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I've worked in Illustrator for years... not professionally. I'm starting to charge for my services, and started wondering. I've taken an Illustrator class at my local college, and designed hundreds of things in Illustrator and other vector illustration software packages. But I've never seen, nor heard of, a best practices for creating layers within a vector illustration.

I recently asked an artist friend of mine for a high res image of one of his sketches so I can vectorize it. One of the things I would like to do once I am done is play with brush types on the image... however, if I do the digital inking like I usually do, then the image will be one huge vector image rather than pieces that I can edit and tweak.

Other than 'common sense' is there a guide for creating and using layers in a vector image program? Is there a book that would list out the types of pieces of an image that should be layered versus just one huge vector piece at the end?

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I don't think there's any specific guidelines for layer construction. It really does merely come down to common sense. Some artists don't use layers at all. Layer utilization isn't really mandatory in Illustrator due to how there's a default object stack because of the nature of vector objects.

My general practice with layers is to use a new layer if a section of a piece needs to be locked, hidden, or have a common appearance setting easily adjusted. I will also use a layer for any overly complex areas in order to allow me to hide that section and increase the speed at which the screen redraw will happen.

Realize if you adjust the Layer Panel Options from the Layer Panel menu in Illustrator to show groups and objects (uncheck Show Layers Only):

layer options

You will get essentially a stack of objects for each layer, even if there is only one layer:

stack

This basically gives you layer-like access to anything you create. You can double-click to rename any of those <Path> or <Group> items. This is why the use of layers isn't really mandatory, at least not within Illustrator. Layers in Illustrator really amount to a higher level of grouping with a custom highlight color and that's all.

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That's what I was afraid of. I was hoping for a system that I could do all future work based on so my stuff followed good standards via layering. Thank you. –  randomblink Jun 24 '13 at 17:05
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If you are talking about illustration specifically, I would look into sketching programs. Artists often use many layers (there are even mouse-gestures for creating new layes) and blend them onto one another. There is obviously no "best" way but going by visibility is a good start. Black always being the top for example. Keep in mind that many elements will start to clutter your layer, so you can also group by content. Shadows on the bottom layer just before the background, highlights near the top. You get the idea.

But I don't think there is a book for that.

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Sounds good. Thank you. –  randomblink Jun 24 '13 at 17:05
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