How to Manage Artwork with Sublayers in Adobe Illustrator

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In Brief...

The Layers Panel in Illustrator allows you to organize and manage complex artwork. Sublayers are the objects create on a layer.

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  1. When you create a new file, there is always a default Layer 1. Once you've added an object to an artboard, the Layers Panel, will display an expansion arrow next to the current layer. Click that arrow to see a list of the layer's content, or sublayers.
    Layers Panel
  2. The Layers Panel is structured in columns with controls for turning off or on the layer or sublayer's Visibility, or Locking them. The color bars indicate what the frame color of a selected object on that layer will be. The Target column lets you select objects on the layer. There are also buttons at the bottom of the panel for managing the layers and sublayers.
    Layers Panel
  3. New layers can be created by clicking the Create New Layer button. The layers can be given significant names by double-clicking directly on the default layer name to highlight the text. Here, three additional layers have been created, and all layers named according to content.
    Layers Panel
  4. To move content from one layer to another, expand the layer containing the objects and select them. To move more than one object, click on the first, then hold down Shift and click the additional sublayers. Once the sublayers are selected, click and hold, then drag them to just under the layer you want them on. You'll see a blue line appear under the destination layer.
    Layers Panel
  5. Additional controls for layers can be accessed by clicking the layer, then going to the Layer Panel Menu and choosing Options for "[name]".
    Layers Panel
  6. The Layer Options also let you rename a layer, but there are additional options for changing the selection color, locking, print supression, or dimming the layer.
    Layer Options
  7. Clipping layers create masks where a minimum of two objects are used and areas outside the topmost object's boundaries are masked out. To make a clipping layer through the Layers Panel, all objects must be on a sublayer. Select the sublayer in the Layers Panel, then click Make/Release Clipping Path.
    Layers Panel with Art
  8. The topmost object masks everything underneath.
    Layers Panel with Art

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Author: Kate Cahill

Kate Cahill is a graphic designer, writer, and creative director who has developed content for print and web. As creative director, she has produced award-winning work for agencies focused on the pharmaceutical and health and beauty aid industries. She has also served as production manager, with responsibility for the successful fulfillment of long-run print contracts. Kate has been delivering training for Webucator clients since 2010. Her enthusiasm for cutting-edge technology, combined with hands-on practical experience, brings an added benefit to her classes. Kate teaches real-world techniques and integration of Adobe software, as well as Microsoft PowerPoint, to produce a fully developed and cohesive brand identity.