Understanding groups and layers in Affinity

Andy takes a look at groups and layers in Affinity apps and compares how they are used.

Groups and layers are commonly used in graphic design, photo editing and page layout apps. Exactly why and when they’re used creates some interesting debate so let’s explore their differences and similarities.

Groups

A group is a container of multiple objects brought together because the objects are related in some way. Typically, you’d make a group on the page by selecting each object in turn and, in one grouping operation, create a single group. Subsequently, selecting any one group object will automatically select its group and all other grouped objects at the same time.

Why are groups useful?

If you’re creating a design made up of distinct components, made up of many objects, it makes sense to group those objects once that component is complete—as they all belong to the same entity.

For example, a cartoon character can be thought of as having multiple body components: torso, head, two arms and two legs. Within the head, you would have a mouth, nose, two eyes, etc., so this could be a ‘head’ group, while the other body components would have their own groups. All groups can be combined into a main group.

You can also use groups to better organise similar objects or layer types. For example, adjustment layers in the above vector landscape could be grouped and labelled for tidiness and easier reference.

Layers

Like groups, layers are containers you add to your project, into which you add objects.

Why are layers useful?

For optimum organisation, layers are created either in advance as a skeleton layer structure or as you design, so created objects will automatically appear in the selected layer as they are drawn. This is a great way to stay organised, but it’s important to select the appropriate layer as you design that component.

Additionally, compared to groups, they give you the freedom to select objects on the page without restriction because the layer’s objects are not grouped. Conversely, if you select a grouped object on your page, this will select the group itself.

Child layers

You can also benefit from the use of ‘child’ layers, i.e. sublayers, within a ‘parent’ layer—useful for clipping child content inside parent content non-destructively.

Edit All Layers

When disabled, this option, located at the bottom of the Layers Panel in any Affinity desktop app, restricts the selection of objects on the page to just the currently selected layer. This saves you from having to lock and unlock other layers just to work on one specific target layer.

Group and layer similarities

Now you’ve got an idea of how groups and layers differ, here’s how groups and layers are alike in many ways.

Better organisation: Groups and layers give you more organisation of your objects—all from one location—the Layers Panel. Instead of all your objects appearing in one long list, a group or layer stack offers a better “collapsed’ view of your project.

Bulk manipulation: Groups and layers can be manipulated as if they were one object. For example, you can apply:

  • Transformations (i.e. reposition, resize, rotate)
  • Opacity changes
  • Layer effects
  • Adjustments and filters
  • Blend modes

Same architectural hierarchy: Groups and layers are equivalent in terms of software architecture. This means you can store groups within layers (and vice versa).

Same z-order control: Layers and groups are treated equivalently in the layer stack with respect to z-order.

Summary

Groups and layers have very similar functionality in Affinity apps. The former can be used to collect together objects that naturally belong together while working on your page, while the latter lets you better organise your more complex documents via a purposely designed panel; the panel’s layers being the structural backbone of the document.