The Creative Toolbox: Share and Share Alike from Photoshop to Illustrator (Part 3)

"Hey, you’ve got your bitmaps in my vectors!" "No, you’ve got your vectors in my bitmaps!"

No matter how you look at it, Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator are two great applications that taste, um, work great together. As Adobe pushes out feature-packed versions of its software, these two powerful applications have gained noteworthy ways to talk to one another. Alas, these less flashy capabilities never receive the exposure they deserve. This series, dubbed "Share and Share Alike," showcases the lesser-known features available to you for keeping your artwork intact and editable as you move between Adobe applications.

In the first two installments of this series, I detailed first the basic and then the more advanced export possibilities when moving from Illustrator to Photoshop. Objects such as text, layers, blend modes, transparency settings, compound shapes, and Web slices safely make the trip from one to the other. But now, how about the other way around? What Photoshop features successfully export into Illustrator and remain editable? Read on to find out how to perform this feat and how to continue editing Photoshop objects in Illustrator.

Layers Just As They Were
Layers made their debut in Photoshop 3.0 and really turned photo compositing on its ear. Prior to the advent of layers, creating drop shadows, masks, blend mode effects, and more, required intense work with channels. Illustrator, a little late to the game, included layers in version 5.0. Fully realized layer features that had become essential to working in Photoshop — such as transparency, blend modes, layer-based masks — didn’t find their way into Illustrator until version 9

But now more than ever, these applications know how to speak to one another. Layers and most of their attributes travel intact from Photoshop CS to Illustrator CS while remaining editable.

Here’s how to get there:

  1. Get your working Photoshop file (.psd) to the point it’s ready for Illustrator.
  2. With your file still open in Photoshop, choose File > Jump To > Adobe Illustrator CS. Alternatively, you can choose File > Open… within Illustrator CS then select your Photoshop file. You can also add the file to an existing Illustrator file using Illustrator’s Place command, but be sure to uncheck the Link option in the Place dialog.
  3. A Photoshop Import dialog poses the option to either "Convert Photoshop layers objects and make text editable where possible" or "Flatten Photoshop layers to a single image and preserve text appearance" (see Figure 1). Since the point here is to keep the layers editable (along with any text), leave the option set to "Convert Photoshop layers…" and click OK.

    Figure 1: This clear-cut dialog pops up when you attempt to open or place a native Photoshop document (.psd) within Illustrator CS.

  4. Your Photoshop artwork will appear Illustrator. Now take some time to marvel at how well most everything translates. Layers, layer sets, common blend modes, opacity settings, masks, and even text all arrive intact.

Unfortunately, some Photoshop layer features aren’t supported in Illustrator and will end up getting flattened (merged and rasterized) in the conversion process. The unsupported layer features consist of adjustment layers, layer effects, clipping groups, and some blending modes: Dissolve, Color Dodge, Color Burn, Difference, Linear Burn, Linear Dodge, Vivid Light, Linear Light, and Pin Light. Illustrator will do its best to preserve the appearance of these features by flattening the layer with underlying or affected layers.

Where Are They Now?
Now that you’ve discovered how easy it is to move your Photoshop artwork into Illustrator’s realm, the next step is to figure out where everything ends up. Since Photoshop’s layer features and conventions greatly differ from Illustrator’s, you may have trouble finding all those amazing layer features such as blend modes, text, and masks. You’ll need to locate them so you can continue editing them in Illustrator.

Here’s an overview of fundamental layer features in Photoshop and their Illustrator equivalents, along with the slight differences you should be aware of:

  • Nested layer sets and layers. With Photoshop CS, Adobe finally included the ability to add multiple levels of nested layer sets. You may be thinking of these as layer folders; Adobe calls them sets. Not only does this allow you to manage and organize your Photoshop layers to a degree like never before, it also has total layer nesting parity with Illustrator.

    That’s means layer sets and their layers from Photoshop will translate seamlessly into layers and sublayers within Illustrator, right? Well sort of… Illustrator can also present objects and groups as discrete levels, so this may be cause some confusion. To achieve layer presentation harmony between the two applications, go into the Layer Palette Options via Illustrator’s Layers palette flyout menu and check Show Layers Only (see Figure 2). As you become more comfortable with working with layers and appearances in Illustrator, you’ll probably want to turn this option back off.

    Figure 2: Check Show Layers Only if you want Illustrator’s Layers palette to appear more like Photoshop’s.

  • Blend modes and opacity settings. The drop-down menu to select blend modes and the opacity setting slider control can be found in the top portion of Photoshop’s Layers palette. Here you can choose blend modes such as Multiply and Overlay along with adjusting the opacity of the selected layer.

    In Illustrator, these controls are located within a separate Transparency palette. Photoshop CS includes several new blend modes (as mentioned earlier) that didn’t make their way into Illustrator CS, so these are flattened beforehand. But aside from these slight differences these two applications’ manner of handling blend modes and opacity settings are nearly identical.

  • Text layers. For the most part, text in Photoshop CS converts to entirely editable text in Illustrator CS. Something that wasn’t possible in previous versions. I say "for the most part" because warped or styled text (layer styles not font styles) will come into Illustrator rasterized. But there’s nothing stopping you from quickly recreating these effects within Illustrator.
  • Masks. Masks in Photoshop now come in many flavors. There are standard layer masks which we all know and love. Most often you create these masks based on your current selection (see Figure 3a). Then there are clipping masks, which use one layer’s content to mask the layer or layers above. Lastly, the relatively new addition of vector masks use vector-based shapes for masking. What’s more, a Photoshop layer can have all three of these types of masks applied to it.

    Don’t bother looking for your converted layer masks in Illustrator within the Layers palette. You will see a dotted-underline on the layer name with the layer mask but this type of mask ends up in the Transparency palette as an opacity mask (see Figure 3b). Click the appearance target dot alongside the layer name to call up the opacity mask in the Transparency palette. If you don’t see a thumbnail of the layer’s content and the linked opacity mask, expand the Transparency palette by clicking the disclosure triangles. Here you can click the opacity mask thumbnail to edit just the mask.

    Figure 3: Here you can see how similar Photoshop layer masks (3a, top) appear and behave once converted into Illustrator’s opacity masks (3b, below) even though the masks are found in an entirely different palette.

    Vector masks and clipping masks using a shape layer as the mask show up as compound paths. The masking path layer name will be underlined and have the words "Clipping Path" appended to the name. To release the mask, Alt/Option-click the underlined layer name to select it then choose Release Compound Shape from the Pathfinder palette’s flyout menu (see Figure 4). Clipping masks using a raster-based layer as the mask will ultimately get rasterized and flattened.

    Figure 4: The converted vector masks that end up as compound shapes can be released via the Pathfinder palette’s flyout menu for further editing.

The Right Tool for the Job
It’s no surprise that, as we grow more comfortable and adept with a particular application, we tend to try to use the application for every project. That’s how we end up with logotype designs created in QuarkXPress and page layouts produced in Illustrator (not that there’s anything wrong with that… or is there?).

My intent of this series of articles is that you learn and understand the possibilities that may be available to you during the lifespan of a project. For example, you started a design comp in Illustrator and now realize you need the more image-friendly features only Photoshop can provide. Or perhaps you started a logo design in Photoshop and find you need the vector tools for which Illustrator is known. No need to start over, just convert your document and continue working without missing a beat or stifling your creativity.

Read more by George Penston.

Posted on: August 10, 2004

2 Comments on The Creative Toolbox: Share and Share Alike from Photoshop to Illustrator (Part 3)

  1. Thanks for showing off some of the excellent features in Adobe Creative Suite.

  2. EVERY TIME I open Ai I have to reset the layers palette to my preferences (Show Layers Only) – this is so dang frustrating. Isn’t there a (logical) way to retain these app-wide settings!?

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