Layer Functions in Adobe CS5 Illustrator - dummies

By Jennifer Smith, Christopher Smith, Fred Gerantabee

In Adobe Creative Suite 5 (Adobe CS5) Illustrator, layers assist in producing complex artwork. Layers are similar to clear pages stacked on top of your artwork: You can place content (text, shapes, and other objects) on a layer, lift up a layer, remove a layer, hide and show layers, or lock a layer so that you can’t edit its content.

Using layers for selections

When you have a selected object on a layer, a color selection square appears to the right of the named layer. If you click the radio button directly to the right of the layer’s name in the Layers panel, all objects are selected on that layer.

Selecting the entire contents of a layer.
Selecting the entire contents of a layer.

Sublayers have their own radio buttons. If sublayers are visible, you can use the same technique to select objects that may be buried behind others.

Changing the layer stacking order

Each layer has its own painting order, the order in which you see the layers. To move a layer (and thereby change the stacking order of the layers), click and drag that layer until you see the black insertion line where you want the layer to be moved.

As you add shapes to a layer, a sublayer is created, and it has its own little stacking order that’s separate from other layers. In other words, if you choose to send an object to the back and it’s on the top layer, it goes only to the back of that layer and is still in front of any objects on layers beneath it.

In order for an object to appear behind everything else, it has to be on the bottom layer (and at the bottom of all objects on that bottom layer); for an object to appear in front of everything else, it has to be on the topmost layer.

Moving and cloning objects

To move a selected object from one layer to another, click the small color-selection square to the right of the layer’s radio button in the Layers panel, drag the object to the target layer, and release.

Drag the small square icon to move the selected object to another layer.
Drag the small square icon to move the selected object to another layer.

You can also make a copy of it while you move the copy to another layer. Clone an object by Alt+dragging (Windows) or Option+dragging (Mac) the color selection square to another layer. A plus sign appears while you drag (so you know that you’re making a clone of the object). Release when you reach the cloned object’s target layer.

Hiding layers

To the left of each layer in the Layers panel is an eye icon — a visibility toggle button. Simply clicking the eye icon hides the layer (the eye disappears, denoting that this layer is hidden). Click the empty square (where the eye icon was) to show the layer again.

Alt-click (Windows) or Option-click (Mac) an eye icon to hide all layers except the one you click; Alt-click (Windows) or Option-click (Mac) the eye icon to show all layers again.

Ctrl-click (Windows) or Ô-click (Mac) the eye icon to turn just the selected layer into Outline view. In Outline view, all you see are the outlines of the artwork with no stroke widths or fill colors. The rest of your artwork remains in Preview mode, with strokes and fills visible.

Locking layers

Lock layers by clicking the empty square to the right of the Visibility (eye) icon. A padlock icon appears so that you know the layer is now locked. Locking a layer prevents you from making changes to the objects on that layer. Click the padlock to unlock the layer.