform your job.

Even if you are an experienced ArcGIS Pro user, you might wish that your most frequently-used commands would be in one convenient location. My colleague Hannah Deindorfer recently wrote about customizing the UI of ArcGIS Pro. I think two of these options for customization might help you if you are having difficulty adjusting to ArcGIS Pro or have trouble locating buttons in the ribbon:

  1. In the Project > Options > Customize the Ribbon window, you can move any command or tool to any ribbon location you prefer. You can create new ribbon tabs and groups, or even rename the existing tabs and groups.
  2. Any command or tool on the ribbon can be added to the Quick Access Toolbar (QAT). By default, the QAT includes the commands: New project, Open project, and Save project, as well as Undo and Redo. This toolbar is easy to customize so your favorite commands and tools are in a convenient and centralized location in the UI.

Making an ArcMap-style toolbar for ArcGIS Pro

I’ve taken customization of Pro’s QAT a few steps further. In addition to adding frequently-used commands and tools to the QAT, I minimize the ribbon. You can also move the QAT below the ribbon tabs. And just like that, you’ve got a familiar, click-reducing, productivity-enhancing toolbar in ArcGIS Pro.

Pro toolbar

ArcMap-style toolbar for ArcGIS Pro

….Yes, I did go through the process of recreating ArcMap’s Standard and Tools toolbars using the QAT in ArcGIS Pro (download user.config file).

While it’s a very close match between ArcMap’s standard toolbars and this customized Pro QAT, there are a few differences worth discussing and understanding.

Pro projects

ArcGIS Pro is a project-based application, so the first buttons are New project, Open project, and Save project. You do not work with map documents like you did in ArcMap. However, I’ve added the New Map and New Layout commands after the project commands, since adding maps and layouts is common for almost all projects.

Printing and exporting maps

In addition to the command to Print Map, there is a command to Export Map to File, like a .pdf, .svg, or .jpg. ArcGIS Pro is great at exporting high-quality .pdfs.

Copy data paths

ArcGIS Pro 2.1 has a Copy Path command that is extremely useful, so it is on the QAT toolbar despite no such button in ArcMap. Select some item in the Catalog pane, then click this button to copy its path.

Delete

The Delete button only works on selected features in the map, as there are no map graphics or free text in the latest version of ArcGIS Pro.

Map scale

Map Scale is not on a ribbon command so cannot be added to the QAT. But the scale control is always available in the status bar below the map.

Editing

The ArcMap Standard toolbar has a button to open the Editor toolbar which has commands to Start Editing and Stop Editing, among many others. There is no Start Editing or StopEditing in ArcGIS Pro, as edit sessions are started on demand, and stopped when you Save or DiscardEdits. The closest capability for the Pro QAT is the Create Features pane. Save Edits and DiscardEdits were added to the toolbar for convenience.

Zoom 

There are no Zoom In or Zoom Out rectangle tools in the latest version of ArcGIS Pro. Navigation and zooming can be accomplished using the mouse or keyboard shortcuts while using the Explore tool, or using the new on-screen Navigator control.

Select elements

The Select Elements tool can only be used with layout elements, as there are no graphics or free text in the latest version of ArcGIS Pro.

Explore tool

The Identify, Hyperlink, and HTMLPopup tools in ArcMap have been combined into the Explore tool in ArcGIS Pro.

Locate

The Search command opens the Locate pane where you can search for place names or addresses, attribute values in your configured layers, and latitude (y) – longitude (x) pairs. This combines ArcMap’s Find and Go To XY commands.

Network analysis

There is no dedicated Find Routes button or dialog like ArcMap has. Instead there is a Network Analysis button with a menu containing several commands for network analysis. This includes routing and service areas (drive-time buffers), among others.

Time slider

In ArcGIS Pro the Time Slider is not available as a ribbon button. Rather, it is enabled by configuring the time properties of a layer in your map.

Overview map and multiple views

There is no Create Viewer Window command available in Pro. Link multiple map views to get secondary views of the same map layers.

Toolbar position

The ArcGIS Pro QAT can only be positioned above or below the ribbon. You cannot tear the QAT off to float over the application, or dock it in a different location.

I hope this ArcGIS Pro hack configuration might help a few people out there to be more productive in their work.

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6 Comments

  1. johnmdye says:

    THIS. IS. AWESOME.

    I am not a fan of the Ribbon UI. Not just for Esri, but across anything. It’s ginormous, takes up too much space, hides functionality and I find myself having to click on more things than I ever had to. I get that some other people might like the Ribbon UI but for those of us that still love our toolbars, this is amazing.

    Even a configuration that makes each one of the toolbars a Ribbon Tab would be useful, allowing the user to just switch tabs to reveal the Standard Toolbar, Analysis Toolbar, Editing Toolbar, etc.

    • Drew Flater says:

      Thanks for your comment.
      You said it perfectly – some people prefer and are more productive with the contextual ribbon, while some like to have all their favorite tools and commands always available in a toolbar to be clicked without switching ribbon tabs.
      Your customization idea is an interesting one! It should definitely be possible using the options for customizing the ribbon.
      If the download works for you and you appreciate the configuration please rate it.

  2. Grant says:

    Great article. Thank you for helping us try to fix the poor ribbon UI with ArcGIS Pro. I dislike the need to constantly look for a tab hoping it contains the tool I need just to find in it’s in another tab due to ‘contextual’ reasons. The purpose of real toolbars (that float) are that they mean we can grab tools and swap between them in fractions of seconds because we work across all tools and functions at once. We have 12+ toolbars always open plus customised versions with more functions. How many GIS pro’s work in some limited map-only or edit-only workflow all day? And nobody can afford to give up screen real estate for pointless pretty icons! After years of having everything at one’s fingertips this inefficient ribbon UI is making us, for the second time, leave pro behind and stick with ArcMap for it’s simple toolbox trees and floating toolbars. If it ain’t broke….

    • Drew Flater says:

      Thanks for your comment.
      Like I said in another reply, some people really connect with the ribbon and can use it effectively, and can be overwhelmed by all the toolbars in ArcMap (like you said “everything at one’s fingertips” can actually be a challenge for some people). Others would prefer to have tools and commands always accessible in a toolbar, without the full size ribbon which does take up screen space. I hope my configuration file can help anyone in that second group.
      If the download works for you and you appreciate the configuration please rate it.

      • Grant says:

        Thanks Drew. I appreciate what you say and I respect the efforts you’ve made in providing this great help. Upon a re-read I see my comments likely have been received as not very friendly or at least frustrated and I apologise for that. I am thankful for your great customisations! I’ve installed the user.config file and the new QAT appears as expected. Very nice! However, I want to add more functions to the QAT but under Customize the Ribbon I cannot find the customised QAT in the right column to add new tools to it. I can and have added a couple of tools to the QAT by right-clicking on them in the project and adding them but once on the QAT they are not ‘moveable’ within the QAT? Perhaps I missed some things? Does the custom QAT have a unique name that identifies it? And, can I move individual tools within the QAT? Can you please give me a nudge in the right direction? Many thanks for your help. Kindest regards, Grant

        • Drew Flater says:

          Hi Grant,
          You are right that the only way to add tools and commands to the QAT is by right-clicking the existing command in the ribbon and selecting “Add to Quick Access Toolbar”.
          Unfortunately there isn’t a way to move the QAT buttons right now from within the application, and newly added commands get put at the end of the QAT. But you can modify the user.config file to reorder commands. You can edit this file in any text editor. Look for the xml property QATSetting and move the commands in the value string to reorder the buttons. For example, to put the Print Map command at the beginning before the project commands, change the value string to

          esri_sharing_PrintMap;esri_core_newProjectButton;esri_core_openProjectButton;esri_core_saveProjectButton;