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...

Here's the art! Goodbye!

Uh, oh. That 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 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.

Inkscape AI PDF Import

Note - the artwork pictured above is available under Creative Commons license from

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 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, it automatically renamed it to

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:

Expression Design

Expression 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.

Expression - Import File Formats


Enjoy your vacation, François. We've got it covered.


  • Nice article Jon, thanks.
    Note: I use VS with Expression Studio but have been using Corel PSP Photo X2 for AI files. (Also have Fireworks but haven't touched it since switching to Expression.)

  • Slight snag I cam across an Ai file that was not PDF compatible any idea how to view them?

  • Great info. Thanks! Got me out of a bind.

  • I have a weird problem: I have icons displayed as thumbnails in WinXP. One AI file I downloaded from the net seems to display an A4 page with some vector drawings.

    When I rename the extension to PDF, the drawings in the bottom part of the AI file disappear and the thumbnail displays the rest of the upper part as a square image.

    It seems if you rename the extension to PDF, it shows another embedded image than the one with AI-extension.

    Does anybody know how I can display the full image as PDF?

  • I have created a design in several layers with microsoft digital image pro using photography and text boxes. (i do a lot of photography, which i then edit and create designs with). I need to send this to someone in .ai format....i.e., they want to be able to manipulate my files, if necessary. I have downloaded inkscape, but the person on the other end couldn't open that although i saved it under regular .svg not inkscape svg, thinking this was more universal. They only have adobe illustrator cs2. I'm not that tech savvy so I'm having a bit of an issue here. Your advice is greatly appreciated.
    Bottom line, I need to save .png to .ai..retain the layers.

  • To open .AI files when you don't have adobe illustrator just right click the file and choose open with from the menu choose adobe.
    This works

  • Wow!!! Great information. It helps a lot and it is really amazing to be honest...

  • Thanks for that little tidbit! It solved a nagging problem getting AI files from designer.

  • Thanks for the tip! It worked like a charm. I will definitely file this one away.

  • simply awesome. such a simple and effective solution

  • Hi,

    I tried saving the .ai extension as .pdf and it still doesnt open? when it opens it says 'This is an Adobe Illustrator file that was saved without PDF content. To place or open this file in other applications, it should be re-saved from Adobe Illustrator with the 'Create PDF Compatible file' option turned on'.

    Now I'm dealing with someone overseas and its a headache to ask them to send the artwork again... (yes they've sent it twice)

    Please help me open this stupid file. BTW i've tried opening in photoshop too... still doesnt work!

  • Many thanks for the tip.. five years I've been asking people for pdf versions of files so I could view them!! it is even easier if you just right click and open with adobe reader (works with version 8.1). No need to change the extension.

  • Thanks - saved me hours

  • Fanwood pointed out:

    To open .AI files when you don't have adobe illustrator just right click the file and choose open with from the menu choose adobe.

    This works

    Wednesday, July 16, 2008 12:41 PM by Fanwood

    Not only does this work, but you can save the file as any standard graphic format and use it in any program that you choose, this works great. The only thing is you need to have an adobe program ie: Photoshop or Elements, on your computer.

  • Perhaps they changed something, but this will not work for me.

  • Thanx for the excellent tip.

  • This works splendidly still! You may have to right click on the file to rename the actual extension and it will not work if it is Read Only. At least thats what I've encountered.

  • Nothing worked for me either....renaming wouldn't open them, using Adobe reader wouldn't open them.....bad article.

  • Hi, i need a small amount of help

    I have a band see, and have just designed the logo on illustrator, having no access to photoshop of which i am fairly literate

    now i need the .ai file to be converted to a JPEG simple enough except the converter hasnt got a full image on the image in the very farthest front shows, so this group shows but not the 2 underlying images, ive tryed grouping evering and the use of layers but nothing seems to help

    forgive the noobishness of the question but this is not my area of computers

    ^^ any help i would be grateful for

  • Hi have tries to convert the AI file on the above mentioned webpage. But it did not work.
    I really need some help here!

    Thnx for your kind support!

    P.S. Using AI CS3 format on Windows XP.

  • I just wanted to say I love the intro in this article. The screenshot looks EXACTLY like what I always receive from graphic artists.

  • Great task.. and helped me at critical situation....

    long life for u!!!!

  • once again... after almost 2 years, this posting rocks! thanks a lot

  • Still works - thanks for the great post!

  • Renaming to PDF worked for me!!! thanks!!!

  • Thanks man, you helped me thanks...

  • Direct opening ai file with Irfanview and ACDC

  • If there are problems with direct opening pdf files and/or ai files with IrfanView, ACDC then install the Ghostwriter

  • you can also download software from where you see adobe reader and adobe photo shop latest version

  • Tried opening a .ai file in Adobe Reader 9.1 with no luck. Also tried changing the extension to .pdf and I'm receiving the same error.

  • Worked like a charm! You saved me tons of time and $$! You're my hero!

  • hey I tried renaming the ai file to .pdf ext it didn't work in Adobe reader.

  • This is an amazing piece of information ... saved quiet a energy and I could view what I wanted easily.
    Hats off to you buddy.

  • In order to open .ai files as a pdf they have to be saved out in Illustrator with the option "Create PDF Compatible File" checked. Otherwise they won't open in Adobe Reader. That's more than likely the cause of everyone's issues.

  • Last comment is correct - thanks Joshua. I wanted to view an AI file and do not have Illustrator. I had the person using Illustrator save it with "Create PDF Compatible File" checked and it opened fine. The first time they sent it I tried renaming with pdf extension and it would not open. After using the option I was able to "Open With" Adobe Reader and in Inkscape.

  • thanks man! that helped allot :)

  • Awesome tip. Thanks!!

  • For these tips to work, the AI file had to be saved with 'pdf compatibility' option turned enabled (many people disable it to decrease file size).

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  • Your trick worked a treat. Thanks for the post!

  • Thanks! Worked great! Life saver!

  • This is really helpfull to me. no need any softwares to install to view the .AI files. its simple thing but help me in lot.Thanks.

  • Thanks for the tips. I was looking to convert the .ai file to other known extension so i can make some changes. Greatest tip I learned is to rename the extension (.ai) to (.pdf).

    Great Work.

    Also, Thanks for referring to Inkscape.

  • Save as .eps and open in the Gimp!

  • For windows 7:
    1. Tried renaming files. Doesn't work.
    2. Installed Inkspace and imported, tried to do direct open the AI files doesn't work. Tried to open and also tried to import the EPS files in Inkspace and it doesn't work.

    Eventually had to work with a design company who could convert it for me. In case it helps, the company is:

  • The trick works, but reading the comments and the spam were highly entertaining, so thanks for that also!

  • Great post, answered all of my questions and some I didn't even know I had. Glad you're high up on the Google results! (For "ai viewer")

  • While a few have already pointed out, if the AI file was not saved as a "pdf compatible file", no matter what you do, these tips will not work.

    Now, what would be amazing would be for someone to figure out a way to open AI files that were not saved as "pdf compatible" WITHOUT having AI (Adobe Illustrator).

    While we have plenty of computers with AI, we also encounter lots of clients that have lots of artwork that they can't open. It would be nice to give them tips on how to open them should they have a "non-pdf compatible" file, rather than sending us artwork that we have not worked on, and that they got from someone else and having us re-save it and send it back.

    Anyone? Thanks!!


  • Use Ghostview to open the .AI file
    Then convert to PDF


  • Thanks for the tip about changing .ai to .pdf

  • Thanks very much for the information, finally I can open those ai files.

  • I don think u have to rename.. Jus right-clik n open wid 'adobe reader' or 'Photoshop (if u want to edit) '

  • thanks it help me greate to open some of Ai format on my pvc fönster portal.

  • I just tried changing an ai file to a pdf, and Acrobat did not open it. It was a very simple file. This tip does not work, at least for me.

  • Hello, i think that i saw you visited my web site so
    i came to “return the favor”.I am trying to find
    things to enhance my website!I suppose its ok to use some of your ideas!

  • I tried renaming files. Doesn't work.

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  • Great tip! Works well.. Thanks..

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  • As you learnd me. Switch filetype to ai then you have ai. Switching back to pdf well you get pdf. :-)) Thanks for your post. It really help me out.

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