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How to Use Multi-Layered Illustrator Artwork in InDesign

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Read Time: 5 min

Did you know that you can create multi-layered artwork in Adobe Illustrator, and then turn layers on and off in InDesign? Importing Illustrator files into InDesign isn't as hard as you think. Learn how in this quick tutorial.

Tourist Woman Looking at Maps IllustrationTourist Woman Looking at Maps IllustrationTourist Woman Looking at Maps Illustration
Work with multi-layered illustrations like this one on InDesign.

If you're constantly working on Illustrator and InDesign projects, Envato Elements could be a great source of creative resources for you. You'll find all kinds of graphic templates, vector illustrations, logos, and more. Once you learn how to convert your designs from Illustrator to InDesign, you'll have more template alternatives to work with. 

What You'll Learn in This Tutorial on Multi-Layered Illustrator Artwork in InDesign

Wondering how to import Illustrator files into InDesign? You'll discover that importing Illustrator files into InDesign is quite easy! Here's what we'll cover in this tutorial:

  • How to create artwork with multiple layers
  • How to open Illustrator files in InDesign
  • How to turn layers on and off to customize the illustration to match your design

Let's get started! 

1. How to Create Artwork With Multiple Layers

Step 1 

Create some artwork in Adobe Illustrator that contains multiple layers. I've created a map that contains nine layers. Note that these are top-level layers. You cannot manipulate Illustrator sublayers in InDesign. The layers that are visible here are the layers that will be visible when the Illustrator file is placed in InDesign.

Be sure that all of your artwork fits on the Illustrator artboard. Any artwork that extends off the artboard will be cropped when the artwork is placed in InDesign.

illustrator mapillustrator mapillustrator map

Step 2 

Adobe Illustrator AI format is the preferred format for importing Illustrator artwork into InDesign. AI format works better than EPS for a variety of reasons. You must use AI format if you wish to manipulate the Illustrator layers in InDesign.

Choose File > Save As. Choose Adobe Illustrator (AI) for the file format, and then click the Save button.

save as ai filesave as ai filesave as ai file

Fill in the Illustrator Options dialog as shown below, and then click the OK button. You can choose a later version of Illustrator, of course, but the Create PDF Compatible File option must be selected.

create pdf compatible filecreate pdf compatible filecreate pdf compatible file

2. How to Open Illustrator Files in InDesign

Now, open an Illustrator file in InDesign. Choose File > Place. In the Place dialog box, check Show Import Options, then select the Illustrator file you saved in Step 2, and click the Open button.

import optionsimport optionsimport options

A Place PDF dialog will appear on your screen. You may think, "Huh? I'm not placing a PDF, I'm placing an Illustrator (AI) file." Actually, InDesign sees this AI file as a PDF file.

There are many powerful options for placing Illustrator artwork in the Place PDF dialog boxes. You can use the page selector to choose which page of an Illustrator file with multiple artboards should be placed. You can choose how to crop the image, and whether or not you want the image to have a transparent background.

place pdfplace pdfplace pdf

For this tutorial, we're primarily concerned with the Layers section of the dialog. In this section, you can choose which layers in the Illustrator file you'd like to have displayed or hidden in the InDesign file. Click on the eyeball icon to hide or display a layer. Click the OK button when you're finished.

place pdf optionsplace pdf optionsplace pdf options

When you see the loaded graphics cursor in InDesign, click to place the Illustrator artwork in your InDesign layout. The Illustrator artwork should look just like it did in Illustrator, unless you changed the layer visibility above.

 place the Illustrator artwork in your InDesign layout.  place the Illustrator artwork in your InDesign layout.  place the Illustrator artwork in your InDesign layout.

What if you want to change the visibility of Illustrator layers after the artwork is already on the page? You can do that too!

Use the Selection Tool (black arrow) in InDesign to select the placed Illustrator file, and choose Object > Object Layer Options. In the dialog box that appears, click on the eyeball icon next to a layer name to hide or display a layer.

Object Layer OptionsObject Layer OptionsObject Layer Options

Click the OK button, and the appearance of the artwork will change on the InDesign page.

You're all set! Now you know how to import Illustrator files into InDesign. You could even convert your designs from Illustrator to InDesign.

Want to Learn More?

Are you just getting started with InDesign? Learning how to import files from Illustrator into InDesign is a good trick to have. Get some pro tutorials, tips, and tricks from the Envato Tuts+ YouTube channel. We highly recommend going for this InDesign for Beginners free course to get you started: 

We also have useful tutorials and articles for you to dive into—not only Illustrator to InDesign tricks, but also a variety of beginner and advanced content. Take a look at this selection we've made for you:


This Illustrator into InDesign technique is extremely valuable for using several variations of artwork in different places, all by placing a single file.

Take your company logo, for example. You may have many variations, all stored as separate files: color, grayscale, with tagline, without tagline, etc. Instead, you could have all these variations as separate layers in a single Illustrator file. Then you can convert from Illustrator to InDesign and design more efficiently. Think about how this might affect your workflow...I'm convinced you will find a use for it!

Editorial Note: This post has been updated with contributions from Janila Castañeda. Janila is a staff writer with Envato Tuts+.

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