Introducing Annotation Layers in QGIS 3.22!

The QGIS 3.22 release is just around the corner, and we’d love to introduce you to one of the exciting changes included in this version. Just like all QGIS major releases, 3.22 brings a whole swag of improvements designed to enhance and simplify your mapping needs. In this post we’ll be highlighting one of these improvements — “Annotation Layers”. Before we dive further in, we need to extend our heartfelt thanks to the Swiss QGIS User Group who provided the funding required for this work. The Swiss User Group has invested heavily in cartographic enhancements to QGIS over many years, and it’s great to see this tradition continue for the 3.22 release!

So… let’s dive into Annotation Layers in QGIS 3.22, and what this new functionality allows you to do! Before we can get started, we’ll need to enable the new “Annotations” toolbar (it’s hidden by default). You can do this through the “View” – “Toolbars” menu by checking the “Annotations Toolbar” option. This will show a new toolbar, full of useful actions for creating and working with annotation layers:

The new Annotations toolbar
The new Annotations toolbar

Annotation layers can contain a whole mix of different annotation types. In QGIS 3.22 this includes markers, lines, polygons and text. (We anticipate this list will grow steadily in future QGIS releases!)

Annotation item types

 

Creating an annotation is as easy is picking the desired item type (marker, line, polygon or text), and then drawing directly onto your map:

All the usual QGIS shortcuts for creating features apply when creating annotation items. A line or polygon annotation is drawn by left-clicking once for each vertex, with a final right mouse click to complete the shape. Snapping can be enabled while you draw, you can use the “Advanced Digitizing Tools” to precisely place vertices, and even switch the drawing tools to the streaming mode for completely free-form shapes!

Creating a polygon annotation using stream digitizing

While annotations are created in this free-form way, every annotation item is still completely geo-referenced and tied to a particular geographic location. Moving your map, changing the scale or changing projection won’t cause your annotations to jump around the map. Rather, they’ll be locked in place to the location you’ve drawn them:

Annotations are tied to a geographic location

Unlike features in a traditional vector layer, it’s easy to interactively style annotation items on an item-by-item basis. (This is what makes them a great tool to help quickly create beautiful maps!). All the item appearance properties are set through the QGIS “Layer Styling” dock, which allows you to interactively tweak an item’s appearance without any annoying dialog windows getting in your way. Annotation items support all of QGIS’ rich symbology and labelling options, including layer effects (drop shadows, inner/outer glows), blending modes (multiply, overlay, etc), opacity, and even data-driven symbol property overrides!

Modifying items

Unlike traditional vector or raster (or mesh, or point cloud!) layers, an annotation layer isn’t linked to any external dataset. They exist within a single QGIS project only, so they are perfect for project-specific markups and cartographic notes. By default, any newly created annotation item will be placed on top of all your other map content. (Formally, they are added into a “main annotation layer” which is always drawn on the very top of the map.) This main annotation layer is a special beast, and you won’t see it listed alongside all the other layers in your project. If you need to interact with it, say to change a layer-level setting like the opacity or blend mode, just select the “Main Annotation Layer Properties” option from the annotations toolbar:

Setting the main annotation layer properties

 

In addition to this special main annotation layer, it’s also possible to create your own secondary annotation layers. From the annotations toolbar, select the “New Annotation Layer” option and a brand new annotation layer will be added to your project. Unlike the main annotation layer, you’ll see any secondary annotation layers appear in the list of your project’s layers. Just like any other map layer, you can toggle their visibility, rename them, and even reposition them to control whether the annotations show above or below particular layers in your map!

Creating a new annotation layer

(Note that whenever you have a secondary annotation layer selected as the current layer, any newly drawn annotation items will be placed into this layer instead of the main annotation layer.)

So there we go — that’s a quick dive into annotation layers in QGIS 3.22, and some of the new cartographic capabilities they unlock for your maps! We see this as the starting point of an exciting journey, and North Road developers have many plans for further enhancement of annotation layers in future QGIS releases. (And naturally, we’ve also added full support for ArcGIS drawings to QGIS annotation layer conversion to our SLYR ESRI conversion toolkit!) If you’ve something specific you’d love to see added to annotations layers, just contact us at info@north-road.com to discuss sponsorship options.