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PDF layers

  1. Acrobat User Guide
  2. Introduction to Acrobat
    1. Access Acrobat from desktop, mobile, web
    2. What's new in Acrobat
    3. Keyboard shortcuts
    4. System Requirements
  3. Workspace
    1. Workspace basics
    2. Opening and viewing PDFs
      1. Opening PDFs
      2. Navigating PDF pages
      3. Viewing PDF preferences
      4. Adjusting PDF views
      5. Enable thumbnail preview of PDFs
      6. Display PDF in browser
    3. Working with online storage accounts
      1. Access files from Box
      2. Access files from Dropbox
      3. Access files from OneDrive
      4. Access files from SharePoint
      5. Access files from Google Drive
    4. Acrobat and macOS
    5. Acrobat notifications
    6. Grids, guides, and measurements in PDFs
    7. Asian, Cyrillic, and right-to-left text in PDFs
  4. Creating PDFs
    1. Overview of PDF creation
    2. Create PDFs with Acrobat
    3. Create PDFs with PDFMaker
    4. Using the Adobe PDF printer
    5. Converting web pages to PDF
    6. Creating PDFs with Acrobat Distiller
    7. Adobe PDF conversion settings
    8. PDF fonts
  5. Editing PDFs
    1. Edit text in PDFs
    2. Edit images or objects in a PDF
    3. Rotate, move, delete, and renumber PDF pages
    4. Edit scanned PDFs
    5. Enhance document photos captured using a mobile camera
    6. Optimizing PDFs
    7. PDF properties and metadata
    8. Links and attachments in PDFs
    9. PDF layers
    10. Page thumbnails and bookmarks in PDFs
    11. Action Wizard (Acrobat Pro)
    12. PDFs converted to web pages
    13. Setting up PDFs for a presentation
    14. PDF articles
    15. Geospatial PDFs
    16. Applying actions and scripts to PDFs
    17. Change the default font for adding text
    18. Delete pages from a PDF
  6. Scan and OCR
    1. Scan documents to PDF
    2. Enhance document photos
    3. Troubleshoot scanner issues when scanning using Acrobat
  7. Forms
    1. PDF forms basics
    2. Create a form from scratch in Acrobat
    3. Create and distribute PDF forms
    4. Fill in PDF forms
    5. PDF form field properties
    6. Fill and sign PDF forms
    7. Setting action buttons in PDF forms
    8. Publishing interactive PDF web forms
    9. PDF form field basics
    10. PDF barcode form fields
    11. Collect and manage PDF form data
    12. About forms tracker
    13. PDF forms help
    14. Send PDF forms to recipients using email or an internal server
  8. Combining files
    1. Combine or merge files into single PDF
    2. Rotate, move, delete, and renumber PDF pages
    3. Add headers, footers, and Bates numbering to PDFs
    4. Crop PDF pages
    5. Add watermarks to PDFs
    6. Add backgrounds to PDFs
    7. Working with component files in a PDF Portfolio
    8. Publish and share PDF Portfolios
    9. Overview of PDF Portfolios
    10. Create and customize PDF Portfolios
  9. Sharing, reviews, and commenting
    1. Share and track PDFs online
    2. Mark up text with edits
    3. Preparing for a PDF review
    4. Starting a PDF review
    5. Hosting shared reviews on SharePoint or Office 365 sites
    6. Participating in a PDF review
    7. Add comments to PDFs
    8. Adding a stamp to a PDF
    9. Approval workflows
    10. Managing comments | view, reply, print
    11. Importing and exporting comments
    12. Tracking and managing PDF reviews
  10. Saving and exporting PDFs
    1. Saving PDFs
    2. Convert PDF to Word
    3. Convert PDF to JPG
    4. Convert or export PDFs to other file formats
    5. File format options for PDF export
    6. Reusing PDF content
  11. Security
    1. Enhanced security setting for PDFs
    2. Securing PDFs with passwords
    3. Manage Digital IDs
    4. Securing PDFs with certificates
    5. Opening secured PDFs
    6. Removing sensitive content from PDFs
    7. Setting up security policies for PDFs
    8. Choosing a security method for PDFs
    9. Security warnings when a PDF opens
    10. Securing PDFs with Adobe Experience Manager
    11. Protected View feature for PDFs
    12. Overview of security in Acrobat and PDFs
    13. JavaScripts in PDFs as a security risk
    14. Attachments as security risks
    15. Allow or block links in PDFs
  12. Electronic signatures
    1. Sign PDF documents
    2. Capture your signature on mobile and use it everywhere
    3. Send documents for e-signatures
    4. About certificate signatures
    5. Certificate-based signatures
    6. Validating digital signatures
    7. Adobe Approved Trust List
    8. Manage trusted identities
  13. Printing
    1. Basic PDF printing tasks
    2. Print Booklets and PDF Portfolios
    3. Advanced PDF print settings
    4. Print to PDF
    5. Printing color PDFs (Acrobat Pro)
    6. Printing PDFs in custom sizes
  14. Accessibility, tags, and reflow
    1. Create and verify PDF accessibility
    2. Accessibility features in PDFs
    3. Reading Order tool for PDFs
    4. Reading PDFs with reflow and accessibility features
    5. Edit document structure with the Content and Tags panels
    6. Creating accessible PDFs
  15. Searching and indexing
    1. Creating PDF indexes
    2. Searching PDFs
  16. Multimedia and 3D models
    1. Add audio, video, and interactive objects to PDFs
    2. Adding 3D models to PDFs (Acrobat Pro)
    3. Displaying 3D models in PDFs
    4. Interacting with 3D models
    5. Measuring 3D objects in PDFs
    6. Setting 3D views in PDFs
    7. Enable 3D content in PDF
    8. Adding multimedia to PDFs
    9. Commenting on 3D designs in PDFs
    10. Playing video, audio, and multimedia formats in PDFs
    11. Add comments to videos
  17. Print production tools (Acrobat Pro)
    1. Print production tools overview
    2. Printer marks and hairlines
    3. Previewing output
    4. Transparency flattening
    5. Color conversion and ink management
    6. Trapping color
  18. Preflight (Acrobat Pro)
    1. PDF/X-, PDF/A-, and PDF/E-compliant files
    2. Preflight profiles
    3. Advanced preflight inspections
    4. Preflight reports
    5. Viewing preflight results, objects, and resources
    6. Output intents in PDFs
    7. Correcting problem areas with the Preflight tool
    8. Automating document analysis with droplets or preflight actions
    9. Analyzing documents with the Preflight tool
    10. Additional checks in the Preflight tool
    11. Preflight libraries
    12. Preflight variables
  19. Color management
    1. Keeping colors consistent
    2. Color settings
    3. Color-managing documents
    4. Working with color profiles
    5. Understanding color management

Before you begin

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PDF layers allow you to view, navigate, and print layered content in PDFs from applications like InDesign, AutoCAD, and Visio. You can control the display of layers using default and initial state settings. In Acrobat Pro, you have various options for managing layers, such as renaming, flattening, merging, changing properties, and adding actions.

You can use Acrobat Pro to:

Acrobat Pro doesn't let you author layers that change visibility based on the zoom level. However, you can highlight a portion of a layer by creating a bookmark that magnifies or hides the layer using page actions. You can also add links that let users select a visible or invisible link to navigate or zoom in on a layer.

To retain layers when converting InDesign CS documents to PDF in Acrobat Pro, you must do the following:

  • Set the compatibility to Acrobat 6 (PDF 1.5) or higher.
  • In the Export Adobe PDF dialog box, select Create Acrobat Layers.

View and manage layers

To show or hide layers, use the Layers panel. Locked layers can’t be hidden, and some layers may be organized into nested groups. The lock icon indicates that a layer is for information only. In Acrobat Pro, locked layer visibility can be changed using the Layer Properties dialog box. 

  • To open the layers panel, from the right panel, select 
  • If the  icon isn't visible, go to  > View > Show/Hide > Side panels > Layers
Layers panel in Acrobat Reader

Control layer visibility

The Layers panel provides options to control layer visibility for different purposes:

  • List Layers For All Pages - Shows every layer across all pages.
  • List Layers For Visible Pages - Shows layers only on the currently visible pages.
  • Reset To Initial Visibility - Resets layers to their default state.
  • Apply Print Overrides - Displays layers according to the print settings.
  • Apply Export Overrides - Displays layers according to the export settings.
  • Apply Layer Overrides - Displays all layers, overriding individual settings.

To Show/Hide a layer, select the eye icon. This setting temporarily overrides the settings in the Layer Properties dialog box.

Layer visibility set using the eye icon in the Layers panel doesn't save when you close the file. To save a different view of a layered PDF in Acrobat Pro, change the default state of the layers in the Layer Properties dialog box.

Edit layer properties

In Acrobat Pro, you can edit layer properties to control visibility and printing. The Layer Properties dialog box allows you to change the layer name, default state, visibility, print, and export settings. These changes take effect if the option "Allow layer state to be set by user information" is selected in the documents Preferences.

To access layer properties:

  1. Open the layers panel and then select the layer.
  2. Select Layer Properties.
  3. In the Layer properties dialog, set the following properties as required.
  • Intent as View to toggle the layer on or off.
  • Intent as Reference to keep the layer always on for editing (appears in italics).
  • Default State defines the initial visibility when the document is opened or when visibility is reset. Eye icons for layers are initially shown or hidden based on this setting. For example, if set to "off," the eye icon is hidden when the document is opened or when "Reset To Initial Visibility" is selected.
  • Visibility defines the onscreen visibility of the PDF layer. 
  • Print determines if the layer will be printed.
  • Export determines if the layer appears in the resulting document when exporting the PDF to a supported layered format.
  • More properties associated with specific layers are displayed in the bottom box of the Layer Properties dialog box.
Set Layers propterties in Acrobat Desktop

For example, if a layer contains a watermark that you want to be invisible on screen but appears in print and when exporting to other formats, modify the following settings:

  • Set the Default state to On.
  • Initial State Visibility to Never Visible. 
  • Initial State Print to Always Prints.
  • Initial State Export to Always Exports. 

Reorder layers

You can reorder individual layers in the Layers pane except for locked layers and layers in nested groups. To reorder a layer, select it and drag it to the desired location.


You can’t reorder locked layers, and you can’t reorder layers in nested layer groups.

Add layer navigation

You can add links and destinations to layers to change the view of a document when users select a bookmark or link. By associating layer visibility with bookmarks or link destinations, you can control the display of specific layers.

To associate layer visibility with bookmarks:

  1. Set the required layer properties, visibility, and magnification level for the target PDF layer in the document pane.

  2. From the right panel, select the Bookmarks icon > New bookmark icon.

  3. Select the new bookmark and then select  > Properties.

  4. In the Bookmark properties dialog box, select the Actions tab.

  5. For Select Action, choose Set layer visibility and then select Add. Then, select Ok.

  6. Select the bookmark label in the Bookmarks panel, and name the bookmark.

To associate layer visibility with a link destination:

  1. Set the required layer properties for the destination in the document pane.
  2. Select  > View > Show/Hide > Side panels > Destinations.
  3. The Destinations pane appears in a floating panel. You can add it to the other panels by dragging it to the navigation pane. If the panel is collapsed, select Destinations to expand it.
  4. From the Options menu, select New Destination and name the destination.
  5. Select the Link tool icon and drag it into the document pane to create a link. Note: Since the content is added to all layers, the link works from any layer, even if you're apparently creating the link on the target layer.
  6. In the Create Link dialog box, select Custom Link, and then select Next.
  7. In the Link Properties dialog box:
    1. Under the Appearance tab, set the appearance of the link.
    2. Under the Actions tab, select Set Layer Visibility.
    3. Select Add.
  8. Close the dialog boxes. 
  9. You can test the link by changing the layer settings, selecting the Hand tool, and selecting the link.

If you change the layer visibility using the eye icon, the visibility changes aren’t recorded in the Navigation toolbar.

Import layers

In Acrobat Pro, you can import layers from PDF or image files into a target PDF. Supported image file formats include BMP, GIF, JPEG, JPEG 2000, PCX, PNG, and TIFF. The import options include creating new layers, adding to existing layers or layer groups, and copying layers from the source document.

To import layers:

  1. Select  > View > Show/Hide > Side panels > Layers.
  2. From the Options menu, select Import as layer.
  3. In the Import As Layer dialog that appears, select Browse and locate the file to import.
    If the source file is a multipage document, enter the page number you want to import in Page Number. If the target file is a multipage document, specify the Target Page Number in the Preview section of the dialog box.
  4. Select one of the following import options:
    • Create New Layer  - It creates a single, separate layer from the source document. Enter a name for the new layer.
    • Add To Group - Specifies the existing layer group in which to add the imported layer. This option is available only when the target PDF contains one or more existing layer groups and when Create New Layer is selected.
    • Add To Existing Layer - Adds the content from the source document to an existing layer in the target document. Select a layer from your target document. The imported content will have the same layer properties as the existing layer in the target document. This option is available only when the target document contains layers.
    • Copy Layers From Source - Imports the layers from the source document. This option is available only when the source document contains layers.
  5. Adjust the Position and Appearance settings as needed, and then select OK.

Merge and flatten layers

Merging layers combines their properties into a target layer, while flattening layers hides non-visible content and consolidates all layers. Note that merging or flattening operations cannot be undone.

To merge layers:

  1. Select View > Show/Hide > Side panels > Layers.
  2. From the Options menu, select Merge Layers.
  3. In the Layers to be merged dialog, select one or more layers and then select Add.
  4. To remove a layer from the center panel, select the layer and then select Remove.
  5. In the Target Layer To Merge Into pane, select the layer to merge the selected layers.
  6. To flatten layers, from the Options menu, select Flatten Layers.

You can’t undo either a merging or a flattening operation.

Edit layered content

When editing layered content, select or copy using the Select tool or Snapshot tool. Content selection includes all visible content regardless of the layer. Editing content associated with one layer affects only that layer, while content associated with multiple layers changes in all layers. Additional content can be added to layered documents, but it is not associated with specific layers.

Combine layered PDFs

Acrobat allows you to merge PDF documents that contain layers using the Merge Files Into A Single PDF command. The layers for each document are grouped under separate headings in the Layers panel, which can be expanded or collapsed as needed.


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