AI: Exporting a layered PSD from Illustrator


Illustrator has an option to export a file as a .psd file while keeping layers intact. First, you need to keep one thing in mind, you need to decide first if you will be working on it in RGB or CMYK colorspace in photoshop. Illustrator only lets you export layered psd’s from RGB to RGB or from CMYK to CMYK, not across colorspaces.

For instance, to export a file as a layered RGB file you first need to check if your Document Color Mode within Illustrator is set to the correct value. Go to File>Document Color Mode and make shure it is set to RGB.


Then make sure you have a few layers to export, and keep in mind that multiple objects on the same layer will export as one layer. If you need to break down your illustration to a few layers you can use the Layers palette to create new layers and cut/paste your objects on the new layers (keep in mind that the Paste in Front & Paste in Back functions in the Edit menu will paste objects in exactly the same location on a new layer as they were cut from).


After you make shure you have some layers to export, go to File>Export… and in the dialog box select Photoshop (psd) from the Format dropdown list. Then name your file and click Export.

Now, “Photoshop Export Options” should pop up and you can select a variety of options. At the top of the dialog box you should see a Color Model dropdown list. Make shure this is set to the same setting as the Document Color Mode setting if you want to export as layers. We are now looking at RGB, so select that from the list. The same dropdown menu also has an option to export to Grayscale, using that setting will have the option to export to layers no matter what Document Color Mode you are working on.


Make sure you select Photoshop CS2 from the “Export As” dropdown list (or CS depending on your version), and also make sure Write Layers is selected. If you have some text you can choose to keep it editable within Photoshop by selecting Preserve Text Editability.


Click OK and you’re done.

Now open your exported file in Photoshop and make sure it has your layers intact.

CMYK exporting works the same way, just make sure you have it set correctly in Document Color Mode and select CMYK in the Color Model dropdown list.

UPDATED: It has come to my attention that in some cases Illustrator will give an error while exporting or Photoshop will give an error while opening such a file. In this case it may be that you have a bunch of items around your artboard that you don’t want to export but Illustrator will try to do it anyway.

It is important to remember that Illustrator will not only confine the PSD export to the artboard, but will export everything within the file. Before exporting a PSD you could try cleaning up your file and get rid of things you don’t need to export that are perhaps around the artboard. If not, chances are you’ll get an export error.

UPDATE 2: Since this post has been quite popular and people are having trouble with this I have gone through this process again with CS3.
Illustrator CS3 will export a single layer to PSD to a photoshop layer group. That means all of your art on a single layer in illustrator will export as a layer group with sublayers intact. However if you have compound paths or open shapes on some layers, exporting will likely merge those layers. To export your elements to layers, simply group the ones you want to have as a layer (yes group single shapes too), ann export as shown above. I will post a revised version of this with step by step images soon.


52 Responses to “AI: Exporting a layered PSD from Illustrator”

  1. fadzly Says:

    I’ve got some tips to improve the performance of photoshop on one of my posts here

    Nice blog you’ve got here. Cheers!

  2. RUDEWORKS » Archivo » Exportar un PSD con capas desde Illustrator Says:

    […] De AI a PSD conservando las capas. Archivado en: […]

  3. BertC Says:

    Did everything, RGB/RGB with write layers and “preserve text…” I still couldnt open the illustrator exported “.psd” file without getting “scratch disk full error” in PS CS2. I have 5gb ram and over 30gb of free scratch disk space in my dual 2GHz G5 (OSX 10.4.8) so I dont think it should be a problem opening a 300dpi letter sized exported 8 mb psd file. I have files that I currently work on that are over 1gb with no problems opening or saving.

    Illustrator performance as it goes to later versions is also a big dissapointment to me, seems Adobe just piles features on top making a once excellent tool (

  4. BertC Says:

    hmm, my comment must’ve hit the post character limit 😕 here is the continuation…

    … (

  5. Halldór Andri Bjarnason Says:

    BertC: Thanks for your comment.
    Illustrator exports a PSD file with all your elements from Illustrator, not just those you have on your artboard. If you have a lot of elements around your artboard those will be exported as well, making a very large canvas seize for Photoshop. You could try cleaning up your file leaving only the elements you wish to export and export again. Hopefully this will help you, but I don’t have the solution for your specific problem without seeing it for myself, but my best guess is that this is the case.

  6. 10th Way Says:

    Try to remove all Photoshop temporary files from your scratch disk.

  7. Yolanda Says:

    I’m trying to export as psd however this error pops up in illustrator ‘Some containers in the AI doument have been flattened’ despite selecting the “Write layers’ option. How do i work around that?

  8. Rob Cubbon - freelance designer London Says:

    This is a great tip, thanks alot!
    Worth noting that you can open a PSD in Illustrator with layers intact and text editable just by going File > Open!
    Nice website!

  9. John Bucks Says:

    Gonna give it a go later this evening with these tips. I thought I did the exact thing you describe, but maybe I missed something.

  10. Eddie Says:

    I am getting the same error as Yolanda. It is generating one layer in my exported PSD when I have 5 layers in Illustrator doc. Any ideas?

  11. Dori Says:

    Eddie and Yolanda: It’s impossible to say what is going on with your export without knowing how your layers are set up in illustrator. Perhaps it has to do with layers and layer groups. Illustrator will not export layer groups as such to psd layers, only objects defined on root layers. Layer groups will export as one layer.
    Also, multiple layers within a clipping mask will export as one layer.

    Perhaps you could try breaking your object down into root layers and try it again. What i am supplying here is just an inital tip for the procedure, and of course results may vary.

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  13. robin Says:

    The error: ‘Some containers in the AI doument have been flattened’ is probably caused by the Attributes (fill or stroke) of some elements being set to overprint. Check those-

  14. Zoltan Says:

    Dori –

    That’s not accurate. I’ve just successfully exported 6 out of 7 illustrator pages with sub-layers to PSD with layers. All of a sudden the 7th document is exporting to only one layer. nothing has changed.

  15. Zoltan Says:

    Update! Problems exporting as layered photoshop from Adobe Illustrator CS2

    Found the cause of our dilemma. Actually one of our designers, Blair, found it. A very complex illustration was temporarily removed from the page and then the export was successfully layered into Photoshop. Then we simply pasted the illustration onto a new layer in the PSD file. My advise is to poke around and delete either complex images or maybe an unusual font so that when you export – make sure that the “text editabilty” selection is NOT greyed out. Which was happening to us.

  16. Tony Says:

    I’m working with huge tiff files and I need to make a vector layer on top of them. I’ve been opening the tiffs with Illustrator, applying the vectors on a separate layer and then exporting the files in psd format…Works just as described here. But some of the files are so big that I get a “not enough memory” error when I try to export. Any ideas of how to get around this?

  17. Tony Says:

    adding to my post…I don’t need to maintain the editability of the vector layer, so I’ve been rasterizing it before I export.

  18. Bryan Says:

    In order to export an .ai with multiple layers to a .psd with layers preserved, you need to resize both the dimensions of your artboard (File:Document Setup) and the scale of the layers (Select All, then Object:Transform:Scale… or manually scale holding the “Shift” key). For example, if you ultimately need the final image at 600 width and 400 height, then set your artboard dimensions to this, and then scale your layers inside the new artboard dimensions. Then export as a .psd file (make sure you match RGB or CMYK and select “write layers”). You can then export as a .psd file with layers preserved.

  19. Jay Says:

    Thank you, this has been a great help!

  20. Snevi Says:

    Taken from Adobe Site:

    Write Layers
    Exports groups, compound shapes, nested layers, and slices as separate, editable Photoshop layers. Nested layers that are more than five levels deep are merged into a single Photoshop layer. Select Maximum Editability to export transparent objects (that is, objects with an opacity mask, a constant opacity less than 100%, or a blending mode other than Normal) as live, editable Photoshop layers.

  21. Eu Says:

    Same with Tony, I can only export (3 layers) layered psd files from illustrator at a 300 resolution on an 8×11 inch artboard size. If I go higher, I get that not enough memory error. But if I’m using Photoshop, I can save my psd work (10 or more layers) at 15×25 feet at 300 res. Wierd.

  22. Bobette Says:

    I’m having the same problem–Illustrator CS2 keeps merging my PSD layers. I still have Illstrator 9 installed, I guess I’m going to have to open my illustrator files in there and resave them.

  23. Bobette Says:

    I’m very upset at Adobe about this. I was using Illustrator 9 and have been on pins and needles waiting to get this new version. And I was so impressed with the things it does–but tonight, I’m disappointed. The program is useless to me if I can’t save multiple layers. Ancient Illustrator 9 had no problems whatsoever doing so. It makes me wonder what Adobe was thinking when they made this change.

    BTW, reopening the file in 9 didn’t work, because it wouldn’t recognize the newer version. What a bummer! The tips I’ve found here didn’t work either. My work does not go off the edge of the artboard, and I only have a few simple layers–as I was only testing the program for the first time and the file was set to RGB with the correct settings.

  24. NO2P Says:

    Export only the area you want by making a bounding box around your artwork, and add crops this way : Edit > Crop Area > Make. It’ll export only that section, layered or not.

  25. Mike Says:

    with the saving layers to psd I just went as high as I could in the chain of layers (root) and then pressed shift/control/G until it was all ungrouped and then exported…worked perfectly for me after trying several methods of reataining the layers in CS3.

  26. Tariq Says:

    I was just looking for a solution to my exported psd file flattening out, and I discovered that the main culprit for this was text being nested into to many “subfolder”.

    For example, I had a main layer, then another layer to organize a certain section of my graphics, and then the text was group with another object, and somehow the text was 2 more “folders” deep.

    When I brought the text out of those useless folders, the file exported with no problem.

    I figure this out by hiding layers and exporting until I figure out what was the problem layer.


  27. Toby Says:

    Thanks Robin for the ‘overprint fill’ tip. Its just saved me binning a file.


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  29. matt Says:

    I was getting the not enough memory error, too, and I tried two things, one was to create a rectangle object and set it as the crop margins, just like someone here suggested. The other was I shortened my very long file name. One of them worked.

  30. Nadja - Graphic Designer London Says:

    Thanks, this has been of great help!

  31. Alejandro Says:

    selecting with the crop tool was the right way to go , so i do not get out of memory error, thanks for all

  32. Zenman Says:

    If you export to PSD for slicing purposes to create a website (like me), then a few things are important.

    In AI: set up your artboard and rulers to pixels, give your artboard the width of the website you have in mind, work in RGB.
    Select the area you want to export with the crop-tool in AI.
    Choose export to PSD as described in this post. One important option is not mentioned but you have to select the 72ppi option in order to keep the pixel-width unchanged (choosing 150ppi more than doubles the size in PS).

  33. Chew Says:

    Holy Moses! That overprint issue was annoying me to no end.

    Always assumed it was due to too many layers in my AI document. Now I know better.


  34. Photoshop Clipping Path (US) Says:

    Inspirational to say the least! Some gorgeous imaginations at work!

  35. asha Says:

    Thanks so much for this post and the discussion in the comment thread. You’ve helped solve my problem 🙂

  36. Bytedust Says:

    Did did the trick for me to prevent layers been merged after exporting AI into PSD

  37. john cope Says:

    Also…I got this problem…seems many objects in my documents had a fill which was in “over print” mode I had to remove this fill and change it for some normal…check your fills

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  41. Says:

    Thanks a lot for taking some time in order to compose “AI: Exporting a
    layered PSD from Illustrator SeventySeven”. Thanks for a second time ,

  42. Peshan Says:

    Yolanda Says:
    Saturday, July 14, 2007 at 18:59

    I’m trying to export as psd however this error pops up in illustrator ‘Some containers in the AI doument have been flattened’ despite selecting the “Write layers’ option. How do i work around that?

    I had the same problem in CS5, and i solved it by getting rid of any clipping mask i had in my layers, so hope that helps…

  43. bevouliin Says:

    Hello, Great Post! I was a Corel Draw user, and now already moved to Adobe Illustrator.
    I am still learning and making Vector art for my WebSite using adobe illustrator.
    This guide help me to understand more about Layer in adobe illustrator. Thank you very much 🙂

  44. Adam Says:

    Is there a way to batch automate this?

    I tried recording an action, and it worked for one file, but when I attempt to batch the process, it exports an AI, EPS, and PSD for each image…

  45. Xandro Lombardi Says:

    Thanks for your tip here – and all the other tips from everyone else.

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  48. jamesshanahben Says:

    Clipping masks are causing the problem for me. I had to release all clipping masks for the PSDs to export with layers. Only problem was that I had to revise the design, which wasn’t easy.

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