Controlling Visibility with Layers

In SketchUp, layers control your geometry's visibility.

Warning: If you have image-editing experience or work in CAD, you probably expect SketchUp's layers to keep elements separate from each other. In SketchUp, layers do not isolate geometry from other geometry, but if you use SketchUp layers expecting them to do so, creating 3D models becomes a difficult and frustrating experience. Geometry on each layer sticks to the other layers, and you'll be selecting, moving, stretching, and otherwise changing geometry in ways you don't expect. The video at the end of this article illustrates some of the frustrations new SketchUp users have with layers and the techniques in this article that help you avoid those frustrations.

Tip: Protect your happiness. Set your expectations accordingly. Use layers to control only visibility, following the recommendations in this article.

To work with SketchUp layers successfully, you need to understand the following concepts:

  • Every model has Layer0. Layer0 is the default layer, and you cannot delete it. Layer0 is like a base layer on which you draw everything in your model. You add new layers only to control visibility.
  • A group or component controls the layer visibility of the entities that the group or component contains. So, to control visibility, associate only a group or component with a layer (not entities within that group or component). Always draw individual entities on Layer0 and leave them there. When you associate the group or component with a layer, the entities within the group or component remain on Layer0, where they belong.
  • Geometry is connected. Remember that, in SketchUp, layers don't isolate geometry. Groups and components do. Without groups and components, geometry on one layer is connected to geometry on every other layer.

When you apply these concepts to creating a 3D model that has layers to control visibility, the process looks like this:

  1. Draw everything on Layer0. If you're new to drawing in SketchUp, start with the article, Drawing Lines, Shapes, and 3D Objects.
  2. Organize sections of your model into groups or components. Grouping Geometry explains what groups are and how to create them. For an introduction to components, see Adding Premade Components and Dynamic Components; find out how to create your own components in Developing Components and Dynamic Components
  3. Create a new layer.
  4. Associate only that group or component with that layer. Repeat Steps 3 and 4 until you have a layer for each group or component whose visibility you want to toggle on or off.
  5. Use the Layers panel to control the group or component's visibility.

To find out how to do Steps 3–5, keep reading this article.

Now that you understand the basic concepts, here's an example, that shows how layers control visibility. In the following figure, each group has been assigned to its own layer, and each layer appears in the Layers panel.

After the Visible checkbox for the Roof layer is deselected, the roof becomes hidden, and you can peer inside the second floor.

Almost everything you can do with layers happens in the Layers panel, which you open by selecting Window > Layers from the menu bar. Window > Default Tray > Layers. Here's a quick rundown of what you can do in the Layers panel:

  • Add layers. Click the plus sign icon in the upper left, and a new layer appears in the list. Type a name for the layer and press Enter (Microsoft Windows) or Return (Mac OS X).
  • Delete layers. Select a layer by clicking its name so it becomes highlighted. (The radio button to the left indicates the active layer, which is different from selecting a layer.) Then click the minus sign icon in the upper left. If you've assigned anything to the layer, SketchUp asks what you'd like to do with the layer's contents: Move to Current Layer, Move to Default Layer, or Delete Contents. Select an option and click OK (Microsoft Windows) or Delete (Mac OS X). To delete all unused layers, click the Details arrow () and select Purge.
  • Name layers. When you create a layer, the default name is selected and ready for you to replace with a meaningful name. If you decide to rename a layer, simply double-click its name in the Layers panel and enter a new name.
  • Select the active layer. To the left of each layer's name is a radio button, and the selected radio button indicates the active layer.

    Tip: Make sure that Layer0 is selected before you draw or edit any geometry.

  • Change a layer's visibility. Every layer as a checkbox in the Visibility column. Deselect this checkbox to hide the layer. To display the layer again, select the checkbox.
  • Sort layers. When you click the Name or Visible column header, you sort the list of layers. Clicking the Name column sorts the list in ascending or descending order. Clicking the Visible column orders the list so that visible layers are sorted from the invisible ones.
  • Color geometry by layer color. Have you noticed the color squares next to each layer? When you click the Layers panel Details arrow () and select Color By Layer, SketchUp applies a color material to your model based on the layer color. In the following figure, you can see how the groups match their corresponding color swatch in the Layers panel. If you want to revert to your original materials, simply deselect Color By Layer. SketchUp selects a color when you create a layer, but you can change a layer's color by clicking the color swatch in the Layers panel and using the color picker that appears to select a new color. (For help with the color picker, see Mixing Colors in the Color Picker.)

One thing the Layers panel can't do is move a group or component to a new layer. After you create a group or component and set up your layers, you move a group or component to a layer as follows:

  1. Select the group or component in the drawing area.
  2. Context-click your selection and choose Entity Info.
  3. In the Entity Info panel that appears, select a layer from the Layer drop-down list. Remember that you need to set up your layers before you can choose one from this list.

Watch the following video to see SketchUp's layers feature in action. You also discover tips for cleaning up layers from imported CAD files and for using layers to improve SketchUp's performance when you're working on a large model. The video introduces SketchUp's Layers toolbar and why you need to be careful about the active layer if you use the toolbar.