My Top Five Methods to Reduce File Sizes in Adobe Illustrator

How to Reduce File Size-01

“My files are massive! Why are they like this?” 

“Our files are so hard to manage. What is making them so big!”

“Is there no way to make my file smaller?”

I get these questions all the time, often from fashion designers in areas like intimate apparel where they use intricate designs and embellishments like scanned laces, pattern brushes and pattern swatches. Brushes and pattern swatches are two of the most memory-heavy functions or tools you can use in Adobe Illustrator (especially if they’re very intricate). Add in a few detailed raster images, and your file can easily go from a very manageable 1 or 2MB document to a 10 or 20+MB nightmare!

Sometimes, it really just ‘is what it is’. But most of the time, these issues can be managed, and larger files can be reduced. It starts with smart, efficient drawing techniques and a few helpful Illustrator tools and options.

Before making use of any of the Illustrator methods listed below, be sure you are as efficient as possible when you’re drawing (or Image Tracing, if you’re converting a drawing). Using the least amount of points when drawing with the Pen (or Pencil) Tool will help reduce the number of points in your document (which also helps to keep the file size low.) And if you’re using Image Trace, be sure to make good use of the Advanced settings so that your tracing uses the least amount of paths and anchors.



If you’ve got that part handled, keep reading for my top five methods to help you further reduce your files.

1) Cleaning up the document. As I mentioned previously, reducing the number of points in your document helps to keep the file size smaller, so get rid of any extra unnecessary anchor points. Use the “Clean Up” function to remove stray points, unpainted object (objects with no color), and stray text from your document. If any exists, these objects will be removed. If not, Illustrator will show a message that no clean up was needed.


2) Deleting Unused Panel Items. You may not know this, but keeping extra brushes, pattern swatches, symbols and other panel items that are not in use on your document also increases the file size. So make sure you get rid of them before you do your final save. Use the “Delete Unused Panel Items” automated action to delete any unused Swatches, Graphic Styles, and Symbols. If you need to hold onto any of these items, save them in your CC Libraries instead.


3) Use Linked vs. Embedded files. If you are using raster images (.psd, .jpg, .tif, .png, etc.) in your Illustrator documents, try linking the files instead of embedding them. When files are linked, they are not saved within the document. Illustrator makes them visible when you open the file, but because the rasterized image isn’t actually saved in the document, the file size doesn’t increase.

Note that you must keep the raster image in the same place (i.e. saved in the same folder) it was originally when you first linked it. Otherwise, if you move the raster file, say to a different folder, you’ll get an error message when you re-open your Illustrator document asking you to re-place the file.


4) Check your options before you save. This is a big one because most of us just save our documents using the default Illustrator settings. In the Illustrator Options window that appears when you are saving a document, uncheck “Create PDF compatible file”. This is a helpful option if you need to use this file with Adobe Acrobat, but you can always save a separate PDF document, if necessary. Also, be sure “Use Compression” is checked to ensure Illustrator is compressing the file as much as possible.


5) Turning fonts into Vector Objects. Outlining fonts not only reduce font compatibility issues, but it also helps to reduce the size of your file. Note that this is NOT something you want to do if you need update the text later on. (Once you outline your fonts, they are no longer editable with the Type Tool.) However, if you’re creating some artwork like a hangtag or a tee shirt graphic, be sure to outline all of your text before saving the file to send off to your printer.

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And I have one honorable mention:

6) Use Symbols. Symbols can help reduce your file size, particularly if the artwork is complex and needs to be duplicated multiple times within a document. Use these if you have a particularly complicated item or your using some rasterized art, say a special trim you may have scanned, and need to use that trim multiple times (like buttons down a CF placket) on a sketch.

You may not be able to make use of all of these methods, but even if you can use one or two and combine that with efficient use of the Pen Tool when your drawing your flat sketches, you should see a significant difference in your file sizes.

Happy Sketching!

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