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How to Take Vector Paths from Photoshop into Illustrator

Many times in the past I had found that I wanted to take a vector path from Photoshop (CS) and somehow get it to Illustrator for further use. There are lots of great and free Photoshop custom shapes out there, many of which might be more useful to you in Illustrator, if that's what you prefer. That's what Illustrator is for, right? Vectors.

Photoshop custom shapes come in vector format, just like drawing with the rectangle tool. 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 into Illustrator so you can take advantage of all those free custom shapes available out there, and possibly save you some time drawing.

Take Vectors from Photoshop to Illustrator


I'm using Photoshop CS

Photoshop has a nifty option to export a vector path for use in Illustrator (basically, save a path from your Phtotshop file as an AI). For the longest time I thought that I either had a buggy version of Photoshop, or I just wasn't doing something right. Everytime 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 lots of reasons you might want to do this, and It's a shame you can't just drag a layer between the 2 apps. (Maybe you can in CS2 I'm not sure, but not CS and earlier) There are also lots of ways to create vectors in Photoshop, but I want to show you the handy Custom Shape tool, because let's face it. If you were going to actually 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 which shape you want, not unlike a brush. (using Photoshop's Custom Shape tool) You can also find and download Custom Shapes and install them in your Photoshop presets, just like you would a brush set.

There are lots of free Custom Shapes at Brusheezy, but make sure you read the usage terms given by the authors.

Try it:

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

Take Vectors from Photoshop to Illustrator

Select which custom shape you want to create:

Take Vectors from Photoshop to Illustrator

If you don't see a shape you are looking for, you can load more of Photoshops Default Custom Shape Libraries, and look around. Or you can download and install your own, like I mentioned earlier.

Take Vectors from Photoshop to Illustrator

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

Take Vectors from Photoshop to Illustrator

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

Take Vectors from Photoshop to Illustrator

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

Take Vectors from Photoshop to Illustrator

and go to File > Export > Paths to Illustrator.

Take Vectors from Photoshop to Illustrator

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

Take Vectors from Photoshop to Illustrator

Now go over to Illustrator and open your AI file that you just saved from Photoshop. You will probably notice that it looks like a blank artboard, but do a quick select all (command + A Mac, Control + A PC) and you will 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.

Take Vectors from Photoshop to 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 just a little harder. Still way faster than drawing them by hand. Now you can start to manipulate your shape and use it in your Illustrator designs.

Take Vectors from Photoshop to Illustrator
Take Vectors from Photoshop to Illustrator

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.

Download the finished file here if you'd like it.

I'm the editor-in-chief of I'm a designer and developer by day, and a writer and musician when the feeling strikes. I enjoy vintage advertisements and puzzles with an absurd amount of pieces. Follow me on Twitter.

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