A Quick & Easy Way to Bring Illustrator Layers into Photoshop

Updated: Dec 28, 2019


Editable Layers from Illustrator to Photoshop

Have you ever brought a vector image from Illustrator into Photoshop as a smart object and became frustrated with the limited options for customizing your image. There is a way to take advantage of what Photoshop has to offer with editable layers created in Illustrator.


After searching the internet to find out how to bring editable layers from Illustrator into Photoshop, I found that certain important details were left out of the instructions, giving me the choice to either fumble my way through or give up in frustration. I ended up fumbling my way through until I became successful, I'd like to share what I found out.

As a vector smart object this image has one layer & few options. This image was created & painted in Illustrator.

Bringing vector images into Photoshop by way of a Smart Object makes it frustrating and difficult, if not impossible, to change colors, apply filters, effects, textures, paint, resize objects, and other Photoshop options to customize seperate layers. This dilemma is remedied by bringing in layers from Illustrator, and this is how you can do it....


I opened a new document and sized it according to the size of the end project, then placed the sketch as a template.

As a starting point, you can bring a completed vector project into Illustrator or start a project with the goal of bringing the layers into Photoshop. The benefit of starting a new project vs. bringing in a completed project is layer management. What I mean by this, is if you know you will be bringing your project into Photoshop you can set up your document layers at the beginning instead of redefining already made layers. Which can be a nightmare if your workflow is like mine, where I end up sometimes with over a hundred layers. This Hummingbird project was simple in layer management.

I had made a new document in Illustrator and created the size I wanted of the final project, then Placed the background sketch. It's important to create the document the same size as the anticipated size of your finished project. When the vector image is exported in layers it becomes pixel based and has a finite size. I always keep a copy of the original Illustrator file in the same file of the finished project.

This project had only 4 layers including the background sketch.

I wanted to take advantage of Photoshops paint brushes to color this Hummingbird and also retain the flexibility of separate layers. First I made the layers and gave them distinctive names before drawing out the parts of this bird. If you create groups within a layer it will export as one layer, and all objects within a layer will be on one layer. After objects are drawn, give them a fill but no stroke. If you apply a stroke in Illustrator before exporting, and select it in Photoshop it will select the stroke only as a whole leaving it difficult to modify. If you want a stroke you can always add one in Photoshop.

Time to export this vector image, each object is on a seperate layer.

After you have finished drawing out your vector objects, and put them in your layers, make sure each layer has a distinctive name. To Export them, go to File then to Export and click on Export As...

Export Dialogue Box.

This will bring up the Export Dialogue Box, name your document and choose a handy place you want to save it, then go down to Format and click on it, a list will open up with different format choices, choose Photoshop (psd) and click on it. Click Export.

Export Options Dialogue Box.

The Export Options Dialogue Box will come