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Organizing layers

From: Up and Running with Illustrator

Video: Organizing layers

As you'll see when you begin assembling your own illustrations, objects build up quickly. So you can go from a pretty simple document to a very complex one indeed in a matter of say a half-an-hour, which is why it pays to organize your illustration as you go inside the Layers panel. Now this might seem at first like a pretty dry topic, but as you're about to learn, working inside of Illustrator's Layers panel gives you all sorts of flexibility, and I might even characterize it as fun.

Organizing layers

As you'll see when you begin assembling your own illustrations, objects build up quickly. So you can go from a pretty simple document to a very complex one indeed in a matter of say a half-an-hour, which is why it pays to organize your illustration as you go inside the Layers panel. Now this might seem at first like a pretty dry topic, but as you're about to learn, working inside of Illustrator's Layers panel gives you all sorts of flexibility, and I might even characterize it as fun.

I'm working inside a document called Grouped stickers.ai, it's found inside the Exercise Files folder. And to bring up the Layers panel, you can go to the Windows menu and choose the layers command. Note that it has a keyboard shortcut that crosses many of the Adobe applications and that's F7. So if you learn that F7 works in Illustrator, you'll find that it works in InDesign and Photoshop and so forth as well. Now currently, I've just got a single layer called layer 1, I haven't bothered to name the darn thing at all, and I really haven't spent all that much time organizing this document, except to group each one of these independent pieces of artwork.

I'm going to make my Layers panel taller by dragging the top, and you can see that everything with the exception of this textframe everything has been assembled into groups. Now the great thing about these objects is that you can name them if you want to. For example, this group right here represents the Dawn Patrol sticker. So I could go ahead and rename it if I want to by double-clicking on the item, Illustrator will display the Options dialog box, and then I could go ahead and call this item Dawn Patrol like so and click the OK button in order accept that change.

Now you might say, well gosh! That's a little dangerous, right, because after all now you don't know it's a group anymore. It used to be called Group, now you're not sure exactly what it is. Well, if you click on it to select it, then you're going to see that it's a Group up here in the Control panel. So I recommend you get in the habit of naming as many objects as you have time to name inside of your illustration, like I could go ahead and call this guy Surfboard, for example,, and then I could call this one Bamboo and so forth.

Note that you can also modify stacking order here inside the Layers panel. Stacking order is the order in which objects overlap each other. So, for example, currently the Dawn Patrol object fits in back of this little highway sign, towards the bottom of the illustration. If I wanted to change its stacking order, I could right-click on the object, choose Arrange and then choose something like Bring to Front or Bring Forward. But I hate those Forward and Backward commands, because you spend a lot of time trying to nudge something up or down the stack, and you never know how many times you're going to have to choose the command; whereas, if you're working inside the Layers panel, you can see that Dawn Patrol is a couple of objects deep by comparison to the highway sign, and I can just drag it up above the highway sign, and I've put it in front, that easy.

Anyway, I'm going to go ahead and move it back to its previous location. Another thing you can do, by the way, is you can expand a group, and you can do it by clicking on this little triangle right there, and many folks call this twirling open, the group, by the way. And now notice that I can see the Dawn Patrol text and I can also see that there's another group inside of it and I can twirl open that group as well to see its contents. And if I want to rename the various items inside of this group I can, just by double-clicking, assigning a new name such as DP background, for example, and then clicking OK.

So you can get as detailed as you want inside of this panel. All right, I'm going to go ahead and twirl that guy close, by which I mean click the triangle to collapse that group once again. And now let's say that I want to divide things up a little better where the layers are concerned; instead of just having one layer, I want two. Well, then to create a new layer all you do is you click on the little page icon at the bottom of Layers panel and that's going to create a new layer above the current one, and then, if you want to change its name, you go ahead and double-click on it and I'm going to call this layer Stickers, because actually even though I call this document group stickers, not every single item on the page is actually a sticker.

I'll go ahead and click OK in order to accept that change and now I'll grab the things that I consider to be stickers, like Dawn Patrol, I'll Shift+Click on this fearless item right there. I'll go ahead and grab the highway sign, not the surfboard, it's not a sticker. I'll grab this woody thing and also grab this blue Groundswell group and I'll put them on the new layer. Now notice here inside the Layers panel that each one of the selected objects has a little blue square next to it. Blue happens to be the color assigned to this layer, and the square shows me that these items are selected.

If I want to move them to a new layer, then I take advantage of this little blue square, but you can't see it, because it's against a blue background on screen here. So I'm going to click on some other item inside the Layers panel and you can now see that there is a tiny little blue square next to layer 1. If I drag that square up into the Stickers layer, then I move all of these objects into the Stickers layer as well. Twirl open Stickers, and you can see there is Dawn Patrol and there is my other sticker groups.

Another thing you might notice is that everything is turned red. All the points in the segments and so forth are now appearing as red, so are the various squares here inside the Layers panel. That's because Illustrator automatically assign my new layer red when I created it. If you'd rather assign a different color, just go ahead and double-click on the layer name, and assign a color here in the layer Options dialog box. I'm going to switch the color from Red to Gold, for example, and then click OK, and now my anchor points and segments appear in gold instead.

And that helps you identify what layer you're working on, as you're working inside of your document. Now notice this little bug, where the groups appear red, even though the layer itself is this orange color, just go ahead and twirl the layer close, and then twirl it back open, and all the coloring is resolved. All right, I'm going to go ahead and twirl that guy close, deselect the objects on this layer, and I'm going to rename my previous layer as well, and I'll call this one Non-stickers, and then I'll click OK in order to accept that modification.

And now the great thing is that they are entirely independent of each other. I could lock down the stickers if I want to, if I want to make sure that I don't end up editing them, I can unlock that layer as well. I could turn off the layer; so, for example, if I turn off the Stickers layer and I just wanted to print the Non-stickers; that would be a way to do it. And so you now have greater control over the contents of your illustration, thanks to the fact that you took a few moments to organize your artwork, here inside the Layers panel.

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Up and Running with Illustrator

26 video lessons · 20286 viewers

Deke McClelland
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