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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 up. Make sure you choose the Color Mode you want, then choose the Resolution, I chose High (300 ppi) for printing. Although this document will be exported in layers it becomes pixel based once it turns into a .psd file. Click on Write Layers, and then click on Maximum Editability, your choice on Anti-aliasing, and of course, if you chose RGB for your color mode. Click OK.

In Photoshop the layers retain the names I gave them in Illustrator.

Open Photoshop then locate and open your exported .psd file as you would any other document. In Photoshop, the layers you made in Illustrator will have the same names you gave them in Illustrator. Although, there is editability and seperate layers, the vector object has turned into a pixel based image. You can now treat each layer as you would any other Photoshop layer and take advantage of its options and features. Paint, resize, filters, fills, effects, etc...

Selecting the object on a layer is easy.

I wanted to paint this hummingbird, in order to do this without affecting the the original layer, I clicked on the thumbnail of the desired layer while holding down the command key to select the object. I Created another layer above it to paint on. If you want, stay on the original layer to directly customize the object.

Painting the selected object.

If you noticed the banana on my Photoshop toolbar and want to add one to yours, or to a colleagues toolbar as a joke, check out Adobe Photoshop Easter Eggs .

Ruby Throated Hummingbird.

Bringing the .psd document back into Illustrator.

Let's see what happens when I bring the Hummingbird back into Illustrator. The Photoshop Import Options dialogue box opened when I clicked to bring the Hummingbird project into Illustrator. I chose Convert Layers to Objects. If you choose to Flatten Layers to a Single Image, you'll get one flattened layer. If you save the document after you flatten it, you will still have the option to Convert Layers to Objects when you bring it back into Illustrator. The document will have all the layers you made in photoshop but will still be pixel based. Once the document has been exported as a .psd file it will always be pixel based.

Illustrator retains all of the layers and their names that were made in Photoshop and Illustrator.

That's a lot of layers! Experiment with this skill, this works great to quickly recolor your artwork, too. I hope this helps, thank you for reading this and keep changing the world!

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