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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

About PDF layers

You can view, navigate, and print layered content in PDFs created from applications such as InDesign, AutoCAD, and Visio.

You can control the display of layers using the default and initial state settings. For example, you can hide a layer containing a copyright notice whenever a document is displayed onscreen, while ensuring that the layer always prints.

In Acrobat Pro, you can rename, flatten, and merge layers, change the properties of layers, and add actions to layers. You can also rearrange layers, import layers from image files and other PDFs, and lock layers to prevent them from being hidden.

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 to or zoom in on a layer.

To retain layers when you convert InDesign CS documents to PDF in Acrobat Pro, make sure that Compatibility is set to Acrobat 6 (PDF 1.5) or higher. Also, ensure that Create Acrobat Layers is selected in the Export Adobe PDF dialog box.

Show or hide layers

Information can be stored on different layers of a PDF. The layers that appear in the PDF are based on the layers created in the original application. Use the Layers panel to examine layers and show or hide the content associated with each layer. Items on locked layers cannot be hidden.

Some layers may be organized into nested groups with a parent layer. Other layers may be in groups with no parent layer.


A lock icon in the Layers panel indicates that a layer is for information only. Locked layers can be created from AutoCAD and Visio files. In Acrobat Standard, the visibility of a locked layer cannot be changed. In Acrobat Pro, use the Layer Properties dialog box to change the visibility of a locked layer.

Layers Panel
Layers panel

A. Eye icon indicates a displayed layer B. Locked layer C. Hidden layer 

  1. Choose View > Show/Hide > Navigation Panes > Layers.
  2. To hide a layer, select the eye icon. To show a hidden layer, select the empty box. (A layer is visible when the eye icon is present, and hidden when the eye icon is absent. This setting temporarily overrides the settings in the Layer Properties dialog box.)


    In a nested layer group, if the parent layer is hidden, the nested layers are automatically hidden as well. If the parent layer is visible, nested layers can be made visible or hidden.

  3. From the Options menu  , choose one of the following:

    List Layers For All Pages

    Shows every layer across every page of the document.

    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 in the Layer Properties dialog box (Prints When Visible, Never Prints, Always Prints).

    Apply Export Overrides

    Displays layers according to the Export settings in the Layer Properties dialog box (Exports When Visible, Never Exports, Always Exports).

    Apply Layer Overrides

    Displays all layers. This option affects all optional content in the PDF, even layers that are not listed in the Layers panel. All layers are visible, regardless of the settings in the Layer Properties dialog box. You cannot change layer visibility using the eye icon until you deselect this command. When you edit layer properties in the Layer Properties dialog box, changes are not effective until you choose Reset To Initial Visibility in the Options menu. (Changes to the layer name are the exception; they are effective immediately.)


    You cannot save the view of a layered PDF by using the eye icon in the Layers panel to show and hide layers. When you save the file, the visibility of the layers automatically reverts to the initial visibility state.

    To save a different view of a layered PDF in Acrobat Pro, you must change the default state of the layers in the Layer Properties dialog box.

Edit layer properties (Acrobat Pro)

You can combine the default state setting, the visibility setting, and the print setting to control when a layer is visible and when it prints. If a layer contains a watermark, for example, you may want the layer not to show onscreen but always to print and always to export to other applications. In this case, you can set the default state to on, the initial visibility to never visible (the image doesn’t show onscreen), and the initial print and initial export states to always print and always export. The layer need not be listed in the Layers panel, since all the state changes are handled automatically.


The settings in the Layer Properties dialog box take effect only if Allow Layer State To Be Set By User Information is selected in the Documents preferences. If it is not selected, Layer Properties dialog box settings, other than Layer Name and Default State, are ignored.

  1. Select the Layers button in the navigation pane.

  2. Select a layer, and choose Layer Properties from the Options menu  .

  3. In the Layer Properties dialog box, edit the layer name or any of the following properties, and then select OK:


    Select View to allow the layer to be turned on or off, or select Reference to always keep the layer on and permit editing of the properties. When the Reference Intent option is selected, the layer appears in italics.

    Default State

    Defines the initial visibility state of the layer when a document is first opened or when the initial visibility is reset. The eye icons for layers are initially shown or hidden based on this value. For example, if this value is set to off, the eye icon for a layer is hidden when the document is first opened or when Reset To Initial Visibility is chosen from the Options menu.


    Defines the onscreen visibility of the PDF layer. You can show a layer when the document is opened, you can hide a layer when the document is opened, or you can let the default state determine whether a layer is shown or hidden when the document is opened.


    Determines whether a layer will print.


    Determines whether the layer appears in the resulting document when the PDF file is exported to an application or file format that supports layers.

    Any additional properties that the creator of the layered PDF has associated with a specific layer are shown in the box at the bottom of the Layer Properties dialog box.

Reorder layers

You can reorder individual layers in the Layers pane. This action is useful if you want to change the order of layers in the list, or move a layer from one layer group to another.


You cannot reorder locked layers, and you cannot reorder layers in nested layer groups.

  1. In the Layers navigation panel, select a layer.
  2. Position the cursor to the left of the layer name, then hold down the Alt key while you drag the layer to the new location.

Add layer navigation

You can add links and destinations to layers, allowing you to change the view of a document when the user selects a bookmark or link.


In general, changes to layer visibility made using the eye icon in the Layers panel are not recorded in the Navigation toolbar.

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. Select the Bookmarks button, and choose New Bookmark from the Options menu  .

  3. Select the new bookmark, and choose Properties from the Options menu  .

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

  5. For Select Action, choose Set Layer Visibility, select Add, and then select OK.

  6. Select the bookmark label in the Bookmarks panel, and name the bookmark.
  1. Set the required layer properties for the destination in the document pane.
  2. Choose View > Show/Hide > Navigation Panes > Destinations.

    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.

  3. Choose New Destination from the Options menu  , and name the destination.

  4. Select the Link tool  , and drag in the document pane to create a link. (Because content is added to all layers, it doesn’t matter that you are apparently creating the link on the target layer. The link works from any layer.)
  5. In the Create Link dialog box, select Custom Link, and then select Next.

  6. Select the Appearance tab in the Link Properties dialog box, and set the appearance of the link.

  7. Select the Actions tab in the Link Properties dialog box, choose Set Layer Visibility, and select Add.

  8. Close the dialog boxes.

    You can test the link by changing the layer settings, selecting the Hand tool, and selecting the link.

Import layers (Acrobat Pro)

You can import layers from a PDF or image file into a target PDF. Supported image file formats are BMP, GIF, JPEG, JPEG 2000, PCX, PNG, and TIFF.

  1. Select the Layers button in the navigation pane.

  2. Choose Import As Layer from the Options menu  .

  3. In the Import As Layer dialog box, 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

    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 or flatten layers (Acrobat Pro)

Merged layers acquire the properties of the layer into which they are merged (the target layer). Flattening PDF layers hides any content that is not visible when the flattening operation is executed and consolidates all layers.


You cannot undo either a merging or a flattening operation.

Merge layers

  1. Select the Layers button, and select Merge Layers from the Options menu  .

  2. In the Layers To Be Merged pane, select one or more layers, and select Add.

  3. To remove a layer from the center panel, select one or more layers, and select Remove.

  4. In the Target Layer To Merge Into pane, select the layer into which to merge the selected layers.

Flatten layers

  1. Select the Layers button, and select Flatten Layers from the Options menu  .

Editing layered content

You can select or copy content in a layered PDF document using the Select tool or the Snapshot tool. (In Acrobat Reader, the PDF must include usage rights.) In Acrobat, you can edit content using Edit Text and Images tool. These tools recognize and select any content that is visible, regardless of whether the content is on a selected layer.

In Acrobat, if the content that you edit or delete is associated with one layer, the content of the layer reflects the change. If the content that you edit or delete is associated with more than one layer, the content in all the layers reflects the change. For example, if you want to change a title and byline that appear on the same line on the first page of a document, and the title and byline are on two different visible layers, editing the content on one layer changes the content on both layers.

You can add content, such as review comments, stamps, or form fields, to layered documents just as you would to any other PDF document. However, the content isn't added to a specific layer, even if that layer is selected when the content is added. Rather, the content is added to the entire document.

In Acrobat, you can use the Merge Files Into A Single PDF command to combine PDF documents that contain layers. The layers for each document are grouped under a separate heading in the Layers panel of the navigation pane. You expand and collapse the group by selecting the icon in the title bar for the group.

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