How to Use Layers in InDesign

Layers in InDesign are like slices of bread put together to create something tasty!
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Using layers in InDesign is like starting a new exercise routine. As much as you really don't want to some days, you know you should because it's good for you. And eventually, you're doing it without even thinking about it!

Layers are good for you too. They will save you literal years of your life on really big projects. If you've ever found yourself losing images or text behind other images or text - which are then behind what you intended to be a background - then you've felt the frustration from not having properly formatted layers.

In this guide, we'll show you:

  1. What a layer is and does
  2. When to use a layer
  3. How to create layers
Adobe InDesignAdobe InDesign ×1

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InDesign Layers are Great

Think about the layers in an InDesign document as multiple sheets of paper (with your designs/images/colors/etc.) that you're laying down on top of one another. There will be:

  • A sheet at the top (not covered by anything)
  • Sheets in the middle (partially covered)
  • A sheet at the bottom serving as a background

InDesign layers operate just the same way. They allow you to:

  • work on separate planes within your document or project
  • easily reorder the contents of your document in a way that makes sense
  • select and make changes to individual elements in your document that may be covered by other elements

Take a look at the step image above.

Notice that the green square selected is the layer labeled "Background." Notice, too, that the green square is behind all the other layers in the document. This is because its currently set to be the bottom layer of the document. (We'll talk more about this in the last step of this guide.) This makes sense if it's meant to be the background.

The layer labeled "Text" is the top layer because the text needs to read over the other elements in the InDesign document.

As a rule of thumb, use layers in InDesign whenever you have three or more elements. It's best practice, however, to use them all the time.

Here are the times when layers in InDesign are the most useful:

  • When using text (to easily keep it as the top layer)
  • When using a background (to keep it as the bottom layer)
  • When using multiple images/photographs
  • When adding page numbers
  • When there are many elements in your document that could easily get lost

As we mentioned previously, layers make your life easier when you have multiple elements competing for space.

Note that by default InDesign will create layers within your primary layer if necessary to arrange your elements. But this will easily get out of hand and confusing if you don't stay on top of it by creating your own layers.

Now, let's show you how.

Layers Pane in InDesign

To create a new layer:

  1. Access the "Layers" pane by pressing F7 on your keyboard or going to Windows > Layers.
  2. Click the [+] button to add a new layer.
  3. Double-click the new layer name to change the name to something like "page numbers."
  4. Click Okay.

You can create as many new layers in InDesign as you'd like. It's best practice to create layers that make sense to you when you go back to edit them. The more advanced your project becomes, the more advanced your layers should become. You might name them things like:

  • Background
  • Outlines
  • Graphs
  • Text
  • Etc.

Again, you want the name to make sense when you decide on the final ordering of elements in your project.

To edit the layers:

  • Select the individual layers by clicking on them.
  • Use the dropdown arrow (>) to see the elements within individual layers.
  • Select individual elements within layers by clicking on the checkbox to the element.
  • Change what layers are visible on the screen by clicking on the eye icon.
  • Double-click the layer name for more advanced options and to change the layer name.

To reorder the layers:

Click on the individual layer in the Layerspane and drag it to the desired position in the document.

  • Drag towards the top of the pane to put it towards the top of the overall document. -Drag towards the bottom of the pane to put it towards the bottom of the overall document.

There are many more things you can do with layers, of course, but this guide is intended to only give you the basics about layers in InDesign. So have fun and get layering!