How to Import Adobe Illustrator Layers into After Effects

One thing I love about using Adobe software is the integration between apps because it’s just so convenient. For example, I can animate a vector created in Adobe Illustrator using After Effects. Of course, it only works if you prepare the files in the right way. 

Animation requires all the details and when one step goes wrong, uh-oh, it can be a mess or simply wouldn’t work at all. Layers can be tricky to work with. That’s why it’s really important to organize the .ai file before using it in After Effects.

So why would you want to import layers instead of the file itself and what’s the difference? After Effect doesn’t read groups or sub-layers from the .ai file, so if you want to animate a specific part of a vector, it has to be on a separate layer. 

In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to prepare and import an Adobe Illustrator file into After Effects. 

How to Prepare Adobe Illustrator File for After Effects  

Preparing a .ai file for After Effect basically means separating layers in Adobe Illustrator for After Effects. I know, some of you already organized your work using layers, but for using the objects in After Effects, there’s more to it. 

Having images and text in different layers isn’t enough. Depending on which part you want to animate, sometimes you even need to separate the path or each letter into its own layer. Let me show you an example. 

I copied and pasted this logo to a new document, so everything is on the same layer. 

Now I’ll show you how to prepare this vector for editing in After Effects. 

Note: the screenshots are taken from Adobe Illustrator CC 2022 Mac version. Windows or other versions can look different. 

Step 1: Select the vector, right-click and choose Ungroup.

Step 2: Open the Layers panel from the overhead menu Window > Layers

Step 3: Click on the folded menu and choose Release to Layers (Sequence)

You’ll see the sub-layers (Layer 2 to 7) of Layer 1 including shape, text, and paths. There are parts of Layer 1. 

Step 4: Hold the Shift key, select Layer 2 to Layer 7 and drag them out of the Layer 1 group. 

As you can see, now they don’t belong to Layer 1 anymore, each object is in its own layer and Layer 1 is empty. You can delete it. 

I do recommend naming your layers so that it’ll be easier for you to organize and locate the object when you work on them in After Effect.

Step 5: Go to File > Save As and save the file as .ai. 

Now you can import the file into After Effect in just a couple of steps.

2 Steps to Import Adobe Illustrator Layers into After Effects

You’ve already done the “hard work” above, now all you have to do is open the Illustrator layers in After Effects.

Step 1: Open After Effects, open or create a new project. 

Step 2: Go to File > Import > File or use the keyboard shortcut Command + I (or Ctrl + I on Windows). 

Find the ai file you want to import and change the Import As type to Composition – Retain Layer Sizes

Click Open and you should see the layers as individual files in After Effects.

That’s it. 

FAQs

Here are some more questions and solutions related to working with .ai files in After Effects. 

Why can’t I see my Illustrator layers in After Effects?

The main reason should be that your .ai file isn’t separated into layers. You can follow the method above to prepare your artwork for After Effect. 

Another reason might be that you didn’t choose Composition – Retain Layer Sizes as the Import As type. 

How do I convert Illustrator layers to shapes in After Effects?

When you imported the Illustrator layers into After Effects, they show as each individual ai. File. Simply select the Illustrator file and go to the overhead menu Layer > Create > Create Shapes from Vector Layer.

Can you copy and paste from Illustrator to After Effects?

Yes, you can copy a vector in Adobe Illustrator and paste it into After Effects. However, you won’t be able to animate the pasted vector. 

Conclusion

Importing a .ai file into After Effects isn’t exactly the same as importing layers. The difference is you can animate the layers but you can’t animate the “unprepared” file. An important thing to keep in mind is that you should choose the Composition instead of Footage as the import type.

About June Escalada
Graduated from Creative Advertising major, worked more than eight years as a graphic designer focusing in branding and Illustration. Yes, Adobe Illustrator is my best friend and I’m passionate about art and design.

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