Pro-Tip: PDFs in Illustrator

Several years ago I stumbled onto this idea of opening PDFs in Illustrator to get some design elements out of it. I think I tried it when I realized Illustrator would easily save out to PDF.

Open a PDF in Adobe Illustrator to get a clean image, or access to design elements.

We've all had that moment when a client or ministry wants something and all they have for art is a PDF of a poster. I've been able to open them pretty successfully in Illustrator to get either a clean image (with no images or random text) or some design elements (like a logo or a title treatment).

It's not a perfect solution, but it sure comes in handy. We just used this technique for Compassion Weekend at our church to get some of their materials into our formats.

This is how you get started.

1. Drag the PDF into the Illustrator icon to open it. You'll end up with a document with one object on the art board.

2. This is where things get a little confusing. Select the object on the art board, then release clipping mask, then ungroup, then deselect everything.

3. Grab another part of the object and lather-rinse-repeat. This cycle (release clipping mask > ungroup > deselect) continues several times until most everything is able to be isolated.

Watch how elements change. Sometimes that clipping mask that we're releasing is actually needed for the design, so proceed slowly.

If some of the PDF elements were built in Photoshop, you're out of luck on those. This really shines when the PDF was created in Illustrator or InDesign.

Have any questions on this process? Ask in the comments.