How to Merge Layers in Illustrator

In this walkthrough, we've shared how to merge layers in Illustrator, so you can consolidate them and clean up your project. This is useful in later stages of the creative process, when you're ready to group similar visual elements.

What are Layers?
When building visual compositions in Illustrator and Photoshop, layers allow you to manage multiple elements that make up an image. A layer may contain a vector shape, text, photograph, or illustrated character. They offer a handy way to organize individual components in the overall scene, so that they're positioned in the ideal place and stacked in a particular order. Inside the Layers panel, you can create an organizational hierarchy for your project, with as many layers and sublayers as you like. 

How to Merge Layers in Illustrator
1. First, load your current Illustrator project and enable the Layers panel by going to "Window" > "Layers". This shows every layer in your project, with a unique color next to the layer name. 

2. To merge two or more layers into a single entity, hold down Ctrl (or Command on Mac) and click to select them in the Layers panel. If you want to merge all of your layers, you can click on the top layer in the list, hold the Shift key, and then click the bottom layer in your list to select them all (or use flattening, shown below).

3. Finally, click the drop-down arrow in the upper right corner of the Layers panel and choose "Merge Selected" from the list. By default, your layers will be merged into the last layer that was selected. Remember, layers must be at the same level in the organizational hierarchy for merging to work. If one of the layers is in a subsection, just drag it back to the main layer hierarchy before merging. 

How to Flatten Layers in Illustrator
Flattening works just like merging, except it consolidates every visual element in your project. This can be useful in early stages of creation, when you're only working with a few shapes as part of a single design. 

To flatten your Illustrator layers, click on a layer in the panel where you want to consolidate everything. Then, click the drop-down arrow in the upper right corner of the Layers panel, and choose "Flatten Artwork". When flattening or merging layers in Illustrator, only the stacking order stays the same, but every other layer-specific option is lost in the consolidation process. 

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