Blog: Secrets from the Chef

Optimizing Adobe Illustrator: thrusting to the Earth orbital velocity

Dmitri JoukovAuthor: Dmitri Joukov
21 August 2007

I have once expressed my regrets about the quality of Adobe Illustrator as a software package. The speed at which this beauty eats up the system resources is mind boggling! Drawing the first icon you are pleased to learn how fast it happens. But gradually with each new layer (object, raster or vector effect…) Illustrator slows downs and shifts into the idling mode. Since in the very beginning you do not mention it, later you hope that the reboot will “fix the problem”. However things just get worse.

Back in the days of my Windows-based artistry I cherished a fantasy that when I “saddle” a MAC with an Illustrator running on it, I would work fast and seamlessly. I had no doubts because Macintosh is a platform for designers with all software apps presented by Adobe for this platform first thing. God, bless the believer! The more hopes I cherished, the harder the disappointment was on me. 

Sounds like a rather depressive start, doesn’t it? However there are some ways to help us out. My today’s note is devoted to three simple ways of making your work in Adobe Illustrator a tad more pleasant and comfortable.

Item one: remove all redundant stuff from the working files

Due to some weird reason, Adobe thinks that a regular professional user of its apps will not survive without their beautiful Symbols, Styles and Brushes.


With all this crap a half empty file occupies 700 Kbytes already. Each new file has all this beauty on the board. It’s quite clear that we have to cleanse the file first.

In the folder with plug-ins we have two mildly looking files: Adobe Illustrator Startup_RGB. ai and Adobe Illustrator Startup_CMYK. ai. These are the preliminary files for all new files (for two color modes: RGB and CMYK). All we need is to open them and cleanup the contents of the respective panels. By the way you can swap Swatches to your taste. I have a palette there from the design manual for Windows XP.

Item two: previews an raster effects

All previews in the Layers panel get updated every time when you move or change an object. When the number of objects is low, you simply do not notice it but gradually it starts taking more and more time. This process is obvious. Since it is impossible to look at these previews, we turn them off completely.

Layers Palette Options

So if the picture on the screen will take more time to update than you want, you need to pay attention to the settings of the raster effects (Effects → Document Raster Effect Settings). It is likely that in some mysterious way the resolution set there to more than than allowed 72 dpi.

Document Raster Effect Settings

Item three: saving

Everybody who worked in Illustrator once is well aware about instability of it functionality. It can fail on you any second or spoil a work-in-progress file to the FUBAR state. It is regular stuff. You have to save you work whenever you remember about it. However, the process of saving keeps more mysteries in itself than you can imagine.

It seems to be hardly credible but it is a fact! If you use Save (Ctrl+S or Cmd+S), the file gets larger upon every saving. For instance 5 Meg file after 4 savings occupies more than 7 Megs. How many times do you save per day? Use Save As and let the Force be with you!

Saving Options

When you use Save As you can see a dialog window with settings. There you can remove the ticks, Create PDF Compatible File and Use Compression. After this the saving is done by far faster. This trick has got its ups and downs: you won’t be able to open the file in Photoshop or view it in the Preview.

So what have we got? The company that invented PDF and used it in all of its apps is unable of making this format native for its vector editor. Horrible!

As you have probably mentioned, I have never noted the specific version of Illustrator anywhere in this post. All of the abovementioned advice relates to all CS1, CS2 and CS3. I do hope that these small tips would come handy in your life.

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If you are designing for print you might want to leave the raster effects at 150dpi or more…

Reply Ricardo, 3 March 2008

when i got my site finished, i´ll get back to you guys, because there are some other things that should change pretty fast. e.g. gradient-tool and so on…

thanks for that article. hope world gets better.

Reply kaiser, 13 April 2008

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