Changing a layer's drawing order

The order in which layers are listed in the table of contents determines how layers are drawn on a map. Within a data frame, the layers listed at the top of the Display tab will draw over those listed below them, and so on, down the list. You can easily move layers around to adjust their drawing order or organize them in separate data frames.

Seeing which layers are drawn under a layer

The Swipe tool Swipe Layer on the Effects toolbar is used to interactively reveal layers beneath the layer you chose to swipe. This tool makes it easy to quickly see what is underneath a particular layer without having to turn it off in the table of contents or reorder layers. To use the tool, choose the layer or group layer you want to swipe from the Layer drop-down list on the Effects toolbar, then move the pointer over the map. You'll notice that the pointer changes based on whether you are pausing it at the top, bottom, left, or right of the map. This lets you choose the direction you want to swipe the layer. Hold down the mouse button and drag. This will swipe the layer in the direction you were pausing on. You can also hold down either the CTRL or SHIFT key and the mouse button to swipe without having to drag left/right or up/down.

Learn more about the Swipe tool

The Flicker tool Flicker Layer on the Effects toolbar automatically flickers the layer chosen in the Layer drop-down list on and off using the time interval specified in milliseconds in the Flicker Rate input box. Click the Flicker button again or pan and zoom the map to stop flickering. Flicker is particularly useful for temporal change detection (especially of satellite images or aerial photographs taken at different times of the same location), data quality comparison, and other analyses where you want to see the difference between layers. Very fast flicker rates can be used to make differences between layers appear to jump out due to the optical effect of the eye being attracted to changes between rapidly alternating displays (an effect also exploited by the early experiments in cinematography).

Both tools only work in data view.

  1. On the Display tab, drag the layer up or down in the table of contents.
  2. A black line indicates where the layer will be placed.

  3. Release the mouse button to drop the layer in its new position.
Typically, annotation layers will be drawn on the map in the order they appear in the table of contents, which may result in annotation being hidden underneath other layers. However, you have the option of making an annotation layer always draw above other layers. To do this, open the Layer Properties dialog box for the annotation layer, click the Display tab, then uncheck Draw this layer in its table of contents order relative to other layers. When unchecked, the annotation layer will always draw on top of other layers, even if it is at the bottom of the table of contents. In cases where there are multiple annotation layers in a map, the drawing order among the annotation layers is determined by their relative positions in the table of contents.

Keep in mind that requiring an annotation layer to always be drawn above other layers will increase draw times and thereby hinder performance.