Learning Centers

Acrobat 6.0 First Look - Layers (OCGs)

April 22, 2003


Editor's Note: This article is part of the Adobe Acrobat 6.0 Learning Center

The new Layers functionality, technically known as Optional Content Groups, opens up a new world of exciting possibilities. Engineers and architects can start to use this feature with the release of Acrobat 6 Professional, for others it will come over time as companies, including Adobe Systems, add support so that their files can be converted to PDF with layers intact. Expect to see a rich variety of solutions over the next few years as third-party developers see how they can utilize the support now available in the latest 1.5 PDF specification. At release there are three ways to create Optional Content Groups (layers):

  • AutoCAD - via the new PDFMaker macro for AutoCAD
  • Visio - via the new PDFMaker macro for Visio
  • PDFMarks - using them with Acrobat Distiller

For engineers and architects the introduction of layer support now makes Acrobat 6 Professional a feasible part of their workflow. AutoCAD files typically contain numerous layers -- e.g for architects they might contain one for each of plumbing, electrical, ventilation, emergency lighting, and so on. In the past, if an architect wished to share some of their work in a PDF file they would need to create a separate PDF file (or at least a page) for each layer within the AutoCAD file.


See above the original file in AutoCAD. The user adds the layers and layer sets to be included in the PDF.


See above the converted PDF file in Acrobat 6. The Layers tab appears down the left side. Layer creation is exclusive to Acrobat 6 Professional, while viewing them can be done on both Standard and Professional.

As creative professionals would be well aware, Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign all support their own forms of layers. As with the release of Tagged PDF with Acrobat 5.0, it's currently not possible to create PDF files that support layers out of the box with Acrobat 6 Professional and Adobe InDesign, Adobe Illustrator and Adobe PhotoShop. However, you would expect that we could expect to see support for this feature as these professional publishing tools are revised, reworked and released in the future.

It's easy to start thinking about how layers might be used in the future:

  • Creating a rich master document that contains a number of alternative page representations. These could be high-resolution, low-resolution, different layouts, or perhaps even a more accessible version.
  • Cartographers might use layers within PDF file to allow additional detail to be shown on demand. For example, a plug-in could be written which only showed certain layers at zoom levels greater than 150%. These high quality maps could use layers to display different information such as topography, names, population density.
  • Professional publishers might look to use layers as a method of storing their page separations in one convenient location.
  • Use layers in tables and charts to turn on/off different parts of information.

We like to think of Optional Content Groups as being a rich addition to the infrastructure of PDF, that will be expanded upon in unique and exciting ways over the coming months and years by both Adobe Systems themselves, and the rich set of third-party plug-in developers.

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