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Category Archives: Adobe Illustrator

While there may be other issues, the biggest one that keeps catching me when trying to import Illustrator layers to After Effects is if the person creating the artwork forgot to check “save as PDF compatible file” when they saved it.  Without that check, the preview won’t show in Finder, and the file coming into After Effects will be in one flat layer.


I’ve run into a bug exporting (radial) gradients from Illustrator, where the left color of the gradient always turns white on export. Until they fix it, here’s my workaround:

1. Make one layer for export visible.

2. Save as .eps

3. Check “use artboards” AND Range: 1.  (If I don’t specify the range, the file dimensions are shrunk to the bounding size of the artwork. This is bad news if you need to go back and adjust any artwork because changes can affect the centerpoint of the art, which mis-aligns it in After Effects.)

4. Repeat for next layer.  Note that each saved file will be tagged with “…-01”. This is reference to the Artboard number.

I can also set my art up on individual artboards and save only once, specifying the full range of artboards. This is often more trouble than it’s worth unless I’ve got a lot of layers to do and I don’t mind them being uniquely named only by their Artboard number.

(Affects After Effects CC and Illustrator CS6 and CC, if not other versions)

Color and Effects:
– RGB mode will keep your colors more accurate.
– Transfer control settings don’t import to After Effects. If you’re using it to create new color, apply “Flatten Transparency” to your objects. Also see use of transparency below.
– Use transparency only to create transparent elements, not lighter colors. When they get animated in front of another object, we’ll naturally see the background object through them. (If the transparency needs to animate, keep it at 100% opacity and include a note in the script.)
– Effects, Rasterization, etc. It’s often better to just show the animator a sample and let them integrate it in AE using AE’s tools. It’s also optionally helpful to designate the transfer control in the layer name (e.g. layer name: “MULTIPLY-bird on wire”)

Artwork and Artboards:
– It works well to use an over-sized Artboard with a 1920×1080 square as a layout guide to avoid having your art cropped at the edges. Art that extends beyond your Artboard will be cropped on import, making them less able to be animated.
– After Effects will only import one of your Artboards. If you’ve created the entire project of multiple artboards in one AI document, it works well to export your individual Artboards (Export…”use artboards” checked).
– Related to the previous, one scene per AI document is safer and easier when something gets changed by the client.  Building the entire sequence in one document over multiple Artboards is convenient for illustration, but it will be broken into one Artboard per .ai file before it goes into AE, so you you might as well do it on your end before sending it on. Then, if you have a change, you’re only changing one scene without requiring re-breakup of Artboards.

– Custom text that won’t be changing may fare better if you use “Outline Font” so there are no font issues.

– After Effects only extracts layers, not sub-layers. That means each logical element that might get animated independently should be on it’s own layer.
– Groups are great! The layer is king in AE, but if you’ve logically grouped your elements, it’s much easier for an animator to go back and work with your art when a layer needs to be split up.
– You named your layers? Bless you.

(These notes relate to CS6)

James Merry also has some great tips (and pictures!) on this process