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How to Use Multi-Layered Illustrator Artwork in InDesign

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Read Time: 3 mins

Did you know that you can create multi-layered artwork in Adobe Illustrator, and then turn layers on and off in InDesign? Learn how in this quick tutorial.

Step 1 - Create Artwork With Multiple Layers

Create some artwork in Adobe Illustrator CS3 or CS4 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 of the artboard will be cropped when the artwork is placed in InDesign.

Step 2 - Save the File in Illustrator Format

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.

Fill in the Illustrator Options dialog as shown below, and then click the OK button. The file must be saved as an Illustrator CS3 or Illustrator CS4 file, and the Create PDF Compatible File option must be selected.

Step 3 - Place the Illustrator File in InDesign

Open a layout in Adobe InDesign CS3 or CS4. 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.

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 CS4 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.

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.

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.

Step 4 - Change Layer Visibility in InDesign

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.

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


This 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. Think about how this might affect your workflow...I'm convinced you will find a use for it!

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