The Layer Panel in Adobe Illustrator

Learn all there is to know about the Layer Panel in Adobe Illustrator; from the creation of layers, to the organization of vector shapes, and every other use there is!

The Layer Panel in Adobe Illustrator

The Layer Panel in Adobe Illustrator is super useful when it comes to organize elements in our vector scenes.

And just like we saw in previous posts; the vector elements do not fuse with one another (like it happens in painting software such as Photoshop) but they remain independent from each other at all times. This can cause our projects to be filled with thousands of stacked vector objects; generating a great chaos in our scenes.

But thanks to the layers and the sub-layers from the Layer Panel, we can organize this elements in a very intuitive way. And I’m not talking about just organizing! With the Layer Panel we can choose which individual objects or layers to show or hide; or we can block specific items, making them un-selectable.

But of all the options the Layer Panel can give us, one of the most useful is the Click to Target selection options; that will allow us to select any vector from the Layer Panel, or all the objects inside one Layer with just one click of the mouse!

 

LAYERS AND SUB-LAYER IN ILLUSTRATOR

The software Adobe Illustrator allow us to create Layers; that will help keep the thousands of vector objects that will form our illustrations organized.

However, unlike in the painting software such as Photoshop, where each Layer contains just one element made of pixels; in Illustrator, each Layer can hold from a few dozens to thousands of little vector objects, that stack on top of one another in a way of sub-layers.

This arrangement method is great to be able to separate the different parts of a vector scene. We might, for example, want to set the background of an illustration in the lowest layer; and lock it so we won’t accidentally select it and modify it. A middle layer could be used for the main character, holding all the vector shapes and pieces that form it; stacked from the furthest parts at the bottom of the Layer, to the finest details at the top. Finally, we might want to have a top layer, for the texts and other design elements that will make the illustration complete.

Layer Panel in Illustrator displaying different layers and their sub-layers, as well as the visualization and locking icons.

Layer Panel in Illustrator displaying different layers and their sub-layers, as well as the visualization and locking icons.

As you can see in the sample above, the project has been divided in many different layers–each of them represented by a unique color; holding an important part of the illustration’s character. We can find a layer that holds nothing but the hair strands that float at the background; superposed by a layer with the skin and all it’s details, and topped with jet another layer of hair that covers the woman and her features in a very organic and “Art Nouveau-ish” way.

We can also see how we can expand any of the layers to discover the sub-layers. This sub-layers will hold single vector paths, or even groups of paths that will be arranged as a compound path; that can also be expanded, to reach each and every little sub-path that forms it.

The layers in Illustrator–as in every other Adobe software–can also be hidden, by pressing the eye icon; or they can be locked to prevent accidental selections, by pressing the lock icon.

The order of creation of the vector paths and shapes will determine their position in the layer. As we create new objects, they stack on top of each other, making new top sub-layers, while the older ones stay down on the bottom of the stack.

But even after creation, it is possible to re-arrange the order of the paths at any time. We must simply select the item we wish to move in the Layer Panel, and drag it to the desired position in the stack.

We can change the order of the vector objects directly from the Layer Panel, by simply clicking and dragging them to the desired position.

We can change the order of the vector objects directly from the Layer Panel, by simply clicking and dragging them to the desired position.

There will be situations, however, in which the layer contains so many elements that is nearly impossible to select them from the Layer Panel, and know where we wish to position it.

In cases such as this, we can select the desired object from the canvas by clicking directly on it, and make use of the menu Object > Arrange > Bring Forward, or other variations such as Object > Arrange > Send Backward.

The Object > Arrange menu, with its most used options "Bring to Front" and "Send to Back"

The Object > Arrange menu, with its most used options “Bring to Front” and “Send to Back”

Be aware that to be able to use this option, at least one vector object or group must be selected in the canvas.

This options are great, for they allows us to move  the objects one step Upward or Downward while looking at the finished result in the canvas, instead of having to guess the desired spot among the many many sub-layers; or we can simply send a desired object all the way to the top or all the way to the bottom, without having to expand the layer and drag the object to the beginning or end of the stack.

 

WATCH THE VIDEO (SPANISH AUDIO)

The following video explores the Layer Panel of Adobe Illustrator, and it shows in depth the contents shown in this post. Unfortunately, the audio is only available in Spanish. But if you feel up to it, you can give it a try! Seeing the position and look of the Panel on a practical example might be helpful; regardless of the speech 🙂

 

 

COMING UP NEXT!

In the following post we will take a look at the Align Tool in Illustrator, with all its working modes, uses and useful tips!

Check it out!

 

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Sara
sara.martull@gmail.com

I am a 3D artist. I like making 3D illustrations, modeling and rigging characters and watching hundreds of movies and TV shows.

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