Tips for Integrating Photoshop and Illustrator into a Seamless Workflow

Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator are two of the most commonly used programs for graphic designers and artists.  While Photoshop focuses primarily on raster graphics and being an all-in-one photo editing solution, Illustrator fills in the missing vector functionality and allows for better workflow when creating vector-based artwork.  However, most designers end up working with both, so in this article, you’ll learn how to integrate Photoshop and Illustrator into your workflow.

The path (pun intended) to working seamlessly between Photoshop and Illustrator doesn’t have to be cumbersome or complicated. By following just a few tips you can improve your productivity when using the two in concert. Note that there is more than one way to skin a cat when working together with the two, so I’ve outline a few different methods that can be used to achieve a similar, if not the same, result.

Quick Note

Throughout the steps in this article the term Command will be used for both Control (Windows) and Command (Mac) when defining keyboard shortcuts. Example, Copy (Command + C).

Working with Photoshop Paths in Illustrator

Perhaps you’re working with a path in Photoshop that was the result of duplicating and mirroring a single path and now have two separate paths on one layer that’s troublesome to edit in Photoshop as you want to select both of the overlapping anchor points of the mirrored paths, but keep selecting only one (figure 01). This is a prime example of where you could export the paths to Illustrator and use the Pathfinder to merge the two separate paths into one path so that you only have one anchor point to work with for the overlapping anchor points in Photoshop.

Path in Photoshop

Method 1. Exporting Paths to Illustrator

  1. Draw a path or convert an existing selection to a path.
  2. Using the menu, select File > Export > Paths to Illustrator…
  3. Choose a location to save the file to, name it and click Save. Note that it is important to ensure that you select the correct Layer name of the path you’re working with in the Path menu when exporting if your Photoshop document contains multiple paths.
  4. Open the path in Illustrator.

Method 2. Copy and Paste

  1. Select the path you want to work with in Illustrator.
  2. Copy the path (Command + C).
  3. Create a new document in Illustrator (Command + N) and paste the path (Command + V).
  4. When the Paste Options dialog appears select whether you want to Paste As:
    • Compound Shape Fully editable and creates a Compound Shape comprised of Compound Paths.
    • Compound Path Faster to work with and creates a Group comprised of Compound Paths.

Illustrator Paste Options

Method 3. Drag and Drop

I only recommend this method if you have either a large display and are working with both Illustrator and Photoshop in side by side Application Frames or have a multiple display set up.

  1. Select the Photoshop path you want to work with in Illustrator using the Direct Selection Tool (A). (To quickly select the entire path, use the Direct Selection Tool to draw a marquee selection by dragging the cursor from one corner outside the path to the opposite corner.)
  2. Drag the selected path by an anchor point or path segment using the Direct Selection Tool (A) from the Photoshop document into an open Illustrator document. Do not drag the path by clicking the inner contents of the fill, this will start a new marquee selection and deselect a portion of the path.

Photoshop to Illustrator

Using Photoshop Files in Illustrator

Illustrator can either place or open Photoshop (PSD) files. Placed Photoshop images can be used as an object in Illustrator, although linked files cannot be directly edited within Illustrator. To do so, you’ll need to use the Edit Original command and any changes made to the original Photoshop document that are saved will be updated in the open Illustrator document.

Method 1. Opening Photoshop Files in Illustrator

  1. If you are currently working with the Photoshop file you want to use in Illustrator, save and close the file.
  2. In Illustrator, select File > Open (Command + O), locate the file you wish to open and click Open.

Method 2. Placing Photoshop Files into Illustrator: Editable

Use this method if you want to incorporate a Photoshop file into an existing Illustrator document which can be edited within Illustrator.

  1. If you are currently working with the Photoshop file you want to use in Illustrator, save and close the file.
  2. In Illustrator, select File > Place…
  3. Locate the file you want to use, ensure the Link option is not selected and click Place.

Opening or placing an unlinked Photoshop document will prompt a Photoshop Import dialog box with a couple of options, choose the appropriate option and click OK.

  • Convert Layers To Objects Converts layers into Illustrator objects which will preserve masks, blending modes and transparency. Note that Photoshop adjustment layers and layer effects are not supported.
  • Flatten Layers to a Single Image Flattens all the layers into a single layer which preserves the look of the image, but individual layers will no longer be editable.

Photoshop Import Options Dialog Box

Method 3. Placing Photoshop Files into Illustrator: Not Editable

Use this method if you want to incorporate a Photoshop file into an existing Illustrator document which will not be editable in Illustrator, but will maintain a link to the original Photoshop file. A bounding box with an X will appear over the artwork when hovered over indicating that it is a linked file and not editable.

  1. If you are currently working with the Photoshop file you want to use in Illustrator, save and close the file.
  2. Open Illustrator and select File > Place…
  3. Locate the file you want to use, ensure the Link option is selected and click Place.

Illustrator Place Dialog Box

Method 4. Drag and Drop

Using this method will flatten all of the selected layers in Photoshop resulting in a single element in Illustrator. If you edit the original layers in Photoshop, you will have to drag the edited layers into Illustrator once again.

  1. Select all the layers you want to work with in Illustrator in the Layers panel in Photoshop.
  2. Use the Move Tool (V) to directly drag the layers from the Photoshop window (not the Layers panel) to an open Illustrator document.

Illustrator to Photoshop

Placing Illustrator Artwork into Photoshop

Placing Illustrator artwork in Photoshop will create a Smart Object which can be edited in Illustrator by double-clicking the Smart Object layer thumbnail. It is not a linked file as with placing Photoshop artwork in Illustrator, but becomes its own self-contained element wrapped as a (PDF) file. When double-clicked, the Smart Object contents will then be opened in Illustrator where you can make any changes.

Unlike linked Photoshop files in Illustrator, changes to the Vector Smart Object contents will not effect the original Illustrator file that was placed into Photoshop. Once saved and closed, any changes made to the Smart Object contents will be reflected back in the Photoshop document containing the Smart Object layer.

Placing Steps

  1. With a Photoshop document already open, select File > Place…
  2. Within the Place dialog box, locate and select the Illustrator file you would like to place into the Photoshop document and click Place. Note that any (AI) or (PDF) file that you select will automatically select Photoshop PDF under the Format menu.
  3. You will then be presented with the Place PDF dialog box with the options to Crop To:
    • Bounding Box Crops to the smallest rectangular region of all the artwork in the document.
    • Media Box Crops to the original page dimensions.
    • Crop Box Crops to the clipping region or crop margins of the document.
    • Bleed Box Crops to a specified region in a PDF file that allows for the limitations in the print production process such as cutting, folding and trimming.
    • Trim Box Crops to the region specified for the intended finished page size.
    • Art Box Crops to the region specified in the PDF file for placing data into another application.
  4. Select the option required and click OK to close the dialog box and place the artwork.
  5. Once inserted into the Photoshop document, transform controls surrounding the artwork will appear allowing you to scale, skew, warp or rotate the object.
  6. After making any transformations, click Commit transform (Return) to place the artwork as a Smart Object on a new layer of the Photoshop document. (Quick tip about working with Transform: click Command + . to cancel the transform.)

Transform Controls

Opening Illustrator Artwork into Photoshop

Opening Illustrator files in Photoshop is not the same as placing an Illustrator file. When placing files, the placed files will inherit any characteristics of the open Photoshop document such as Resolution and Color Mode.

When opening Illustrator files in Photoshop you will be presented with the Import PDF dialog Box. Options for the Name, Crop To, Anti-aliasing, Image Size, Resolution, Color Mode and Bit Depth will be available. Fill in the appropriate selections and click OK.

Pasting Illustrator Artwork into Photoshop

Copying and pasting artwork from Illustrator to Photoshop is pretty straight forward, but you’ll want to make sure you’ve set your File Handling preferences in Illustrator prior to doing so. Open up the File Handling & Clipboard preferences. Located within the Clipboard on Quit fieldset are the Copy As options, make the selections that will most often represent how you will work with this process.

  • To automatically rasterize artwork that is pasted into Photoshop, disable the PDF and AICB (no transparency support) options.
  • To paste artwork as a Smart Object, Rasterized Pixels, Path or Shape Layer enable these options.

I generally enable these options as it allows me to make the decision on how I want to use the pasted artwork for every instance.

Illustrator Preferences

Pasting Steps

  1. Open an Illustrator file and select the Illustrator objects you want to use in Photoshop and Edit > Copy (Command + C).
  2. Select an open Photoshop document or open an existing file and Edit > Paste (Command + V) the clipboard contents.
  3. The Paste dialog box will appear with the following options:
    • Smart Object Pastes the artwork as a Vector Smart Object which can be scaled and transformed without degrading the quality of the image as the pixels are not rasterized.
    • Pixels When using this option, you can scale, rotate, transform the artwork before it is rasterized as pixels. Once rasterized, any further scaling or transformations may degrade the artwork.
    • Path This option pastes the artwork as an editable path.
    • Shape Layer Pastes the artwork as a new editable shape layer.
  4. Click Enter or Return to place the artwork. (Note that only the Smart Object or Pixels options will trigger transform controls to appear around the artwork before it is completely placed.)

Paste Dialog

Drag and Drop Illustrator Artwork into Photoshop

Again, this is really only recommended if you have a larger display or multiple display set up.


  1. Select the Illustrator objects to be dragged into an open Photoshop document.
  2. Click and drag the artwork into the Photoshop document using the Move Tool (V).
  3. Transform controls will appear allowing for scaling, positioning and other transformations. Make any needed changes.
  4. Click Commit transform (Enter) when done transforming to place the artwork. This will create a Smart Vector Object.

Summing Up

As you can see, there are many options for working with Illustrator and Photoshop in tandem, they don’t have to be separate entities. One application will usually pick up where the other has left off. Both applications possess strengths and weaknesses which when used together can work to your advantage, it’s just a matter of knowing when to work with a particular application. The methods you choose to work with will be a personal preference, drag and drop happens to be my favorite for its speed and directness.

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