Convert and Expand InDesign Artwork into Illustrator Paths

In an article on InDesignSecrets, I discussed making custom strokes for paths. But what if you want to do something like put an image inside the stroke, or do some other clever trick that requires that the stroke be outlined? You need to remember that InDesign has an older sister named Illustrator! These siblings are meant to work together.

Here’s my original artwork, created by applying a fat dash stroke to a circle:


To get this into Illustrator, I simply copy and paste:


It looks exactly the same, and it’s also made of a stroke with a big dash. The problem is that most of the time, when you copy and paste an object from InDesign to Illustrator, something else comes along for the ride: a clipping mask. 

The clipping mask inevitably gets in the way when you try to do anything clever in Illustrator, so the first thing I do is choose Object > Clipping Mask > Release. Now you have two objects: The rectangular clipping mask and the original object. You can delete the rectangle if you want; probably a good idea to keep your file uncluttered.

However, the original path is still just a circle with a wacky stroke on it. So the second step is to choose Object > Expand:

That opens the Expand dialog box, which gives you a little control over what Illustrator keeps during the expansion. I just click OK and…


Each part of the stroke is a separate path now, though they’re combined as a compound path. Now I can do stuff to the paths if I want, or even copy and paste them back into InDesign if I want. For example, here I’ve pasted the paths into InDesign, chose Object > Paths > Release Compound Paths, and then started tweaking each path separately.


(Okay, full disclosure: I selected all the paths on the bottom half and chose Object > Paths > Make Compound Path, so that I could place one image in and it would spread across the whole pattern.)

InDesign and Illustrator are terrific friends, and there are nearly infinite ways they can work together!

Posted on: October 18, 2013

David Blatner

David Blatner is the author or co-author of 15 books, including Real World InDesign, Spectrums: Our Mind-Boggling Universe From Infinitesimal to Infinity, and The Joy of Pi. He is also the author of InDesign Essential Training and the InDesign Insider Training titles at David is the co-host of InDesignSecrets and PePcon: The Print + ePublishing Conference, and is the co-founder of Creative Publishing Network.

8 Comments on Convert and Expand InDesign Artwork into Illustrator Paths

  1. Very gifted! Thanks for this style hahah i have done this and try very interesting.

  2. You never mentioned which veersions of InDesign & Illustrator you are using. I’m trying your instructions with CS3 and it can’t be done. What version are you using?

  3. This is a great tip. But, when I draw the circle and add the dash strokes, using your exact measurements, I get a really wide dash stroke at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock. What am I doing wrong. This is driving me crazy. Please advise!!!!! Thanks.

  4. I am using CC, but this works in CS5 and CS6. I am pretty sure even CS3 has this feature, but perhaps the Expand feature was named something else?

  5. My guess is that you have the Corners pop-up menu (at the bottom of the Strokes panel) set to Adjust Dashes or Adjust Gaps.

  6. That was it! You are a genius. Thank you!

  7. nice, thanks for sharing!

  8. Great tip, simply and effectively explained. Thank you very much! 

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