Drawing organization: layers vs. outliner


I’m feeling a little sheepish right now because after years of dabbling in architectural modeling I’ve just discovered the Outliner and immediately realized I’ve been doing this all wrong. I’ve always created huge messes of long-named layers to gain the identification/control of nested groups/components that the Outliner cleanly and easily provides. But with groups/components named/controlled elsewhere, what is the role of layers in an architectural model? All geometry is on Layer0 of course, and an always-off layer is useful, but how else do you folks utilize them?


Hi @Will1, you mention having used SU Layers for Compo/Group control, in our practice we use SU Layers for visibility. Our Layer structure (simplified list) is Roofs, Ceilings, Walls, Floors and Footings. We can then have views and scenes that allow the desired visualization by controlling off/on the different layers.

Additionally as an example, the Wall layer will include a Group of Walls, and Door components, Window components, Lighting Sconce components & etc.


As @Lindsey says, layers in SU should be used to control visibility, especially within scenes.

Outliner is one of the well kept secrets of SU. Easy to ignore but hard to forget once you understand its usefulness. Apart from being able to see the hierarchical structure of a drawing, you can use it to identify elements and in both directions. That is, select something in the drawing and it will be highlighted in Outliner. Select something in Outliner and it will be highlighted in the drawing. Very useful.

I don’t use an Always Off layer but my template does include an All Off scene. Not sure that’s quite the same thing though.


Thanks for the quick feedback. Lindsey, scene visibility can also be controlled through groups hidden/unhidden - do you see an advantage in using layers turned on/off?

I suppose there might be cases where it would be advantageous to have two separate classification systems (controlling visibility of multiple individual building stories while maintaining separate control of component classes like doors/windows/etc.).


You are welcome. I use the hide/unhide toggle during modeling extensively, but find using layer control, much more robust for two reasons: one, can see layer status in Layer Panel, and two can control visibility in scenes.

As you note, we have found advantages to controling visibility by type (eg windows) and location (eg walls) and therefore group and layer accordingly, in what we think of as a matrix.


First thing I need to mention is that SketchUp layers aren’t layers in the sense most other programs use the term. Layers do not separate drawing contexts and divide geometry. Things “on” different layers (or rather with different layers applied to them) stills tick and merge. Use groups and components to organize the model.

On top of that you can optionally assign layers to these groups and components to quickly control their visibility on a global level. This is extra useful for things spread out in the model. If you have furniture inside several different groups and/or components, e.g. floors or apartments, it can be useful to have a furniture layer applied to all of them, and hide them all in one click. If you have just one object of a certain type it can be more practical to hide the object itself, rather than associate it with a layer. This latter approach though doesn’t work well with scenes so you may have to use layers anyway.


What is the downside of hiding/unhiding objects/groups in scenes vs. putting them on a layer and turning that layer on/off?


Per entity hiding is only saved to scenes for the top level drawing context, not inside groups and components.


Oh, I didn’t know that. That seems like an inconsistent feature.


So the general principle is to use named groups/components/nesting for the primary organizational structure (visibility controlled in the outliner), with layers used as a secondary control system for objects that might appear multiple places in the primary framework. Thanks, that makes sense and gives me a good place to get started.


what do you see in an ‘all off scene’ :slight_smile:

ps… agree outliner is a brilliant asset


generally I use layers in two levels of hierarchy…

firstly to organise the overall model in discrete floors eg
+L00 for all the earthworks
+L01 for ground level floor
+L02 etc for other floors
+B01 for basement etc
+Lroof for roof :slight_smile:

key here is the ‘+’ and naming stacks all the layers logically

for logical control of visibility within those discrete spaces I use elemental layers again with a special character to start the name

-fins [finishes]
-elec etc etc

generally following the AIA layering conventions

coming from DOS days I hate long layer/file names and in teams more chance everyone will use different names

I also work with a lot of DWG imports from others so this convention helps me isolate their layers from mine

Usually I flatten all their layers into one layer

and have some addition symbolic layers
+2D [all 2d linework, door swings mainly]


I think of layers a bit like “tags” or “keywords” from other programs (or even, shudder, hashtags). A way to organize disparate elements that may appear at any level in the Outliner hierarchy. E.g. “furniture”, “people”, etc. Then you can toggle their visibility easily no matter how they fit into the hierarchy. BTW, I just wrote a plugin that allows toggling top level geometry off/on when in a deeply nested edit (vs. just “rest of model”), which I’m finding very useful. And I have the outliner open all the time for any significant project.


Well, you should see nothing at all but that’s the point. If you have anything “loose” that is either extraneous or inadvertently left out of a group/component, it will still be there because you can’t turn off Layer 0. Then you can either delete it or put it where it should have been.

The best organized drawings will have all raw geometry wrapped up inside groups or components, leaving nothing to see when only Layer 0 is on.


OK… thats similar to what I also so-- have a TEMP layer that I want to place thinks I might keep but dont want intruding on any scenes


Forgive me but I actually think that’s quite different. Your TEMP layer is for draft things that you know are there and may well be correctly organised into groups and components but which you may choose to delete later or simply hide in certain scenes. The Always Off scene is really to identify mistakes you didn’t know about in the first place.

I have another scene called Axis check that colours all on axis lines blue, green, or red. Anything that remains black is off axis and again highlights possible errors.

Hope I am not getting too Jesuitical!


I only discovered outliner myself a few months ago. Still use layers as I always did but find modelling more organised.

I often add materials to layers in Vray so another use for using them as well as outliner.


on LARGE models, I have always found having ‘Outliner’ open, can kill SU on a mac…

in fact, any of the panels that auto update are an issue, so I always leave them closed, unless I’m actively using them…

Layers Panel seems OK, so i rely on it more…



Interesting. I’m typically in large (slow) models so I’ll want to keep this in mind. Is having panels minimized enough or do they need to be completely off?


Oh, really? I have it open all the time on a second monitor along with a bunch of other palettes. On the road with just the laptop’s display, I usually have most palettes closed because of screen space. I’ll have to play with it and see.