How to Take Vector Paths from Photoshop into Illustrator

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Many times in the past, I found that I wanted to take a vector path from Adobe Photoshop and somehow get it to Illustrator for further use.

There are many great and free Photoshop custom shapes out there, many of which might be more useful to you in Adobe Illustrator if that's what you prefer. That's what Illustrator is for, right? Vectors.

Transferring different elements of Photoshop to Illustrator may be a bit difficult task, but it's actually simple when you know what to do. The custom shape tool is an overall great tool for creating content for all types of different editing software.

Related reading: Free Photoshop Custom Shapes

Photoshop custom shapes come in vector format, just like drawing with the rectangle tool (or other shapes). Unfortunately, there aren't as many custom shapes available for Illustrator in the form of symbols (at least not that I have encountered).

I want to show you an easy way to get a vector path from Photoshop to Illustrator so you can take advantage of all those custom shapes available out there and possibly save you time drawing in Illustrator.

Take Vectors from Photoshop to Illustrator

Export Vector Paths from Photoshop to Illustrator

Photoshop has a nifty option to export a vector path for use in Illustrator (basically, save a path from your Photoshop file as an AI file).

For the longest time, I thought that I either had a buggy version of Photoshop or I just wasn't doing something right. Whenever I opened the Illustrator file that Photoshop output, I saw a blank canvas. Turns out that the path was there; it just had no stroke or fill, rendering it transparent.

There are many reasons you might want to do this, and it's a shame you can't just drag a layer between the two apps. There are also many ways to create vectors in Photoshop, but I want to show you the handy Custom Shape tool. If you were going to draw a vector shape to use in Illustrator, you'd just draw it in Illustrator. We're doing this to save time.

The fact is there are lots more free resources out there available for Photoshop, custom shapes included. A Photoshop custom shape is a vector shape similar to a symbol in Illustrator, but you can draw them instantly by selecting the shape you want (using Photoshop's Custom Shape tool), not unlike a brush. You can also find and download Custom Shapes and install them in your Photoshop presets, just like a brush set.

Open a Photoshop Document

Open a new Photoshop document and select the “Custom Shape Tool.” (under the rectangle tool popout menu)

Custom shape tool

Create a Vector Shape or Path

Select which custom shape you want to create:

Selecting a shape

If you don't see the shape you're looking for in the dialog, you can load more of Photoshops Default Custom Shape Libraries and look around. Or you can download and install your own, as I mentioned earlier.

Default custom shapes available in Photoshop

The Custom Shape Tool has a few handy options that might help you draw more precisely.

Custom shape options

Once you have your shape selected, draw it on the Photoshop canvas.

Shape drawn on the canvas

Exporting from the Photoshop File into Illustrator

Almost done. Now, make sure your vector mask is selected by checking your layers palette.

Layers palette

Then go to File > Export > Paths to Illustrator.

Export paths to Illustrator

Photoshop is going to save your vector as its own Illustrator file. So, select a filename and location, and verify that you have the right vector mask from the dropdown. Click save.

Shape 1 vector mask

Move to Illustrator

Now go open the AI file in Illustrator that you just saved from Photoshop. You'll probably notice it looks like a blank artboard, but do a quick select all (command + A Mac, Control + A PC), and you'll notice that your shape is there, just without a fill or stroke. Photoshop did exactly what it said it would. It exported the path and nothing more.

File opened in Illustrator

There you go! If you find interesting Custom Shapes for Photoshop, don't worry, you can still use them in Illustrator too. It's way faster than drawing them by hand. Now you can manipulate your shape and use it in your Illustrator designs.

Your new shape
Using the shape in a design

In closing, I personally haven't had much luck exporting more than one path at a time. Tips are welcome because this is by no means a refined method. Many users are unaware of the other functions the custom shape tool can perform. It's great when Photoshop and Illustrator play nicely together.