Understanding InDesign Layers

By LaurenMarie

Layers of a different sort than InDesign's

Layers in InDesign can be frustrating. Remember how annoying it was to learn the difference between Illustrator layers and Photoshop layers? Well, be prepared for yet another way of treating “layers.”

What are InDesign Layers?

For you Photoshoppers, InDesign treats layers like Photoshop treats Groups, but layers in InDesign are actually most similar to the way Illustrator handles layers.

The major down side to InDesign layers is that you cannot see which items belong to which layers like you can in the Layers Palette in Illustrator. The only way to tell which layer an object is on is to select the object and see which color the bounding box is. If you want to change the color of a layer, double click on the layer in the Layers Palette (by default it’s in the same panel group as Pages and Info) and you’ll get a little dialog box to rename it or change the color of the bounding box of the objects on it.

Layers Dialog Box

Layers are very handy in InDesign despite this downside, though. Think of layers more like a sure-fire way to lock down objects so they can’t be moved. When you are working with dozens of text boxes, images, image mats and other design objects, selecting just one or only a specific group can be infuriating!

Setting Up Layers

When you set up your InDesign document, remember to use your master pages, paragraph styles and character styles! Next, set up some layers. This part is the same as other Creative Suite products, click the New Layer icon, and if you hold down Alt (Option), you can get the Layer Dialog box. In the dialog box you can name the layer and change the color. There are a few other check boxes too. I always just leave those at default.

Layers Palette

I like to at least create layers for text, images and background elements. Of course, you can break down these layers further into layers just for photo captions, image mats, pull quotes or master page objects.

You can also use layers to set up your layout grid and other guides, since guides are layer specific. The advantage to setting up the grid this way is that you can manipulate your grid (turn on/off, lock) with layers rather than grid controls from the View menu or shortcuts.

Paste in Place to Move from Layer to Layer

When you create a new object or Place text or an image into InDesign, it will go on the current layer. Sometimes you’ll be so engrossed in the project that you’ll accidentally place your images on the text layer or vice versa. Or maybe you get going and realize you need another layer for something you didn’t see ahead of time. No worries!

To move objects from layer to layer just cut the object (image, mat, text box, whatever) and then select the layer you want it to be on from the Layers Palette. Right click and select Paste in Place to return the object to exactly the same spot, but on the other layer.

How else have you found InDesign layers helpful?

A Side Note

So what do you think of InDesign and this introductory series? In this series we’ll talk about InDesign basicsMaster Pages, Paragraph and Character Styles, and common shortcuts–the keys to really start unlocking InDesign’s power.

Ooooh! And by the way, the Shortcut Shindig PDF I’ve created of Photoshop shortcuts can now be found in the RSS feed (I hope… let me know if it’s not working)! It will be a continually updated document of the most useful function shortcuts we use (since there are only a limited number of tools, and those shortcuts are already listed). Want this handy PDF of Photoshop shortcuts? You have to subscribe to the Creative Curio feed!

Do you need more help with InDesign? Feel free to leave a comment below, contact me or head over to Lynda.com and sign up for their InDesign Tutorials. It’s only $25/mo for unlimited access! This is a resource I use myself and I highly recommend it. You can get a free 7 day pass to lynda.com, now too! Just follow that link.

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