Layers help to organize the various elements that make up an Adobe Illustrator graphic, allowing you to arrange them in order of priority. Typically, a new project is comprised of a main "parent" layer with all of your artwork, but it's easy to create new layers at any point, and even make sub-folders for further organization.
During the creative process, it's useful to separate graphics into smaller elements, but when you're ready to export a finished piece, you'll probably want to consolidate the layers into a single group. Known as "flattening" or "merging", these features allow you to save an Illustrator project as a JPEG, PDF, or other shareable file. The Flatten Artwork function consolidates every element in the project, while Merge lets you select which elements to combine.
Below, we've shared how to flatten layers in Illustrator, as well as how to merge smaller groups, so you can save your project in a popular digital format.
1. First, load your desired Illustrator project. If the Layers panel is not visible in the bottom left corner of your screen, choose "Window" > "Layers" to enable it.
2. Next, select a layer in the panel that you wish to consolidate all of the other layers into. Any layer will do, it's easy to rename the layer at any point — just double-click on it to bring up the Layer Options, and enter a new name.
3. Before flattening your project, we recommend saving a copy of your current Illustrator file. Once you've flattened the layers, you won't be able to edit them, so it's definitely a good idea to have a backup in case you need to make some last-minute tweaks.
4. Once you've saved a copy of your work, bring up the Layers panel menu by clicking the dropdown arrow in the panel's top right corner. Then, choose "Flatten Artwork" to consolidate all of your layers.
1. Merging is just like flattening (but only for the layers you specify), so remember to save a copy of your project before making any changes, because you won't be able to undo them.
2. While holding down the CTRL key (Command on Mac), browse through the Layers panel and click on all of the layers that you wish to combine. The last layer you select will be the "merged" layer.
3. Finally, open the Layers panel menu by clicking the dropdown arrow in the top right corner, and choose "Merge Selected". Keep in mind that objects cannot merge with each other, and layers can only merge if they're located at the same level of the folder hierarchy.