How to export an Illustrator file into a vector layered Photoshop file

How to transfer an illustration, site or UI design made with Illustrator to Photoshop, without copying it piece by piece as smart objects, and end up with juicy vector objects?

There’s a native command to do this, “Export to PSD”, right?

Unfortunately, no. After exporting a document using File → Export → PSD (with the option Write Layers → Maximum Editability) we usually get randomly flattened raster layers instead.

The default Export to PSD result

It does not look like Maximum Editability at all to me, although at least we have text editable in PSD.

External solutions

In short: neither external apps nor my solution can transfer editable mesh grids or effects from Illustrator to Photoshop.

Fireworks

Saving PSD using Fireworks

This 2013 article describes a way to save AI documents to PSD through the Fireworks.

Pros:

  • All names are kept

Cons:

  • Adobe stopped updating Fireworks in that 2013
  • You can’t really predict what’s get rasterized and what’s left in vector form

Affinity Designer

Saving PSD using Affinity Designer

Pros:

  • Transfers vector shapes and strokes
  • Transfers solid color fills, gradients
  • Imports embedded raster images
  • Respects transparency
  • Understands editable texts

Cons:

  • Costs $50
  • All groups get ungrouped
  • Names of objects get lost
  • Doesn’t support clipping masks and effects

SVG Layers Extension

Importing SVG in Photoshop through SVG Layers

Pros:

  • Transfers vector shapes and strokes
  • Transfers solid color fills, gradients (in beta)
  • Keeps groups
  • Understands editable texts

Cons:

  • Costs $19
  • You have to convert your AI or EPS into SVG first
  • Some problems with transparency
  • Doesn’t support clipping masks, effects, embedded raster images
  • Puts extra symbols in names of objects

Native ways in Illustrator

As you can see 3rd party software export solutions are not free, but the results they deliver are not ideal. Therefore I was curious to find a simpler way using the Illustrator itself.

Studying this 2011 Turbomilk’s article one can see that tutorials usually don’t go beyond getting rasterized layers:

  • Group all objects in a design document
  • Sort them all by layers
  • Rasterize them via Object → Rasterize or Effect → Rasterize effect
  • Export as PSD
Exporting rasterized layers into PSD

And then we found an Illustrator trick at Tutsplus: if you apply the “Make Compound Shape” command from the Pathfinder panel to your objects, you’ll have vector shapes after exporting. Let’s test this method on some separate objects.

Exporting objects after Make Compound Shape command

After opening the result in Photoshop we get the top circle as a colored vector shape. Adjacent circles got rasterized and flattened, so we have to conclude that this method can’t help us with moving editable gradients or strokes into PSD.

What if we have tens and hundreds of objects to export? It is tedious to apply the Make Compound Shape command to each of them one by one. If you use Actions to automate it, you’ll get a nesting problem while cycling through your objects — the default Select Next Object command ignores groups (treating them as single objects) and doesn’t continue from one layer to another automatically.

Automation

I decided to automate the process of preparing objects for exporting AI vectors into PSD and made the Ai2Psd script.

The script checks all the objects in a document across all groups and layers. If it finds one with a solid fill, it applies the Make Compound Shape command. At the end the script brings up a short guide and opens the Export to PSD window.

Update: Adobe’s Illustrator 2020 still has internal problems with the export algorithm. Be prepared to have seemingly random misfires even with the latest versions of the script.

Pros:

  • The script is free
  • Transfers vector shapes with solid color fills
  • Keeps groups
  • Supports clipping masks
  • Respects transparencies and blend modes
  • Keeps custom names
  • Understands editable texts

Cons:

  • The script modifies the original file, so better run it on a copy
  • Gradients, patterns and strokes get rasterized
  • Embedded raster images can be randomly flattened into one layer in your resulting PSD
Requires Adobe Illustrator CS6 or higher

Optimize your document to get better results

Strokes
If you want to get strokes as vectors in Photoshop, you’d have to convert them into shapes in Illustrator, using the Object → Path → Outline Stroke command.

Converting a stroke to a shape

Similar objects
If you have a group containing a large amount of objects with shared properties, like brushed hair strands or outlined text of similar color, you can boost the script’s speed by converting these to Compound Paths using the Object → Compound Path → Make command.

Combining related shapes

Exclusions

Effects
If your file contains objects that have effects applied to them, like Drop Shadow, glows, noise, etc, and you want to transfer these into PSD, you’ll have to manually rasterize them using the Type Optimized mode.

Patterns
To keep your vector patterns editable after exporting, use Object → Expand. They’ll get converted to regular vector shapes inside of clipping masks which the script handles fine.

Meshes, gradients
Illustrator can’t transfer these into Photoshop for some unknown reason, but the script can help you to get them as separate layers without manual sorting. It uses another trick and automatically groups these objects into isolated groups.

Automatic grouping of problem objects in AI helps to get separate layers in PSD
Requires Adobe Illustrator CS6 or higher

If the script does not download for you, here is a secondary link.

Testimonials

Mateusz Nowak: «Thanks for Ai-to-Psd script!»

Dilyana Aleksandrova: «ai to psd saved my ass at work man, thank you for sharing it!»

Weyn Cueva: «This is amazing! I’ve been looking for something similar because I work more in Photoshop. Thank you.»

Maggie Stilwell: «This is awesome! A great timesaver. Thank you for sharing it.»

WashIrving: «выглядит чертовски полезно. спасибо, бро»

zmotion: «Шикарный скрипт. Уверен для многих, в том числе и для меня это будет весьма полезно!»

TLDR

  • Currently there is no app, plugin or script, neither commercial nor free, including Ai2Psd that can transfer complex vector documents from Illustrator into Photoshop with 100% guarantee.
  • You can transfer flat icons, UI elements, simple illustrations from AI to PSD with no problems.
  • The Make Compound Shape trick applied to an effect with a solid fill and no stroke in Illustrator allows to export it as vector into PSD.
  • If you group an object that gets rasterized on import, you’ll get it as a separate layer in Photoshop.
  • The Ai2Psd script is a free and viable alternative to accessible external software.

If you’ve downloaded my script and found it useful in your work, you can share your gratitude by making a donation to my Paypal /QIWI / ЮMoney (ex-Yandex.Money) so I could buy some cookies. Or, share the link with your fellow designers, they’ll appreciate it!

Пишу, когда не лень, о практичных вещах. Иллюстратор в Модульбанке.

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