If you’re new to Adobe Illustrator or want to work with vector-based graphics or vector images, in this in-depth tutorial, we will explore a common question: how to open Adobe Illustrator files.
We will run through how we can preview them or by exporting an adobe illustrator artwork file to different file types, with or without the Illustrator app.
- What is Adobe Illustrator?
- How to Open Adobe Illustrator Files
- How to open Adobe Illustrator files with Illustrator
- How to open Adobe Illustrator files without Illustrator
- How to open Adobe Illustrator files without Illustrator to preview only
- How to open Adobe Illustrator files in Adobe Photoshop with layers flattened
- How to open Adobe Illustrator files in Photoshop with layers
- 3 Steps to open Illustrator files in Photoshop rasterised layers
- How to open Adobe Illustrator files in Photoshop without rasterizing vectors
- How to open Adobe Illustrator file with Adobe Reader
- Wrapping up: From Weak to Stable Program
What is Adobe Illustrator?
Adobe Illustrator is a vector-based drawing program for creating images, graphics in vector format, logos, and signs. It can also be used for a variety of other tasks, like drawing cartoons or working with images.
It is a vector graphics program that’s one of the most popular programs within the Adobe systems. It’s a common type of vector image tool among graphic designers because it has a lot of features and is also very easy to use.
As a vector file design application, it can be used to create large-format designs for print, web graphics, software interfaces, save as another graphics file format and more.
The .ai is a proprietary file format, hence, although AI is a popular vector image format within the design industry, not all software can be used to open this type of file format.
Note: AI file does not stand for Artificial Intelligence file. It stands for “Adobe Illustrator”.
How to Open Adobe Illustrator Files
You may be someone managing marketing activities in your company and not a designer, you may or may not have invested in the Adobe application.
Since it’s essential that graphic design is an ongoing task in marketing, you find yourself having to view Illustrator files coming from vendors, partners and designers.
You can open Adobe Illustrator files in two ways: via Adobe application, another application that supports opening Illustrator files, or a file of a different format.
How to open Adobe Illustrator files with Illustrator
To open the original format of an Adobe Illustrator file that has the .ai format, first, double click on your Adobe Illustrator app. With the app opened, go to the top menu, and click File. Then, click on the Open button. A file browser window opens for you to select files. Select the graphic file you want to open that has the .ai file extension with the file name, for example, “myartwork.ai“.
Click on your file with the AI file extension, without letting go of your cursor, drag the file to the Adobe Illustrator application. Once it hovers above the Illustrator app icon, let go of your cursor to drop the file onto the app icon and your file opens right away.
Right-click on your file with the AI file extension, go to Open With, and in the dropdown bar, click Adobe Illustrator.
Any of the above three methods can help you open your AI format file with the Adobe Illustrator app.
How to open Adobe Illustrator files without Illustrator
What if you don’t have Adobe Illustrator app? And you need to not only preview what is in the files but also need to edit the artwork. There are several options for this.
One way is to purchase Illustrator via the Adobe Creative Cloud software packages.
Another way is to sign up for a free trial with Creative Cloud App to use a free version of adobe illustrator for a limited time. The Adobe Illustrator free trial goes on for seven days, after that it’s converted to a paid Creative Cloud membership at US$20.99/mo.
What if you don’t wish to use the Adobe Illustrator app? You can use a free illustrator alternative, like an open-source vector graphics editor or online tool that can be used via a web browser or downloaded to your hard drive.
Some of the Illustrator alternatives include Affinity Designer, Coreldraw Graphics Suite and Open-Source Inkscape. These tools can be used to open an AI format file if you have them.
Otherwise, you will still need the Illustrator app to convert or export your AI file to a different file format first before opening it in another app.
How to open Adobe Illustrator files without Illustrator to preview only
If you don’t need to edit your artwork and only need to open the file to see what’s inside, you can use a file viewer to do that.
For Windows or PC users, AI Viewer the best way you can use to open and preview an ai file artwork for free and purely online. There’s no need to download any software like SageThumbs and GhostScript. Just drag your file to the online tool with any internet browser like Google Chrome OS, Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox.
For Apple Mac OS users, if you double click on your ai file, the system will prompt any closest compatible app to open the file. I’m using macOS Monterey Version 12.0.1 at the point of writing.
If you don’t have any graphic app installed, Mac has an inbuilt Apple Preview app that is made such that you can help you with a wide range of file format previews.
Just click on Finder, go to the top menu and click View. Then select either Icon, Column or Gallery view. Next, browse for your ai file and click on it once. You will see a quick preview of your artwork that is inside the Illustrator file.
Another way is to go to your file icon, right-click and scroll down the menu and click on Quick Look. A preview opens where you can see what is inside the Illustrator file.
You can also go to the file, click once and hit the spacebar on your keyboard, a preview pops up for you to see what the artwork is like.
How to open Adobe Illustrator files in Adobe Photoshop with layers flattened
Sometimes, you want to open your ai files to preview or do more, like cropping an image or adding more designs to them with Photoshop. For some reason, you don’t need the artwork elements to be in separate layers. In this case, you can flatten them as you open them in Photoshop. Here are basic ways to do that.
3 Ways to open Illustrator files with AI format in Photoshop
To open the original format of an Adobe Illustrator file that has the AI file format, first, double click on your Adobe Photoshop app. With the app opened, go to the top menu, and click File. Then, click on Open. A window opens for you to browse and select files. Select the file you want to open that has the .AI file extension with the file name, for example, “myartwork.ai“.
Click on your file with the AI file extension, without letting go of your cursor, drag the file to the Adobe Photoshop application. Once it hovers above the Photoshop app icon, let go of your cursor to drop the file onto the app icon.
Right-click on your file with the AI file extension, go to Open With, and in the dropdown bar, click Adobe Photoshop.
Once you’ve done any of the steps above, a window that says “Import PDF” opens up.
In the left column, Pages will be selected by default. Select the pages or artboards you’d like Photoshop to open. In this example, you will only see a single page because there’s only one artboard in the Illustrator file.
The Thumbnail Size section on the bottom left corner of the window doesn’t affect your file. You can toggle it to change the preview size of your artwork.
Next, you can change your image size and resolution or DPI value on the right column.
Once done, click the OK button and your file opens up.
Now, open up your Layers Panel by going to the top menu, clicking Window, and scrolling down the dropdown to click Layers. You will see that your Layers Panel has only a single layer.
Open AI file flattened in Photoshop without layers
This means, there’s no way you can edit your artwork in Photoshop like how you do so in Illustrator.
In Illustrator, you can adjust every layer and they are separated from each other. You can see it here:
But when you open the AI file in Photoshop with the above methods, all separate layers are flattened together or combined into one layer. Like this:
This works for you if you want all layers to be flattened. If you wish to open an AI file in Photoshop with layers so that you can edit and make changes to each layer. Here’s how:
How to open Adobe Illustrator files in Photoshop with layers
This is assuming you already have artwork that has several layers that can be edited in Illustrator. Below are the steps on how to open the Adobe Illustrator file in Photoshop with layers that are rasterised and vectorised.
3 Steps to open Illustrator files in Photoshop rasterised layers
For this to work, you will need to have the Adobe Illustrator app to prepare the file to be opened with separate layers in Photoshop.
Step 1: Make sure all text is editable
If you have text in your artwork and want to edit it in Photoshop, make sure they are not pathed or outlined, or converted to vector format. Otherwise, there’s no way you can have editable text when you open the Illustrator file in Photoshop.
Check that they are editable by typing or deleting each letter with the Type Tool.
If they are not editable, recreate them with the Type Tool.
Step 2: Open the Layers Panel
With your file opened in Illustrator, go to the top menu, and click Window. Then scroll down the dropdown menu and click Layers.
A Layers Panel will open showing you all the items that are included in your artwork.
Step 3: Make sure all items are in separate layers
Check that each layer is not nested or grouped with other layers.
Then, select the main layer.
Go to the three horizontal lines on the top right-hand corner of the Layers Panel.
Then, scroll down the dropdown menu and click Release to Layers (Sequence).
You will see all layers seemingly having a duplicated layer each.
Step 4: Export as PSD
Next, to open the file in Photoshop with layers, the Illustrator file has to be converted to a Photoshop file.
Go to the top menu and click File. Then, scroll down the dropdown menu and click Export. Then click Export As in the sub-menu.
When an Export window opens, go down to the section where it says Format, and select Photoshop (PSD).
Then click the Export button.
A Photoshop Export Options window opens up, select your Color Model and Resolution then check the following:
- Write Layers
- Preserve Text Editability and
- Maximum Editability
Then, click the OK button.
Step 5: Open the PSD file in Photoshop
Open the PSD file by dragging the file that you’ve just exported to the Photoshop app.
Open the Photoshop Layers Panel by clicking Window on the top menu, then scroll down the dropdown menu and click on Layers.
You will see each item in each layer in the same way as you’ve done it in Illustrator. All editable text remains as type where you can delete, change font and change words.
Although by using this method, each layer is on its own and editable, it’s not a vector. All vector layers have been rasterised and changed to pixels or image files during the conversion process.
If you want to maintain them as editable vectors but open them in Photoshop, see the next method.
How to open Adobe Illustrator files in Photoshop without rasterizing vectors
In this case, you want to open an adobe illustrator file in photoshop but edit this AI format artwork using Illustrator because Illustrator has functions that are not available in Photoshop. Or you don’t want any vector artwork to convert into a raster image.
You can do this by importing the Illustrator file into Photoshop by converting it into a smart object.
How to convert Adobe Illustrator files into Smart Object
First, open Photoshop.
Then, go to File on the top menu, scroll down and click Open as Smart Object…
A window opens for you to browse your files. Select the AI file that you’ve created before.
Then, click open.
Another window opens up. Make sure in the Format section, that the option selected is Photoshop PDF.
Once your file opens up, you can go to the Layers Panel (Window > Layers) to find the layer of your artwork.
You will see that there’s a tiny document icon on the layer. This means your artwork layer is a smart object.
Double click the icon and a window pop up to say “This document has been modified outside of Adobe Illustrator. How do you want to proceed?” Select “Discard changes, preserving illustrator editing capabilities” and click the OK button.
Your artwork opens up in Illustrator.
You can make your changes using Illustrator, and save the file as per usual.
Then go back to your Photoshop file of the same artwork and you will see it updated to the same changes you’ve made in the Illustrator app.
How to open Adobe Illustrator file with Adobe Reader
First, download Adobe Reader from here.
To open the AI file, drag the AI file to the Adobe Reader app and let go of your cursor to drop the file onto the app icon. The file opens up immediately.
It’s great to use Adobe Reader because both software is part of the Adobe Application. Hence there’s PDF compatibility between Illustrator and Adobe Reader.
There’s no need for you to save your Illustrator file as a PDF file. You can open your AI file directly with Adobe Reader.
Wrapping up: From Weak to Stable Program
All in all, Illustrator is a great program for creating vector graphics. It has a lot of features, is easy to use, and is very user-friendly.
However, as with all software, it does have its problems. The good news is, that Adobe continually works hard to update it, fix bugs and add new features.
With that in mind, you can now open/import Adobe Illustrator files in a number of ways. You know the ins and outs of using the tool, and you’re ready to take your mark-making skills to the next level.
Featured image from: Online illustrations by Storyset