Opening Adobe Illustrator (AI) files when you don't have Adobe Illustrator
You've been waiting for the design firm to send final artwork. The e-mail finally arrives...
Uh, oh. That organic.ai file is an Adobe Illustrator Artwork file. Since I'm not a full time designer, I haven't gotten around to spending $600 for Illustrator, and I need PNG's for my website. What to do?
The AI / PDF Connection
We'll take advantage of a little trick: you can rename an AI file from SampleArtFile.ai to SampleArtFile.pdf and open it in the PDF viewer of your choice - like, say, Foxit Reader. How could that work? Let's ask old man wikipedia:
Adobe Illustrator Artwork (AI) is a proprietary file format developed by Adobe Systems for representing single-page vector-based drawings in either the EPS or PDF formats. The .ai filename extension is used by Adobe Illustrator.
Recent versions of the AI file format, including the PDF-based formats and recent EPS formats, are based on a native format called PGF that is unrelated to both EPS and PDF. PDF compatibility is achieved not by extending the PDF format, but by embedding a complete copy of the native PGF data within the PDF file. The same kind of “dual path” approach is also used when recent versions of Illustrator are saving EPS-compatible files.
So every AI file is really a valid PDF, and you can view it just by changing the file extension.
Okay, great, we can view the art. What if we want to make changes, or export at a specific size or resolution?
Options For Importing or Converting AI / PDF Files
Importing AI and PDF Files In Inkscape
I'm sure I'm tilting at windmills here, but I really like the idea of an open standard vector format, for that same reason it's good that HTML is an open standard. That makes SVG my vector format of choice, and you already know that I love Inkscape (free, open source) so much I want to marry it. Inkscape's recent builds can import and export a large variety of vector and bitmap formats, including AI and PDF.
So we can easily open the file in Inkscape, make any edits, and save it as an appropriately sized PNG or other bitmap file. Since a lot of my readers are in the .NET camp, I'll remind you that it can import and export XAML as well, so Inkscape can take us from AI to XAML really quickly.
Note - the organic.ai artwork pictured above is available under Creative Commons license from Vecteezy.com.
Online Conversion from PDF or AI to SVG With FreeSVG
Before Inkscape added PDF and AI import, I used to use the FreeSVG service at freesvg.texterity.com. It's really simple - upload a PDF, get e-mailed an SVG file:
And it's smart enough to know that AI files can be opened as PDF's, so I when I uploaded organic.ai, it automatically renamed it to organic.ai.pdf:
Thank you for uploading your file to FreeSVG. We will convert your file into an SVG file set, and return a link to you shortly.
Here is a recap of what you've submitted: organic.ai.pdf
Expression DesignExpression Design
can import a variety of vector formats, including PDF compatible AI files), and it can export to bitmaps as well as XAML. Expression Design isn't free, so if you just need to import and export I think Inkscape's a smarter choice. That's not to say Expression Design isn't worth the money - it's got some cool features that Inkscape doesn't, like the nice brushes that Microsoft picked up through the Creature House Expression acquisition
. Plus, if you're a Microsoft shop you might have access to Expression Design through an MSDN subscription
Enjoy your vacation, François. We've got it covered.