AutoCAD Layering productivity, never use the Layers pull down again!

If you are creating AutoCAD drawings which contain a lot of geometry, I highly recommend that you concentrate on keeping your geometry organised as you go along.

Using Polylines, Groups, Blocks, Xref’s and Layers will really help you to create and edit your geometry in an efficient fashion.

In this post I want to concentrate on Layers. In particular, I want to highlight a number of AutoCAD’s tools that will help you to speed up creating objects on the right Layer, without having to constantly reach up to the Layers pull down to change which Layer is current.

Layer control in QAT

If you haven’t tried the AutoCAD ribbon yet, I highly recommend it – Give it a whirl. One of the few problems I have with the Ribbon UI is that you need to switch to the ‘Home’ tab every time you want to change Layer.

Adding the AutoCAD Layers pull down to the QAT

My quick tip here is to add the Layer control to the QAT (Quick Access Toolbar). To do this, simply click over the Layer control and chose ‘Add to Quick Access Toolbar’. Your Layer control is now accessible no matter which Ribbon Tab you have current.

But this article is about the tools you can use Instead of using the Layer control – so let’s move on…

Layering Standards

If you work in an Architect’s office, I am sure that you already have standard Layers as part of your CAD standards. If you don’t have Layering standards set up at your company, then I suggest that you get to work on it!

In terms of increasing your productivity, it doesn’t matter whether you follow the AIA or ISO Layering standards. It doesn’t matter if you follow Bob’s preferred Layering standard or Bill’s. What matters is that you agree on a standard between you and that you stick with it. Once you have a standard you can begin to automate your processes.

Here is a good article on Wikipedia that will help you get started

Set by Layer

I recommend that you set up your plotting standards by Layer. If you want some of your geometry to plot differently, change the Layer it is on – don’t change its properties!

Changing the individual properties of an object ‘Hard codes’ the property to that object, which means you can no longer change the plotting properties of geometry in your drawing globally.

The AutoCAD Setbylayer command settings dialogue

If you receive a drawing that has a lot of property overrides, you can clean them up using the ‘SETBYLAYER’ command. The SetbyLayer command strips out property overrides. You can clean up the whole drawing at once, or pick out individual items.

Tip: Start the ‘SetbyLayer’ command, and choose ‘Settings’ at the command prompt to pick individual properties to change.

Tool palettes

Remembering to use the company Layering standard can be a chore. But you can easily automate this task, to make sure that your Blocks, Annotations and Geometry end up on the right Layer, even if that Layer doesn’t exist in your drawing.

Tool palettes are often used as a Block management and insertion tool, but did you know that you can also create custom tools for Annotations or Geometry?

To create a custom tool, first set up your standard Layers and Annotation styles. Create your Geometry or Annotation on the correct Layer and save the drawing file (you could do this in your template file, before you save it as a DWT).

Now simply drag and drop the object from the drawing onto the palette. A custom tool will be created that not only creates the Geometry or Annotation, but creates it on the right Layer. Even if that Layer isn’t current. Even if that Layer does not exist in the current drawing.

For extra control, right click over the tool in the tool palette, and choose ‘Properties’. You will find that there are different properties available for each object type that you can also pre-set, depending on the kind of object that your custom tool is going to insert.

AutoCAD tool palette with Geometry creation commandsAutoCAD toolpallette with Annotation commandsThe AutoCAD tool palette Tool property settings dialogue

Finding the Layer productivity tools

Most of the tools I will be talking about in the rest of this post can be found in the ‘Home’ tab > Layers panel. You may need to click on the pull down to find them.

If you are using the ‘Classic’ AutoCAD interface, you will find them under the ‘Format’ menu > Layer Tools.

The AutoCAD Layer productivity tools

Of course, you can always type the command in at the prompt! Many of these commands don’t have an Alias, but you can easily add your own to the AutoCAD PGP file.

Make Layer current with LAYMCUR

If you need to change Layers while you are working, but you just can’t be bothered to move your mouse all the way up there to the Layer pull down, you can use the ‘LAYMCUR’ command instead.

  1. Run the Laymcur command.
  2. Select an object that is on the Layer that you want to be current.
  3. The current Layer is changed to match the Layer that the object is on.

This is a really simple way of setting a different Layer current just by ‘grabbing’ the Layer you need from some nearby existing geometry.

Move object to Layer with LAYCUR

The reciprocal of Laymcur is ‘LAYCUR’. This command moves an object from the Layer it is on, to the current Layer.

  1. First make sure that the correct Layer is current.
  2. Run the Laycur command.
  3. Select the objects that you want to change.

The objects will be moved from the Layer that they are on to the Layer that you have current.


Match properties & Layer match

The match properties command allows you to copy the properties of one object to another object. The properties that you can copy vary, depending on what kind of object you pick. For example Layer properties are common to all objects, but Annotation styles will only be applied to other Annotations.

You can select which properties you want to copy by choosing the ‘Settings’ option.

  1. Start the ‘MATCHPROP’ command.
  2. Select the object that has the properties you want to copy.
  3. Type ‘s’ at the command line to bring up the Settings Dialogue (optional)
  4. Select the objects that you want to copy properties too.

If you only want to copy the Layer properties from one object to another, you can use ‘LAYMCH’.

The AutoCAD Matchprop command setting dialogue

Tip: Laymch works in the opposite order to Matchprop. First you select the objects that you want to change, then you select an object on the Layer that you wish the objects to move to.

Add a new version of a selected Object

Add selected is a relatively new command that has been added to AutoCAD 2011 (it was introduced in AutoCAD 2010 as a Subscription bonus tool). Add Selected Adds another object, the same as the one you currently have selected.

If you have a line selected, Add Selected will add a line. If you have an Annotation selected Add Selected will add an Annotation, and so on. The new object will have the same Layer and Style properties as the old one, no matter what Layer or Style settings you currently have set.

Add Selected is really handy if you want to create a dimension annotation with the same properties as a previous dimension, and you don’t have to go anywhere near the Layers control or the styles controls to do it!

The AutoCAD Add selected command

To use Add Selected, select an object, right click and chose ‘Add Selected’.

Copy objects to new Layer

You can quickly and easily copy objects to an existing Layer with the ‘COPYTOLAYER’ command.

  1. Run the CopytoLayer
  2. Select an object you wish to copy.
  3. Select an object on the destination Layer you wish to copy to.
  4. Select a base point that you wish to copy from.
  5. Select point you wish to copy to.

The final point can be the same point if you wish to copy the object ‘in place’. Type @ at the command point to repeat the last coordinates without having to click with your Mouse.

If you don’t have any geometry nearby on the destination Layer, you can pick the Layer you wish to copy to from a dialogue. To get the dialogue follow steps one and two, but instead of picking a destination Layer enter ‘N’ at the command line for ‘Name’.

The AutoCAD Copy to layer dialogue

Tip: You can create a new Layer on the fly by typing your new Layer’s name into the dialogue (just make sure it meets your Layer naming standard!).

Merge Layers

If you want to clean up your Layers – but you don’t want to lose any geometry, you can merge all the objects on separate Layers into one Layer with the ‘LAYMRG’ command.

Note: This powerful command will delete the merged Layers from your drawing file – use it wisely!

  1. Run the Laymrg command
  2. Select objects on the Layers to be merged
  3. Select an object on the target Layer

Objects on the merged Layers will be moved to the target Layer, and the original Layers will be purged from the drawing file.

Tip: instead of picking objects type ‘N’ at the command line to bring up a dialogue box. Note that, like the ‘COPYTOLAYER’ command, you can create a new destination Layer on the fly from the dialogue box.

Isolate & Un-isolate Layers

This tool is very handy when you are working in a drawing with a lot of Layers.

  1. Run the ‘LAYISO’ command
  2. Pick objects on the Layers you want to remain visible
  3. All the other Layers will be turned off.
  4. To get your previous Layer settings back, run the ‘LAYUNISO’ command.

Note: Any changes to the Visible/Invisible properties of Layers that you make between running the Layiso and the Layuniso commands will be completely ignored by the Layuniso command.

There are a couple of cool tips for this command that you may not be aware of.

Instead of turning all the other Layers off – you can lock them instead, just follow the options at the command prompt. You can couple this with the ‘LAYLOCKFADECTL’ command variable to ‘fade’ the locked Layers, allowing you to concentrate on the area you want to work on, whilst still referencing other Layers.

Isolate & Un-isolate objects

This tool was also new in AutoCAD 2011 (or 2010 with the subscription bonus pack). The ‘ISOLATEOBJECTS’ command is similar to the Layiso command, but with one important difference.

Instead of isolating the Layer of the selected objects, it isolates the selected objects themselves. Every other object in the drawing is made invisible, even if they are on the same Layer as the object you selected.

The AutoCAD isolate objects commands

This is really a group of commands, the easiest way to use them is to select the objects you work with and right click:

  1. To isolate your objects, right click and choose ‘Isolate Objects > Isolate Objects’.
  2. To hide your objects, right click and chose ‘Isolate Objects > Hide Objects’.
  3. To get your objects back, right click and chose ‘Isolate Objects > End object Isolation’.

Note: Object isolation does not remain between drawing sessions, so if someone else opens your drawing, all objects will be visible by default.

The AutoCAD isolate objects light bulb iconThe current object Isolation state is highlighted by the little light bulb icon in the task bar. Yellow means that all objects are visible, red means that some objects are hidden. You can also click on the Isolate objects light bulb icon to change the visibility state of objects.

Lock & Unlock Layers

You can easily lock and unlock Layers right in the Layers pull down, but if you don’t know the name of the Layer that the object is on, how will you know which Layer to lock?

The easy way is to use the ‘LAYLCK’ command. You just need to run the command and pick on the Layers you want to lock… simple! To unlock Layers, use the ‘LAYULK’ command.

Tip: Set the ‘LAYLOCKFADECTL’ command variable to ‘fade’ the locked Layers, for quick visible feedback.

Freeze and Thaw, On and Off

By the same token, although you can set Layers to be frozen or thawed and on or off in the Layers pull down, it can be more intuitive just to point and click. The ‘LAYFRZ’ command allows you to freeze a Layer just by clicking on an object which is on that Layer, and the ‘LAYOFF’ command will turn the Layer off.

Use the ‘LAYTHW’ command to thaw all Layers in the drawing file globally, and use ‘LAYON’ to turn all the Layers in your drawing on at once.

You made it!

Phew, that was a long post. If you made it all the way to the end, I congratulate you! Thanks for sticking around. You can now consider yourself a Layer productivity expert. Go forth and create geometry, and never use the Layer pull down again!

 Looking for more on AutoCAD Layers? Read this post to find out how to create and edit AutoCAD layers.

16 Responses to “AutoCAD Layering productivity, never use the Layers pull down again!

  • I would like to make macros for a tool palette that will set the current layer filter, from the drawing or “out of the box” filters.

    I have tried the command +layer and it does not work for either type of filter. have tried ^C^C_+LAYER;A;;

    This works for custom filters► ^C^C_-LAYER;FILTER;SET;ANNO;; but does not work for “out of the box” generated filters like: xref or All non-xref layers.
    Thanks for any Ideas you may have,

    • Hi John,

      I just checked this in AutoCAD 2018 and it seemed to work OK. Would it be possible for you to post a description of the problem you are having with the script you have so far on the Autodesk forums?

      One issue I noticed is that Group filters such as’Xref’ don’t exist until an Xreference is attached. This is a difficult thing to check for with a script.

      let me know how you get on,


  • Excellent post Paul, I tend to go back to my old ways so often, it’s good to use this information here to refresh and increase productivity. I always forget about the LAYISO/LAYUNISO commands. Thanks for the reminder.

  • David Meza
    9 years ago

    Is there a way to make the dialogue box for the layers properties wider? It’s great to have it on the quick access toolbar, however, in some cases my layer names are to long to make effective use of it.

  • Simon
    12 years ago

    Wondered if you’d encountered this issue in AutoCAD 2013.

    If I copy and paste a block, the pasted block ends up in the current drawing layer, rather than the layer the original block was in (like it used to). This is a real pain if you’re copying lots of blocks, and then have to put them all into the right layer.

    Any ideas?

    • Hi Simon,

      I couldn’t replicate this behavior. Could you start a thread in the Autodesk forums, outlining the steps you took – with screen shots or a troublesome file attached? Please post a link to it here and I will check it out.

      There are lots of clever people hanging out on the forums who may also be able to help you.


  • 2thpic
    12 years ago

    got a question for ya,
    when i pull down the layer from the quick access bar, not all the layers are showing up. there for i have to open the layer dialog box and click on all then close the box and then all the layers show up in the quick access pull down. is there a on/off switch for this??

    • The Layers pull down should show all by default, however…

      I have noticed that when you apply layer filters in the Layers palette, the layers drop down doesn’t always update immediately. I can’t offer any advice here, as I haven’t found a solution. It seems to catch up eventually!

  • Hi Paul,
    I liked your post, it’s good to get a ‘refresher’ on shortcuts from time to time.

    I have a slightly different scenario that perhaps you could make some suggestions on? I have a block of site elements within a site plan which is then x-refed into a drawing. All the layers in the block (opened as a standalone .dwg) have been locked. The block was then inserted into the site plan on a layer which is locked AND frozen. The weird thing is that Block Editor (AutoCAD 2011)will allow me block edit the block and save my changes. The site plan, after thawing the block’s host layer, then shows the altered block with MISSING elements, even though all the remaining elements are still in a ‘locked’ state.

    Can you explain this? Is this normal Block Editor behaviour?

    • Hmm,

      I’m not sure that I really understand the issue here. My first thought is that it could be to do with the ‘VISRETAIN’ setting.

      Have you also posted this question in the Autodesk forums?


  • Dadgad
    12 years ago

    Laywalk rocks, and has saveable filters with wildcards if needed. I use it all the time when checking drawings, really nice to be able to just cycle right through all those layers with your cursor buttons. The whole LAYERS2 toolbar is pretty great, for those, like myself who still favor using toolbars.

    If you really want to save some more time with LAYERS try Lee Mac’s LAYER DIRECTOR lisp, it is golden. Thanks Lee!

  • Thanks Soopida,

    You are right, ‘LAYWALK’ is a very useful command. I don’t use laywalk much for geometry creating and editing, in fact I use it most when I have someone else’s DWG file to work with and i’m an learning about their layering system.

    I hope to cover this in a future post!


  • Soopida
    12 years ago

    Hello, ‘LAYWALK’ command is also useful