Have you ever received an AI file from a designer or colleague and not sure how to open it or what to do with it? We answer all the frequently asked questions about AI files to help you open and use them as intended.
What is an AI File
The AI file format (ending in .ai) is specific to Adobe Illustrator. That is the most popular software for creating professional vector illustrations. Unlike raster graphics, which use pixels, vector files use lines, shapes, curves and colors to create images that remain sharp at any size. So when you make an image larger or smaller, it stays clear instead of blurry. If you want to learn more about the difference between raster and vector graphics, check out “Raster vs. Vector.”
AI files are single-page documents, as opposed to the PDF format, which can be used for multi-page documents.
Graphic designers typically use Illustrator to create logos, icons, illustrations, drawings and other digital illustrations. That work is usually saved as an AI file, but Illustrator users also have the option to save or export to other file formats.
Why use the AI format?
If you work in Adobe Illustrator, it is normal to save your images in AI format. This is the default option when you save a file in Illustrator. But there are other options for vector formats such as EPS, SVG, and PDF. However, if you are just working in Illustrator, it makes sense to save your files in AI format.
If you use the AI format, your file retains all its information and features. So, when you open it again later in Illustrator, all the data remains accessible and all the layers are intact. But if you saved it in another format, such as SVG, you would only keep the active drawing area and everything outside of it would be lost. Also, saving in formats other than AI would flatten the image causing the layers to be lost.
If you design in Illustrator, the AI format is the best choice for your work files. As long as you keep using Illustrator, you won’t need another file format. But if you want to share the file with someone who uses a vector editing software other than Adobe Illustrator, you could save the file in EPS or SVG format for more versatility. Both formats are widely supported. In general, EPS format is suitable for files that will be printed and SVG is better for images used online.
But even if you save or export the file in a format other than AI, you probably still want to use the AI file as a working copy, since you know all the data and layers will be preserved.
How do I open an AI file?
If you have access to Adobe Illustrator, open the program and go to File > Open. Then browse the computer and find the file where it is saved and click “open.”
How to open AI files without Illustrator
If you don’t have Adobe Illustrator, there are other ways to open AI files. Many vector design software can open AI files, but because it is Adobe’s proprietary format, other programs may not be able to fully read the file as intended. You would then probably need to convert the file to another format, such as EPS or SVG, before working with it.
Here are some of the popular programs that can open AI files.
Inkscape is a free open-source alternative to Adobe Illustrator. Not only is it free, but it is surprisingly capable. If you don’t have Illustrator and need to open an AI file you can download and use Inkscape.
You can open AI files in Inkscape, but the file will open in PDF format. When you go to File > Open and select a file with the .ai file extension, you will see a pop-up with settings for PDF importing. Choose the settings you want, click “OK,” and Inkscape will open the AI file.
When Inkscape opens an AI file, all the elements are grouped together. If you want to edit something individually press F2 to select the Edit Nodes tool and then click on the element you want to work with.
CorelDRAW is professional vector design software and is probably the best alternative to Adobe Illustrator. If you have CorelDRAW, you can open AI files by going to File > Open. There is no import process as in Inkscape. CorelDRAW simply opens the AI file and you can start working with it.
Affinity Designer is another graphics program for vector files, but it is unique because in addition to working with vector graphics, it can also be used for raster graphics. You can open the AI files in Affinity Designer, as long as the AI file is saved with PDF content (which is the default setting in Illustrator).
Photoshop is Adobe’s popular software for photo editing and pixel-based graphics. Adobe Photoshop can open AI files, but the image is rasterized, meaning it is no longer a vector image. Instead, it uses pixels as a bitmap image and loses the ability to scale to any size without pixelation.
GIMP is a free alternative to Photoshop, so it is also pixel-based. Like Photoshop, GIMP can open AI files, but vector images are rasterized during the process.
Converting AI files to EPS or SVG
Other vector file formats such as EPS and SVG are more compatible with a wide range of software and applications. If you want to pass an AI file to other people who may not have Illustrator you may want to convert it to EPS or SVG format for improved compatibility. So if you have been given an AI file that you cannot open, you may need to convert it so that you can open the file and work with it.
We’ll look at two different ways to convert the file.
If you have access to Illustrator
If you have Adobe Illustrator, the easiest way to convert a file to EPS or SVG is to save the file from Illustrator in one of those formats. When you open the file in Illustrator and go to Save As, select EPS or SVG file extension from the drop-down list instead of the default AI format.
If you don’t have access to Illustrator
If you don’t have Illustrator, you must use a third-party utility to convert the file for you. You can use tools such as CloudConvert or Convertio to easily convert AI files to other formats such as EPS or SVG. After it is converted, you can open and edit the file in your favorite vector software.
If you’re not sure which file format to use, check out our comparison between EPS and SVG.
The AI format is the best option for image files edited in Adobe Illustrator because it is the proprietary file format created by Adobe Systems. AI files retain all of Illustrator’s functions. However, opening and editing AI files can be tricky if you don’t have access to Illustrator. Using the tools and resources discussed in this article, you can open the file or convert the original file to another format for more versatility.