Layers in a PDF exported from ArcGIS Desktop do not match the layers of the map

Last Published: February 12, 2024


This article pertains to ArcGIS versions 9.2 and prior. Later versions of ArcGIS may contain different functionality, as well as different names and locations for menus, commands and geoprocessing tools. For ArcGIS  10.x, see the help topic Exporting to PDF.

As of ArcGIS 9.2, exported PDF files contain layer information, so certain layers can be enabled and disabled in a compatible PDF reader. The layers in the PDF may not exactly match the layers in the source map document. This document addresses the reasons this might occur at ArcGIS 9.2.


Neatlines, graphics, map annotation classes, and other marginalia may be contained in a layer in the PDF, even though they don't display in the ArcMap table of contents (TOC). Additionally, certain types of layers such as raster layers, group layers, and transparent layers may cause a consolidation of features in the TOC.

Solution or Workaround

Be aware of the following parameters while creating a layered PDF:

  • Group layers consolidate all layers in the group into a single layer in the PDF. The separate members of the group cannot be enabled or disabled independently.
    Group layers can be used to control the content that can be disabled and enabled in the resultant PDF.
    [O-Image] grouped layers consolidate content
  • Layers that cause rasterization, such as transparent layers or layers that use a picture fill symbology, consolidate all the layers below them into a single 'Image' layer.

    If a layer contains picture fill symbology, use the option: Vectorize picture markers/fills, found on the Export Options dialog box. This prevents rasterization of layers below picture fills.
  • Raster layers, such as orthophotos, consolidate all layers below them into a single 'Image' layer. Place raster layers lower in the ArcMap table of contents to avoid this problem.

    To detect rasterization and raster layers in the map document use the developer sample 'Detect Complex Output', linked in the Related Information section below.
  • Text, picture, or north-arrow elements added to a layout become part of a layer called 'Other'. It contains all the graphics and marginalia that are not part of a data frame.
  • Graphic or text elements added to the Data Frame's default graphics layer from Data View become a layer called '<Default>'. These display above the layers in the data frame. If multiple annotation groups exist (check this on the Drawing toolbar under Drawing->Active Annotation Target) and their contents are in the data view, each individual annotation group becomes a separate layer above the <Default> layer.

    This is a good way to add focus areas or graphics that emphasize or mask certain features in the data view.
    [O-Image] focus areas can be defined with anno classes
  • Backgrounds or drop shadows added to the data frame may become separate graphic elements and may be rendered multiple times as graphics. For example, if a data frame has a colored background and the layout has a different colored background, the data frame's background may be rendered once to the data frame's 'Graphics' layer or 'ArcGIS Layer' and again to the layout's 'Graphics' layer or 'ArcGIS Layer'.
  • Dynamic labels (not using annotation) in each data frame are rendered separately as part of a layer called 'Labels'.
  • Geodatabase annotation displays as a separate layer in the PDF. Map annotation is consolidated into the layer for the annotation group in which it belongs.
When labels are converted to annotation, they are automatically placed in their own named annotation group and render separately from the <Default> group.
  • Data frames are rendered in draw order when exported to PDF; therefore, the topmost data frame on the ArcMap layout is the first data frame rendered after the layout's marginalia and graphics layers.

Article ID:000008637

  • ArcMap 9 x

Receive notifications and find solutions for new or common issues

Get summarized answers and video solutions from our new AI chatbot.

Download the Esri Support App

Related Information

Discover more on this topic

Get help from ArcGIS experts

Contact technical support

Download the Esri Support App

Go to download options