Using Inkscape with Illustrator files

 I was recently asked to do a quick localization project for a certain non-profit where I received a business card template in Adobe Illustrator format and had to create a Japanese version of the card for their local representative here. I don’t own a personal copy of Adobe Illustrator (CS5 list price in Japan 84,000 yen or about US$1000.00) so I faced a decision. I could do one of four things:

1. Download the trial version, use it for this short project then uninstall
2. Pay about $500 for the academic version (but would probably end up with Japanese software)
3. Download a pirate version from a torrent site (OK, this is not the right option for a Christ-follower)
4. Turn to open source alternatives

Option #1 looked good but it only works once per PC and also leaves registry bloat behind after the uninstall. Because I like open source software (always free) and because I happened to know about a great alternative to Illustrator, I decided to go with option #4.

Tools required:





How I did it

After installing the lastest Inkscape (currently at version 48.1) I found that Inkscape imports ai files natively pretty well. I was able to import the Illustrator CS4 file containing the business card template with no problems. I did have to specify the size, so I used a standard Japanese business card size. The file opened up in Inkscape and I was able to edit text and vector graphics. However I noticed that there was no export to Adobe Illustrator .ai format built in. I was surprised because I thought I had used Inkscape to export .ai files in the past. After a quick web search I learned that the .ai export feature was removed in Inkscape version .47. This is because Adobe Illustrator now (since version 10) supports importing .svg files, which are Inkscape’s native file format. This is good news but in my experience some Mac-based graphics designers aren’t too great with handling different file formats. So I was pleased to find that a separate open-source project exists who’s whole mission is to provide a convertor between the various vector-based graphic formats in existence. Not only that, but this project includes a patch script to run on Inkscape 47.x or 48.x which adds the specific functionality I was looking for. The project is called sk1project and the software is called uniconvertor.

10 thoughts on “Using Inkscape with Illustrator files

  1. I’m involved in research and had the same dilemma you posted! I used a trial version of Ai the first time I was creating a poster for a scientific conference, but of course you can only do that once. This year, I’m using inkscape, and I’m mostly happy, though there are some little quirks.

    For the text problems where letters appear one on top of the other, I’d recommend selecting the text with the text tool and BEFORE doing any editing, go to text–>remove manual kerns. This might change the text box configuration a bit, but it will make it possible to edit the text.

    Also, in order to make text that wraps around when you want it to (instead of pressing enter all the time), you need to choose the “flow text into frame” option from the menus.

    Hope this helps.

  2. I’ve never used Inkscape before, but I have used Illustrator. Some of the problems with text editing might arise from text that has been converted to outline in Illustrator. You can take ordinary text and convert it to an object with anchor points so that you can modify it like any other shape. However, after being converted to an outline object, it’s not really text any more. It still looks like text though.

  3. Hi there, I’m using linux and have installed the different components needed for uni-convertor. But when I click on save as in Inkscape there is still no option to save as ai. Am I looking in the wrong place? If it just doesn’t work on my setup, that’s fine, I can do without it, but if it’s a matter of me clicking the wrong options, then would be interested to know about it. Thanks.

  4. I might be wrong but if I remember correctly, Inkscape might not carry over all of the text properties and might even just convert the text to a set of paths (lines) so you cannot edit the imported text. This is the usual case when you import from another file types and the program does not know how to handle what you have imported with its native capabilities. Another possibility is that the font used to create the text is not on your computer. Whatever the case might be, I recommend trying to recreate the text/effect natively in Inkscape AND once you are done, having someone with Illustrator make sure that everything you did works OK on his/her side.

    Not much of a solution but perhaps this might save you time and some hairs on your head.

    All the best!

    Nyasha (user of both Ai and Inkscape)

  5. I’m having the same problem editing text. Some text I can edit just fine but other text doesn’t work so well. Best way to describe it is all the letters are on top of one another.

  6. Hey Ray,

    Thanks for your immediate reply. I’m sorry I didn’t know you had replied here, ’cause I kept checking my e-mail’s Inbox for your reply. I forgot that I had posted my question on your website. 🙂 I remembered today, so I came back to check.

    Regarding the text feature in Inkscape, yeah, I’m pretty comfortable with that. I know how to create new text within a file, edit it after I’ve created it, etc. What I’m unable to do, however, is edit the existing text in a .ai template which has been created by someone else. When I open such a template in Inkscape, each letter of a word therein shows up as an individual object, rather than the word showing up as something I can highlight and edit. In such a case, is there any way to edit the text like you would, had you created it from scratch? Is there any way to edit such text in a way that all the properties of that text (e.g. color, font, size, shape)remain unchanged, but only the letters change?

    Thanks again.


  7. Reg,
    In Inkscape you need to select the correct tool before you try to select an object. So first select the text tool from the menu bar (or press F8) then see if you can select the text object you want to edit. As to how to edit the text it depends on what you want to do – there are many tutorial on Inkscape on the web. One other place to check is the help menu | Inkscape manual. Under section 9 is a section on working with text. I used the text tab for longer text – it was easier than trying to edit text in place.

    Hope this helps,

  8. Hi there Ray,

    I came across your article “Using Inkscape with Illustrator files” in my search for how to edit an Adobe Illustrator template using Inkscape. In your article, you state, “The file opened up in Inkscape and I was able to edit text and vector graphics.”

    I able to open an .ai template within Inkscape, but am unable to edit the text, as pure text. The text shows up as Inkscape. I admit I am a novice user of Inkscape. Can you please tell me EXACTLY how went about editing the text?



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