The upcoming v97 of the Mac app, which is currently in beta, includes many changes and improvements to selection. We know change can be difficult to get used to, especially on selection: something you use all day, every day, and is practically second nature.
For this reason, I’ll start by giving you a thorough explanation of the changes we’ve made and the pain points we’re trying to address. Then, want to encourage all of you to share your feedback during this Beta period so we can do our best to make it great for everyone.
There are two main changes aimed at making selection and dragging more predictable:
- You can select layers and groups only by clicking on their visible parts.
- You can move selected layers by dragging anywhere within the selection box.
Until now, when trying to select a layer, it was possible to unexpectedly select another group or symbol because their empty space was technically in front of that layer. This can be very frustrating and make you depend too heavily on the ⌘ key for selecting anything.
Everyone should have confidence that they’ll select what’s under the cursor, and not something else, consistently. Now, layers and groups can only be selected by clicking their visible area, so clicking on the empty space of a group
or symbol will no longer select it.
We had originally made this change for symbols as well, for the sake of consistency, since groups and symbols are visually indistinguishable on the canvas. After feedback, it’s clear that many people expect to be able to select symbols by clicking anywhere within their bounds. So, we’ll be reverting this for symbols, which will remain selectable by clicking on their empty space.
Holding ⌘ will, however, consistently go through their empty space.
We’ve reverted the tweak to ⌘-click on the empty space of Symbols. Doing so will select the symbol, or within the symbol, and will not go behind that empty space.
If a selection contains mostly empty space, with few or small visible parts — such as open paths, tiny layers, or shapes with borders but no fills — it can be difficult to move on the canvas, as you have to drag on those visible parts, and you don’t get any highlight feedback in this situation.
We’ve improved this so you can move your selection by dragging anywhere within the outer selection box, regardless of whether you do it over layers or empty space. Importantly, this doesn’t prevent you from selecting a different layer in the same area with a normal click. This also helps when moving a layer that’s clipped by a mask or its containing artboard.
Bonus: secondary-clicking anywhere within the selection box will open its context menu.
Locked layers, if selected, behave inconsistently. You can’t resize or move them with the cursor, but you can with the arrow keys, or if the selection also contains non-locked layers. If you try to open the context menu for a locked layer, you’ll lose your selection.
Now, once you select a locked layer, there are no restrictions on what you can do. Selecting a locked layer is already difficult to do by design, so if you do it, we don’t want to make your life difficult twice. We think of locking as a way to prevent selection, but not edits.
Until now, ⌥-click would select the layer behind the frontmost layer. This feature is little-known (raise your hand if you knew ), infrequently used, and limited as it can only select the second layer but no further. It also conflicts with ⌥ to see distance guides or ⌥-drag.
So, we’ve removed this feature. Instead, you can now ⇧-secondary-click to open a dedicated Select Layer menu to select between overlapping layers underneath the cursor.
We’ve also improved this menu, which remains accessible via the canvas context menu. As you hover each item you’ll see a highlight on the canvas, and you can also ⇧-click an item to add it to an existing selection. If you’ve ever used Xcode’s Interface Builder, this will likely feel familiar.
While you can select an empty artboard by clicking its background, an artboard with layers can be difficult to select, as you must click its title, which is small and may be out of view.
We’ve made this easier by allowing you to select any artboard by ⌘-clicking its background. This reinforces the role of ⌘-click as direct selection, bypassing most rules of hierarchy.
Until now, you’ve only been able to start a marquee selection by clicking and dragging on empty space. This makes it impossible to marquee-select layers on top of a background layer without selecting that background layer in the process, too.
Now, you can press or hold X to activate the marquee tool. Then, click and drag to make a marquee selection, even on top of layers, without also selecting the layer where you started.
- You can now ⌘-click on a selected layer within a multi-layer selection to exclusively select it and deselect all of the others.
- When aligning multi-selections, you can now make an artboard the reference object.
- When you duplicate layers with ⌥-drag, releasing ⌥ simultaneously or even slightly before releasing the mouse or trackpad will now still duplicate the layers instead of moving them.
- We fixed a bug where you couldn’t press the ⌥⌘ modifiers for a marquee selection before starting the marquee. You can now — as long as you don’t have an existing selection. Pro tip: if you do have a selection holding ⌥⌘ and dragging anywhere will move that selection.
- We fixed a bug where you couldn’t select a shape by clicking on its border if it had both a fill and border.
- We fixed a bug where shapes with a border but no fill would have a selection hit area that was unnecessarily large on the inside of the shape, making it harder to select layers behind them.
We didn’t make these changes lightly. They were a result of much debate and consideration and our design team used it in their own everyday work for an extended period. While we’re confident this is a step forward as a whole, we’d like to get further feedback, from all of you.
Please download the Beta of v97 of the Mac app, try it out, and reply with your feedback.