Importing Adobe Illustrator into After Effects

Control your message

Knowing what you want to animate.

Adobe Illustrator is by far the best program to use for Motion Graphics in conjunction with Adobe After Effects. Please don’t use In-Design for your motion graphic illustrations as there are serious issues with bounding boxes and groups that just don’t play well with After Effects.

Illustration and file preparation is perhaps the most important part of any motion graphic workflow. Once you import the files into After Effects it’s much harder to fix little mistakes, split layers and shapes up.

Before jumping in and separating all your elements it’s best to strategize what individual items you want to control and animate. Think of every item in terms of its anchor points, how it will hinge, rotation and scale. Because each wheel will rotate from its centre point, we will need each wheel to be on separate layers

Adobe Illustrator Layers

Everything you want to animate should be on a separate layer within Illustrator. Layers are imported into After Effects as separate objects and shapes.


Think of a car illustration. The wheels will need to rotate independently of the car body so the wheels will need to be on a separate layer to the car body. The shadow will also need to be on a separate layer as shadows do not move off the ground.

Who is Motion By Design

Motion By Design is a leading provider of animation for businesses, agencies, and governments across Australia. We also work with a selection of international clients producing content on a global stage.

We provide our clients with the best possible results across a range of visual media by understanding their business and caring about outcomes.

How to separate into layers.

There are a few ways but I will run through the simplest.

  • Select the group you want to put on a new layer
  • Cut the group (crl + X windows or cmd + x mac)
  • Create a new layer (crl + ? windows or cmd + L mac)
  • Name the layer (good organisation is important)
  • Paste the item into place on the layer (crl + shift + V windows or cmd + Shift + V mac)
  • Repeat for the other objects

Only one artboard.

Unfortunately, at this stage After Effects only imports images that are on artboard number one. It will import all of your layers across but they will be empty layers unless the illustration is within the bounds of your artboard.

Save your Illustrator file.

One last thing! Make sure you change the colour mode to RGB

  • File: document colour mode: RGB
  • Now save you’re amazing illustrations and jump into After Effects

Converting Layers to Vector Shapes.

If you want the flexibility to edit your layers within After Effects this process works most of the time, but also slows down your render time by a huge amount. At any stage you can go back into your illustrator file and adjust your illustration, alternatively you can do this:

Right click your layer in the composition and select create shapes from layers

This will create a new shape layer within After Effects and turn the visibility off on your original layer.

Continuously rasterize so you can scale

When After Effects imports your Adobe Illustrator file it rasterises it as a image (much like a JPG). So when you scale it up past 100% it actually starts to break apart and look terrible. There is a simple fix for this within After Effects. It’s called Continuously Rasterize and it’s located in your layer controls. It’s that little star icon to the right of your layer name. If you can’t see it, press F4 to toggle your layer styles. This will enable you to scale your image up and down as required. Note it will also slow down your render times, so unless you need it don’t use it.

How pro motion graphic artists do it.

Sometimes I still do it the way outlined above, especially when I have a complex illustration and don’t need to animate every individual part of it. For other times there is a plugin that a very talented guy named ‘Adam Plouff’ made called Overlord. It basically transfers your shapes from Illustrator across to After Effects with the click of a button. It works most of the time, although it can be a little buggy. Make sure both your After Effects file and Illustrator files are saved before using his plugin.

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