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Taking Advantage of Layer Strategies in Adobe Illustrator CS5

Article Description

Whether you want to create multiple versions of a single object or you're building incredibly complex artwork, layers can be very helpful for controlling and keeping track of your Illustrator art objects and documents. Brian Wood, contributor to Adobe Illustrator CS5 Classroom in a Book, demonstrates strategies for making layers really useful.

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Like other Adobe applications, Illustrator CS5 allows you to use layers in your artwork. I ignored layers for years while working with Illustrator, until one day I saw a tutorial that showed how naming layers and keeping them organized can help you to select content, among other things. Somewhat reluctantly, I began working with layers, forcing myself to incorporate them into my workflow.

These days, I can't take a step in Illustrator without the Layers panel[md]at least for a more complex document. In this article, I'll show you how a little work with layers up front and during the creation process can be hugely beneficial later, saving you time and potential frustration. After a brief introduction to the layers concepts, I'll guide you through the following topics, introducing some best practices and shortcuts along the way:

  • Creating and editing layers
  • Naming layers
  • Layers versus sublayers
  • Layers panel options
  • Using layers to select content
  • Merging and sharing layers
  • Controlling layer appearance

Layer Basics

Once you understand what layers are, you'll see why it's so important to use them. Adobe Help (Help > Illustrator Help) sums up layers like this: "Think of layers as clear folders that contain artwork. If you reshuffle the folders, you change the stacking order of the items in your artwork. You can move items between folders and create subfolders within folders."

When working in Illustrator, each document you create starts with one layer (called Layer 1) in the Layers panel (see Figure 1). If you never touch the Layers panel (effectively creating layers or sublayers), all of the artwork in that document will be in that one layer. No matter how many artboards you have in your document, all content will also be in that one layer, by default.

Figure 1 An example of layers in a document.

Okay, so why would you use layers? Because layers can be helpful in many ways. Just a few examples:

  • Organizing your content
  • Making it easier to select, hide, or lock content
  • Allowing you to make appearance changes to the content of an entire layer
  • Creating templates for tracing
  • Creating animations for Flash and GIF files

If your document contains only a web button made from a rounded rectangle and some text, layers may not be necessary. But add several versions of the same button, and layers can be a timesaver for saving and viewing each version. The more complex the artwork, the more useful layers can be in helping you to keep track of your document.

Now that you have an understanding of what layers are and why and when to use them, let's take a look at using layers in Illustrator CS5.

2. Creating and Editing Layers | Next Section