Layer Stack Specification


This document specifies the OpenRaster Layer Stack XML format. The main two goals of the specification are interoperability between applications and allowing files to be saved without destructive pixel operations.

Note that this document does not define how the data is stored, and especially doesn’t address the issue of how to store pixels nor how OpenRaster files can be stored on disk. This document doesn’t address the mathematics behind layer compositing operations: it’s simpler to describe that using other standard bodies’ documents at this stage.

The first part of the document explains the concept of a baseline Layer Stack, with examples. Each attribute and element defined by the baseline profile is explained individually.

Baseline documents

A baseline OpenRaster document is a document that can be opened and look similar on all applications and platforms. The baseline layer stack format defines the minimum requirement to achieve interoperability and what is unsafe for interoperability. Layer Stack format permits extensions, which should be individually specified in detail, and work safely with the baseline profile.

Some users will require full interoperability, to create files which can be edited on every application supporting OpenRaster. Other users will only need to view OpenRaster files. This specification defines two classes of baseline support:

  • “Full baseline”, which allows reading and editing

  • “Viewing baseline” which guarantees visualization of the file, but editing might damage the result


The formal syntax of the layer stack is given following the RelaxNG Schema:


<?xml version='1.0' encoding='UTF-8'?>
<image version="0.0.3" w="300" h="177" xres="600" yres="600">
        <layer name="OpenRaster Logo" src="data/hw.svg" x="15" y="5" />
    <!-- filters are syntactically permissible, but not valid for baseline -->
    <layer name="layer1" src="data/image1.png" />

Elements and Attributes

image element

This is the root element of the file. The logical size of the image is given by the mandatory w and h attributes, which are positive integers. The content expressed within image may have extents which can be smaller or larger, and so the image should be cropped to (0,0,w,h) when displaying, printing, or otherwise exporting to a context which requires a rectangular image.

The mandatory version attribute specifies the version of the OpenRaster specification to which the OpenRaster file as a whole conforms. Values are xsd:strings which conform to SemVer 2.0.0.

The optional xres and yres attributes specify the nominal resolution of the document as a whole in the horizontal and vertical dimensions, in pixels per inch. Values are xsd:ints with a minimum value of 1. The default value, if unspecified, is 72. If either is specified, the other must also be specified. Applications should preserve resolution information specified in the document in both directions unless it is adjusted by the user, even if they make the simplifying assumption that xres is equal to yres.

New in version 0.0.3: The xres and yres attributes.

New in version 0.0.1: The version attribute.

Common attributes for layer and non-root stack elements

name attribute

The name of the object represented by an element. A Unicode string, encoded in the XML document’s own encoding.

opacity attribute

The object’s opacity, expressed as a simple floating-point number. Values range from 0.0 (fully transparent) to 1.0 (fully opaque). Default value is 1.0.

If the layer/stack has an alpha channel, it gets multiplied by this opacity before blending.

visibility attribute

The visibility of the object.

Valid values

the layer/stack is displayed


the layer/stack is not displayed

Default value


composite-op attribute

The operation to use when rendering this stack or layer over its backdrop. It is also called the blending mode.

The effect is to be calculated as described in Compositing-1: General Formula for Compositing and Blending, namely as combinations of a colour blending function and a Porter-Duff alpha compositing operator. This attribute’s name is perhaps a misnomer now, but it reflects the history of the OpenRaster specification and the evolution of the attribute from its inspirations in the earlier SVG 1.2 Working Draft and in GEGL’s named processing “operations”, which also provide the seeds of the naming scheme for values below.


Blending function

Compositing Operator



Source Over



Source Over



Source Over



Source Over



Source Over



Source Over


Color Dodge

Source Over


Color Burn

Source Over


Hard Light

Source Over


Soft Light

Source Over



Source Over



Source Over



Source Over



Source Over



Source Over






Destination In



Destination Out



Source Atop



Destination Atop

The default value is svg:src-over, which represents simple alpha compositing.

In the future other compositing modes might be added, and a way for applications to define new modes will be specified.

New in version 0.0.5: The svg:src-atop and svg:dst-atop values.

New in version 0.0.4: The svg:dst-in and svg:dst-out values.

stack element

The stack element describes a group of layers. They may contain sub-stacks, layers, or text elements. The first element in a stack is the uppermost.

The following attributes are optional on non-root stacks, but must be omitted on the root stack.

  • name

  • opacity

  • visibility

  • composite-op (only relevant when the stack is rendered as isolate, see isolation attribute)

  • isolation

Deprecated since version 0.0.6: x and y attributes on stack elements are no longer allowed.

isolation attribute

New in version 0.0.4.

If a stack is isolated, it means the rendering is done in a separate image, starting with a fully transparent backdrop.

Valid values

the stack is always rendered as isolate


the layers of the stack are rendered directly on the underlying backdrop, unless specified otherwise.

Default value


layer element

The layer element defines a graphical layer within a layer stack, stored in a separate file within the OpenRaster file. The following attribute is required:


the path to the stored data file for this layer. See the File Layout Specification for an explanation of the values which can go here.

The following attributes are optional on layer elements:

  • name

  • x and y

  • opacity

  • visibility

  • composite-op (not relevant if the layer is at the bottom of an isolate stack)

x and y attributes

These attributes are used with layers only. They are the horizontal and vertical offset in pixels to be applied. They are signed integers with a default value of 0. When both are zero, the layer source is drawn at the top-left corner.

For a non-root stack, x and y are ignored. They do not add an offset to the layers contained in the stack. Readers can thus discard them and writers can omit them. The offset of the contained layers is solely defined by their own x and y attributes.

Compositing the image

New in version 0.0.4.

Layer stacks should be composited in a manner conforming to the W3C’s Compositing and Blending Level 1 Candidate Recommendation. In terms of this specification’s rendering model, some OpenRaster layer stacks or nested sub-stacks are isolated groups, but some sub-stacks may be non-isolated.

Isolated groups are always rendered independently at first, starting with a fully-transparent ‘black’ backdrop (rgba={0,0,0,0}). The results of this independent composite are then rendered on top of the group’s own backdrop using the group’s opacity and composite mode settings. Conversely non-isolated groups are rendered by rendering each child layer or sub-stack in turn to the group’s backdrop, just as if there were no stacked group.

The root stack has a fixed, implicit rendering in OpenRaster: it is to composite as an isolated group over a background of the application’s choice.

Non-root stacks should be rendered as isolated groups if their isolation property is isolate (and not explicitly set to auto)

When a stack is not isolated, its composite-op attribute is ignored and the composite-op of the layers are used instead. The visibility and opacity attributes should be combined to the corresponding values of the layer, for example by multiplication. Thus if the stack has an opacity of 0.5 and contains a layer of opacity 0.5, it amounts to having a layer of opacity 0.25.

Applications may assume that all stacks are isolated groups if that is all they support. If they do so, they should declare when writing OpenRaster files that their layer groups are isolated (isolation='isolate').