Hidden Illustrator<->Photoshop integration

Illustrator and Photoshop have been quietly growing tighter, and you may have discovered that it’s possible to export a very editable PSD file from Illustrator (preserving nested layers, masks, editable text along a path, etc.).  But what about going the other way–turning a layered PSD into a layered Illustrator composition?  It’s easy to do, though not at first glance.

Background: The compositing model (i.e. the layer blending modes & options) used by Illustrator, InDesign, and Acrobat is different than the one used by Photoshop. Therefore some blending options in Photoshop (for example, complex "Blend If" settings) can’t be replicated in Illustrator. As a result, when you place a PSD file into Illustrator, the blending is isolated.  That is, the PSD is treated as things a little world unto itself, and the blending modes within it don’t interact with anything else in the Illustrator document.  Objects like drop shadows (set to Multiply mode) only multiply against other things inside the PSD.

But here’s the trick: if you place the PSD and embed it in your Illustrator file (by unchecking the Link option in the import dialog), you can tell Illustrator to convert each layer into a separate Illustrator object. In that case the blending options should come through largely intact. Even things like text & vector layers (including text on a path & text in a shape) will be converted to the native Illustrator versions.

This is quite powerful but, ah, shall we say, non-obvious.  I don’t have a perfect solution in mind for making this capability more discoverable, but we’ll give it some thought.

0 thoughts on “Hidden Illustrator<->Photoshop integration

  1. Thanks for that post, John. That feature is pretty well hidden.
    It’s actually covered in Illustrator Help in the Photoshop Import Options page (but who reads that?)
    [Not a soul, in my experience. 😉 We need to make that good info easier to find. –J.]
    Sandee Cohen and I go into transforming layers back and forth between Photoshop and Illustrator in quite a bit more detail in Chapter 12, “The Flexibility of Layers,” of Real World Adobe Creative Suite (Peachpit Press).
    [Cool–thanks for the tip. –J.]

  2. Well, I have to say – I use the on-line help alot. Simply because it’s quite good (It’s primarily the danish version I use). As a teacher I encourage all my students to take this as a resource to knowledge, that are always available to them. My own material are very seldom around, when a problem occours. I refer to the Adobe Help Center in my own exercises for more information, to train them in using it for solving problems.
    Best Regards

  3. While on the subject of sharing artwork amongst the applications, it’s worth mentioning that InDesign CS2 supports the hiding and showing of layers from Photoshop, Illustrator, and Acrobat placed files. I believe it even allows you to select from different Photoshop layer comps. Really nice interoperability. Something I’ve longed for in a page layout application for years and now I wonder if users even know about this killer feature.
    Yeah, I’m not sure how you make this more obvious to the user. Perhaps there could be a feature named around it like “Smart Import” and it presented itself and behaved consistently in all the apps in the suite.
    I think this is one of the downsides of moving all the Adobe products into a suite. It makes it more difficult for users to keep up with all the powerful, new features that get released at once. The upside of the suit is that it affords creating features that give us great interoperability such as the one mentioned. But now users have a handful of major applications at once that they have to come up to speed on.
    Back in the day (how old do I sound?) when the application upgrades were somewhat staggered, a user could get comfortable with the latest Photoshop and just when they felt they had a handle on that, they could start on the new version of Illustrator that was just released.
    Sure, the suite approach keeps us tech writers in business, but I worry that so many great features get missed by the average user because there’s just so much to take in at once. It can be a bit overwhelming I think.
    Not that I have a solution to all this (yes, I know, if you don’t bring a solution, it’s just a rant, sorry). But I do think it’s something large software companies such as Adobe should be mindful of when offering major application upgrades as a packaged suite. Otherwise what’s the point of producing new features if people don’t find them, right?

  4. better fix illustrator->psd export to handle larger documents than a4@300dpi 🙁 ..four of five times i’m trying to go this way to finish illustrator work at photoshop – exporing to layered psd fails immediately with ‘out of memory’ error (2gb ram, plenty of disk space pc).. then the workaround: save each layer as a new ai/pdf file, open each in photoshop, rasterize at same resolution and combine to multilayered file. ..it’s still so nineties.. 🙁
    or at least make photoshop to open layered pdfs non flatted (even if this would rasterize all vectors)..
    [Sorry to hear about that. I’ll let the Illustrator folks know. –J.]

  5. Could you employ a mechanism like InDesign’s “Import Options”?
    This would allow the artist the option of letting Illustrator know “something special” is desired in bringing the file into Illustrator, and to show an intermediate options panel in the process.
    I know, having “one more step” in any process is not the ideal way to achieve the seamless addition of a feature, but it might provide some needed extensibility to accomodate other file types or file treatments in the future.
    [Good suggestions. As it happens, Illustrator already has an import dialog that’s similar to the one in InDesign. Seems like if we just enabled the “Convert Photoshop layers to objects” command even if you were linking, not embedding, and then performed an embed instead of a link (with appropriate notification), the problem would be solved. Hmm–I like that idea. Let me talk to the AI guys. –J.]

  6. I hate to say “me, too”… but Karsten wrote the EXACT email I would have written (except I use the English Help here in Oregon). I’m amused that the cause of my arriving second was spending Saturday teaching a Photoshop workshop — I was making the students actually practice using Help.
    I point out to students that Photoshop is at version 11, and the documentation is very mature and useful.
    Yes, some of us really do RTFM. I did even before I started teaching as well as creating. I loved the printed manuals.
    Now I’ll go buy RWCS (since I was planning anyway to rush out for the finally-available-for-CS2 Photoshop Wow book!)

  7. This is very similar to something I tried to do recently. Illustrator comes with several different templates to choose from and manipulate at will. If I find a brochure template that I like is there an integrated way io transfer that info to InDesign?
    [Not that I know of, but I’ll check. –J.]

  8. hi there,
    i have no html tags, or style, sadly, but i am in desperate need of help.
    i have a serious graphic design question, and much help needed with a big project i am trying to finish up, and need serious help to make it happen!
    i am a beginner designer, actually a photographer, so my experience lies with photoshop for photography, not with graphic design or illustrator. i have a continuous tone drawing, a large file, bulit and scanned in photoshop, and i need to add text for printing. everyone is saying that rastor sucks for printing, so i should import the file to illy, but i have tried and cannot figure out how to. should i make a seperate file in illy for the text, then give the printer both files? or, can i add the text in photoshop, if the size of the printed piece won’t change or get too big? it’s about 12 x 10 total, but i made it a huge file so illustrator could have a lot to work with.. (i’m a masochist, i guess..).
    so, it sounds like you, someone on this post, knows what they’re talking about..
    can anyone help me, like i’m a 5 year old? some of the lingo i don’t really get, sadly.
    oh, and can i put a vector mask on text in photoshop and make it all go away, or does that need paths to enable a vector mask?
    ok, shutting up

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