How to Repair an Illustrator File

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Things go wrong. Crucial Illustrator files become corrupt; common causes include a failing drive, damaged media, viruses/malware, power surges, insufficient system resources or a drive that became unavailable during use. Unfortunately, you may not know the file is damaged until you need it. When this happens, you can pay a specialist to recover the data, but this can be expensive and success is not guaranteed. Attempting to recover the data yourself can save both time and money.

  • Save the file to your local (C) drive, which will decrease the potential for issues. Open the file in other versions of Illustrator if possible. Placing the file (using the “File > Place” command) into a blank document may also work, although it may require some minor edits to restore the file to its previous specifications (ungrouping, resizing, re-linking source files or changing color mode).

  • Open the file (if possible) and print as a Postscript file by choosing "File > Print," then choose "Adobe Postscript File" as your printer and click "Save." Open the exported PS file in Illustrator.

  • Select “Object > Path > Cleanup”, then go to the “Layers Panel” menu and select “Paste Remembers Layers.” Select the artwork and copy, then paste into a new file.

  • Launch Adobe Acrobat (any version except Reader) and attempt to open the Illustrator file from within Acrobat. If it opens, make a minor edit using the “Select” tool (if possible). Save as a PDF and an EPS,and export as an EPS by clicking "File > Export > Postscript > Encapsulated Postscript." Open these files in Illustrator, or place them into a blank file if opening fails.

  • Eliminate potentially corrupted elements (swatches, brushes, symbols, links, fonts) one at a time and save the file (under another name) to isolate the issue; reinstall the fonts, create outlines, select all elements and convert to process black. Delete all imported elements and custom elements, such as symbols, and remove custom brush strokes.

  • Open Illustrator (the same program version that was used to create the corrupt file); save a blank file in the same format (AI or EPS). Close the file and change the extension of both to TXT (not necessary on Mac) and open in a text editor, such as Notepad. Note the point in the corrupt file where the valid data begins: it will be numbers and letters rather than symbols. In the good file, find “%%BeginData” and copy all data before it, then replace the bad data in the bad file. Save, close, and change the file extension back to AI or EPS, and try opening.

  • Open the file in Photoshop or place into a new blank page in InDesign. This may enable you to salvage text or critical file elements, which you can export back into Illustrator.

  • A final resort is to purchase a third-party program or service that salvages damaged files. Some options include Recovery Toolbox, Bad Copy Pro and Corrupted File Repair (see Resources).

Tips & Warnings

  • To minimize risk of future damage, save as both an AI and an EPS (and create outlines in one of the files), save onto your local drive and back up regularly, keep imported elements in the same folder as the Illustrator file and keep backup copies of fonts. Make backup copies of files saved onto media, as its quality degrades over time. Save files on the local drive while in use; only move them to another drive after edits are completed.




  • Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images

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