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Illustrator tutorial: Creating new layers and moving items between layers in Illustrator

What you’ll learn in this Illustrator Tutorial:

  • Creating new layers
  • Moving items between layers
  • Paste remembers layers

This tutorial provides you with a foundation for working with Adobe Illustrator layers. It is the eighth lesson in the Adobe Illustrator CS6 Digital Classroom book. For more Adobe Illustrator training options, visit AGI’s Illustrator Classes.

Adobe Illustrator Tutorial: Creating new layers and moving items between layers in Illustrator

Now that you have grouped all the small items in your illustration, you will further organize them by creating separate layers for these grouped items. You will rename Layer 1 and create two new layers, one for each fish. You will then select the large and small fish separately, and move them each to their appropriate layer.

1 Double-click on the thumbnail for Layer 1 in the Layers panel. In the Layers Options dialog box that appears, type Background Shape in the Name text field to rename this layer.

You can also change the layer selection color, convert the layer into a template, lock a layer, show or hide a layer, make a layer non-printing, turn off a layer’s preview, or dim a layer in this dialog box.

The Print checkbox in the Layer Options dialog controls whether an image is included not just when output to paper, but also when exported to another file format. When this box is unchecked, the image is not included in the printout or export. In some export formats, like PDF, the layer controls are retained in the exported file. Depending on the exported file format, the non-printing graphic may be totally dropped from the resulting file. You don’t want to make any changes now, so press OK.

The Layer Options dialog box.


Checking/unchecking the Lock checkbox in the Layer Options dialog box has the same effect as toggling the Edit column in the Layers panel. Checking/unchecking the Show checkbox here is the same as clicking in the Visibility column in the Layers panel.

Some items should be seen and not printed

Usually, if an item is visible on the artboard it prints, and if an item is NOT visible on the artboard it will NOT print.

So why would someone need to make a layer visible but non-printing? Unchecking the Print box in Layer Options is an opportunity to communicate to the on-screen user of the file without adding to the final artwork.

A great example would be production notes, which can be visual instructions or information about the output of the file that are not actually part of the graphic content. Perhaps there are sizing or positioning constraints established by the corporate graphic standards that should ride along with the company logo. Or, placeholder graphics can give directions about ad placement on a publication page.

2 To create a new layer, press the Create New Layer button () at the bottom of the Layers panel. A new layer named Layer 2 is now situated above the Background Shape layer. Change this default layer name to something more descriptive to keep your layers clearly organized. Double-click on the Layer 2 thumbnail, and in the Layer Options dialog box, type Large Fish in the Name text field. Press OK.

3 You can avoid the extra step of having to change the default name of the newly-created layer by bringing up the Layer Options dialog box right away. It is more efficient to name your new layers at the same time as they are created. This time, hold down the Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac OS) key on your keyboard while you press the Create New Layer button. The Layer Options dialog box appears, allowing you to name the layer as it’s created. In the Layer Options dialog box, type Small Fish in the Name text field, then press OK. The Small Fish layer is listed above the Large Fish layer in the Layers panel.


In Illustrator CS6, you can name a layer directly in the Layers panel, without having to open the Layer Options dialog box. Simply double-click on the layer’s name in the Layers panel, and when it’s highlighted, type in a new name. Then hit the Return or Enter key to accept the change.

When you draw, place, or paste an object onto the Illustrator artboard, a new sublayer is created for it. This new sublayer appears in the active layer and at the very top of the stacking order within the active layer.

Rather than create layers in an arbitrary order and then have to arrange them as desired, you can build the stacking order of your graphics on-the-fly. Position new graphics and groups in the layer sequence as intended by targeting the layer immediately below where you want the new item to appear.

4 Select the Small Fish Group sublayer (listed beneath the Background Shape layer) by pressing the Click to Target icon () in the Target column. When the color box () appears in the active selection column, click and drag the square to the Small Fish layer and release the mouse. Once you release the mouse, the selection square and the color of the bounding box change to green to match the selection color of the Small Fish layer.

Once an item is moved from one layer to
another, its active selection square and
bounding box color change to the
selection color of the new layer.

5 Click to target the Large Fish Group sublayer (also beneath the Background Shape layer heading), then click and drag its color box to the Large Fish layer. You have now transferred the features of one piece of a containing layer to its own separate layer.

6 Choose File > Save, then choose File > Close to close the file.

Suppressing the printing of a graphic

You can suppress the printing of a graphic in several ways:

  • Hide the selected item. [Object > Hide > Selection]
  • Hide the item’s layer. [Click the visibility icon in the Layers panel]
  • Uncheck the Print checkbox in the item’s Layer Options. [Double-click on the layer thumbnail, or access it through the Layers panel menu]
  • Choose Template in the item’s Layer Options (this also dims the view to 50% by default, but can be adjusted to 100% to make the item fully visible).

Using Layers for versioning

Because layers can be selectively controlled, and easily made visible or hidden, they can be utilized to make versions of your artwork.

Show or hide layers to create comps showing optional design directions, or build multi-lingual packaging using different layers per translated language over a common base of artwork.

These tutorials are created by and the team of expert instructors at American Graphics Institute.