Create Multi-Layered Diagrams

Lucidchart's page views and tiling options create a flexible workspace that accommodates a variety of styles and needs. Layers provide an additional way for users to build out and organize the contents of their documents.

Read on to learn how to use layers to optimize your Lucidchart creations.

Layers empower you to create complex diagrams without the need to worry about how all the information will fit on a single document. With layers, you can hide or show parts of your diagram to control your document’s design and ensure that your audience is never overwhelmed with information.

To demonstrate how layers can help you break down a complex diagram into more digestible parts, this section will walk through how one Lucidchart evangelist, Paul Bryne, uses layers to create complicated, but absorbable documents for his clients.

Paul Byrne is the founder of PropelFwd, a small but growing company that works with clients in the public and private sector to make their processes more efficient and effective. Paul formerly worked as a police officer for Jersey, a small British Isle off the coast of France, and was contracted by the States of Jersey Police to map Jersey’s criminal justice system to uncover any inefficiencies.

Diagram1.png

As you can see in the document displayed above, Paul didn’t take this task lightly. Paul combined classic Lucidchart diagramming features such as text and lines with icons, custom images, and shape styles to create this professional visualization of Jersey’s criminal justice system. What you fail to see in this image, however, are the 32 layers Paul added to the diagram to make it interactive.

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Instead of adding more text to an already text-heavy document to explain which IT systems are utilized by each part of the criminal justice system, Paul added lines to the the "IT Map" bar shown above to connect every IT system shape to its users. Paul then placed these unique line connections on separate layers so that his clients could choose whether the lines are visible or hidden on the document.

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Obviously, it wouldn’t make sense for Paul to add these line connections directly on the criminal justice map. The lines would cover key components of the map and ruin the document’s clean design. However, by placing the line connections on separate layers, Paul successfully communicated important information about Jersey’s criminal justice IT systems without creating a new document or drastically changing his existing work. Additionally, to make it even easier for his clients to find these layers, Paul used actions to create interactive buttons that toggle each layer on or off.

Not only did layers add an interactive element to Paul’s diagrams, but more importantly, they allowed Paul’s clients to identify inefficiencies in Jersey's criminal justice system. Paul pointed out how he likes Lucidchart because it lets him show how every part of Jersey’s criminal justice system is delicately interconnected; “We didn’t want to lose sight of the fact that everything is connected and everything will have an impact on the next stage and even two or three stages down.” Layers made it easy for Paul to visually represent the connections between seemingly disparate parts of the criminal justice system. By simply following the line connections, Paul’s clients could quickly identify where two or more IT systems were trying to accomplish the same goals. Identifying these inefficiencies led Paul’s clients to consolidate and, consequently, cut costs. Furthermore, Paul and his clients could collaborate in real time and continuously update the diagram as changes occurred.

The positive response that followed after Paul presented his work to his clients inspired him to continue building out multi-layered Lucidchart documents for clients. Paul notes, “They were all blown away by the power of Lucidchart. Their responses ranged from ‘amazing’ and ‘jaw dropping’ to ‘what is Lucidchart?’ One meeting included two senior executives from Microsoft who could not believe what they saw and acknowledged that Visio could not do what we have achieved with Lucidchart.”

Since mapping out Jersey’s criminal justice system, Paul has used Lucidchart to create interactive flows that walk through the investigative process for victims and witnesses. Comprising of seven pages and 34 layers, Paul’s “Victim & Witness Journey” diagram documents the steps, context, and background information needed to process victims and witnesses through Jersey’s criminal justice system.

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Each layer in Paul’s document contains flowcharts and summaries which explain information that might be relevant in certain scenarios, but is not always needed. Through layers, Paul successfully separated the essential from the extraneous while still ensuring that all information remains accessible in one secure place.

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While Paul’s 22 years of professional experience as a Jersey police officer taught him the complex processes involved in Jersey’s criminal justice system, it was Lucidchart – and specifically, Lucidchart’s layers feature – that provided the platform for Paul to communicate these nuances in an interactive, visual way that anyone can understand.

The Layers Panel
You can create and manage layers in the layers panel to the right of your canvas, which you can access by clicking layers_button.png in the right bar. The layers of your document will appear as stacked tiles. Even if you have not created any layers in your document, you will see a tile representing your page layer.

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Note: Layers do not carry over from one page view to another. When you switch between page views of your document, the contents of your layers panel will change.

Enter and Edit Layers
Enter a layer’s editing mode by selecting the corresponding tile or double clicking on an object in the layer. The tile will turn blue and a blue rectangle will appear around the layer’s contents. You can only edit the contents of one layer at a time, so when you enter a layer, the contents of all other layers will be greyed out.

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To exit editing mode of a layer and return to the page layer, click on the page layer tile or double click anywhere on the canvas outside of the layer you are editing.

When you are in the page layer, the contents of other layers will act like grouped shapes that you can edit holistically. When you click once on an object in another layer, a blue rectangle will appear around all of that layer’s contents and the edge of the layer’s tile will turn blue. You can then move, resize, or apply stylistic changes to the group.

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Move/Copy Objects to Layer
To move or copy objects from one layer to another, right click on the object(s), navigate to “move to layer” or “copy to layer,” and select the layer to which you would like to add the objects to.

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Create Layers
To create a layer, click add_a_layer.png at the top of the layers panel. Provide a name for the layer by typing over the default New Layer text.

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Rename, Duplicate, and Delete Layers
Hover over a layer’s tile and click pen_icon.png to pull up options to rename, duplicate, or delete the layer.

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Deleting a layer will delete all of that layer’s contents from your document, and duplicating a layer will copy all of its contents into the new layer.

Reorder Layers
The order of the stacked tiles in the layers panel corresponds to how content is stacked on the canvas. The contents of the page layer will always be at the base of your document, but you can easily rearrange the order of the other layers’ content by dragging and dropping their corresponding tiles to new positions in the stack.

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Lock and Hide Layers
The buttons to the left of a layer’s name allow you to control the visibility and editability of the layer.

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By default, every new layer you create will be unlocked and visible, and these icons will be grey. When you click eye_icon.png to hide a layer or lock_icon.png to lock a layer, the corresponding icon will turn blue. Please note that you cannot adjust a layer’s transparency; it is either visible or hidden.


Note: You cannot edit a locked layer. If you are in editing mode of a layer and click lock_icon.png, you will automatically be pushed into the page layer, which is not lockable.

Sync Visibility
Notice the words “sync visibility” at the top right of your layers panel.

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If you alter the visibility of a layer, these words will turn blue, indicating that the visibility settings of your layers have not been pushed to published or future printed/downloaded versions of your document. Click sync_visibility_blue.png to apply your visibility settings to all document versions. The button will turn grey when the settings are synced.
In the PDF download dialog, notice the option to “include layers.”

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Selecting this option will break up your document into different pages that each correspond with a different layer. The first page of the PDF will contain any content that is on the page layer of the document. This page level content will also be visible on every subsequent layer page.

Note: Your visibility settings will not affect a layered PDF. If you do not opt to include layers, Lucidchart will generate a PDF that is based on the last synced visibility settings.
Add interactivity to your documents by using layers in conjunction with hotspots. To add an action (such as toggle layers, show layers, or hide layers) to an object via a hotspot, follow these steps:
  1. Add a hotspot to an object by dragging it from the shape library or by selecting “add action” from the right-click menu.

    Hotspot.png

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  2. Click gear_icon.png to the top right of the hotspot to open the actions popup.
  3. Click choose_an_action.png and select one of the following actions:

    • Toggle Layers (hide/show layer content like a light switch)
    • Show Layers (make layer content visible)
    • Hide Layers (make layer content invisible)
  4. Select the layer(s) to which you want your hotspot action to apply.   

    pick_layers_to_link.png
  5. Click done_button.png. Your layer is now linked!
After linking an object to a layer, you can perform the hotspot’s corresponding action (hide, show, or toggle) in the editor by pressing command + shift and then clicking on the object. If you are in present mode or the published document viewer, you can trigger the action by simply clicking the linked object. For information on present mode, please see the Create a Presentation article.