Working with the Layers Palette in Inkscape

Screenshot of Inkscape in Windows 7


Inkscape offers a Layers palette that while, arguably, is less important than the layers features of some popular pixel-based image editors, is a useful tool that does offer users some advantages.

Inkscape Layers Palette

Adobe Illustrator users may consider it a little underpowered in so far as it doesn't apply every single element to a layer. The ​counter-argument, though, is that the greater simplicity of the Layers palette in Inkscape actually makes it more user-friendly and easier to manage. As with many popular image editing applications, the Layers palette also offers the power to combine and blend layers in creative ways.

Using the Layers Palette

The Layers palette in Inkscape is quite easy to understand and use.

You open the Layers palette by going to Layer > Layers. When you open a new document, it has a single layer called Layer1 and all objects that you add to your document are applied to this layer. To add a new layer, you just click the button ​with the blue plus sign which opens the Add Layer dialog. In this dialog, you can name your layer and also choose to add it above or below the current layer or as a sub-layer. The four arrow buttons allow you to change the order of layers, moving a layer to the top, up one level, down one level and to the bottom. The button with the blue minus sign will delete a layer, but do note that any objects on that layer will also be deleted.

Hiding Layers

You can use the Layers palette to hide objects quickly without deleting them. This could be useful if you wanted to apply different text on a common background.

To the left of each layer in the Layers palette is an eye icon and you only need to click on this to hide a layer. The closed eye icon indicates a hidden layer and clicking it will make a layer visible.

You should note that any sub-layers of a hidden layer will also be hidden, though, in Inkscape 0.48, the eye icons in the Layers palette will not indicate that the sub-layers are hidden. You can see this in the accompanying image where the Heading and Body sub-layers have been hidden because their parent layer, named Text, has been hidden, though their icons have not changed.

Locking Layers

If you have objects within a document that you don't want moved or deleted, you can lock the layer that they are on.

A layer is locked by clicking on the open padlock icon next to it, which then changes to a closed padlock. Clicking the closed padlock will unlock the layer again.

You should note that in Inkscape 0.48, there is some unusual behavior with sub-layers. If you lock a parent layer, sub-layers will also be locked, though only the first sub-layer will display a closed padlock icon. However, if you unlock the parent layer and click the padlock on the second sub-layer, it will display a closed padlock to indicate the layer is locked, however, in practice you can still select and move items on that layer.

Blend Modes

As with many pixel-based image editors, Inkscape offers a number of blending modes that alter the appearance of layers.

By default, layers are set to Normal mode, but the Blend mode drop down allows you to change the mode to Multiply, Screen, Darken and Lighten. If you change the mode of a parent layer, the mode of sub-layers will also be changed to the parent's blend mode. While it is possible to change the Blend mode of sub-layers, the results may be unexpected.