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How to Convert a PDF to Vector in Adobe Illustrator

Updated July 19, 2017

Many applications secure information inside a PDF. It is known for being a dependable electronic format that can deliver the information you need the way you need it. The PDF opens effortlessly in the Adobe Illustrator vector drawing application. Vector art is resolution independent, therefore the art prints at the resolution of the output device. Converting a document to vector can eliminate potential printing problems such as trapping.

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  1. Go to "File" menu, then "Open" and select a multiple-page PDF that contains text and images and/or graphics. From the "Open PDF" window use the arrows to select the page you want to open and click "OK." Only one page can be opened at a time.

  2. Go to the "File" menu, then "Document Color Mode." There are two options: RGB colour mode and CMYK colour mode. The PDF will be in RGB. Change it to CMYK.

  3. Click the Type Tool from the tools panel. Place the cursor among the text by clicking to begin editing and styling the text.

  4. Click the Selection Tool to select an image or graphic in the document. Click on the image or graphic. Go to "Object," "Live Trace," then "Tracing Options." Choose the best colour mode from the Adjustments section for the image or graphic. The options include "Color," "Black and White" or "Grayscale." Then click "Trace" to convert the images and graphics to vector.

  5. Click the Direct Selection tool to select the text. Click off the artboard, hold down the mouse and begin dragging the Direct Selection tool to select all the text. If you select images or graphics, it's OK because those are already in vector format. Do the next step only when you're done writing and editing text because you cannot edit vector text.

  6. Click "Type" on the menu, then "Create Outlines." If you need to undo outlining the text, go to "Edit," then "Undo Create Outlines." Continue making the PDF vector, then go to "File" and "Save." Only click "Save As" if you want to save the page separately from the multi-page document.

  7. Tip

    If a PDF's colour mode is RGB, change it to CMYK, which is the colour mode for Adobe Illustrator. The program cannot trace images and graphics while the document is RGB.


    When using Live Trace, remember large images can take longer to trace or preview.

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About the Author

Payton Pritchard is a writer, graphic designer and adjunct instructor. She got her start in journalism in 1996 writing and designing newsletters and writing for newspaper before switching to radio news for eight years. Pritchard has a Bachelor of Arts and an Associate of Applied Science in journalism and graphic design from Truman State University and Sullivan College of Technology and Design, respectively.

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