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The Magic Number

Many of us love the feature that allows us to copy Illustrator vectors and paste them into InDesign. The paths become InDesign vectors so they can be edited with InDesign’s Pen and other path-editing tools. But we’ve also run into a limitation: If our art is too complex, the copied objects print at high resolution, but they become an uneditable embedded EPS file.

What’s the magic number? It turns out that if you copy up to 500 paths or shapes, they stay vector. If you copy 501 or more, then they’re no longer editable. That number is thanks to Tim Cole and Lynn Grillo, two of Adobe’s extraordinary application engineers, posted in their Adobe blog.

Tim and Lynn also point out that if you use Illustrator’s Live Trace feature, you can view the number of paths in your artwork on the right side of the Tracing Options dialog box. Mordy Golding commented that you can also “choose Window > Document Info and in the flyout menu, make sure ‘Selection Only’ and ‘Objects’ are checked. Then, the palette will display how many paths you have selected at any time.”

Steve Werner

Steve Werner

Steve Werner is a trainer, consultant, and co-author (with David Blatner and Christopher Smith) of InDesign for QuarkXPress Users and Moving to InDesign. He has worked in the graphic arts industry for more than 20 years and was the training manager for ten years at Rapid Lasergraphics. He has taught computer graphics classes since 1988.
Steve Werner

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5 Comments on “The Magic Number

  1. But only filled objects!

    So, I was testing the limits, and suddenly I realized that I could violate this rule–but only sometimes…

    Turns out, if you are copying and pasting filled objects (whether or not they are stroked) indeed, the limit is 500. Try it though, with stroke-only objects and you will get different results. Initially, it seemed that as long as there were a max of 499 objects filled, I could have as many unfilled obects as I wanted–but that wasn’t it either.

    Apparently, Illustrator has a unique way of communicating unfilled objects to InDesign. Try drawing several unfilled objects in Illustrator, then copy-pasting into InDesign. Now ungroup them, only to find that ungroup is not available. Aha! Here is the trick! InDesign has converted those objects into a compound path.

    More specifically, based on stacking order, InDesign takes 200 objects at a time, and converts them into compound paths, and therefore one path! This means you could have 200 x 500 or 100,000 unfilled paths copied from Illustrator to InDesign!

    The moment a filled object enters the picture, it disrupts this pattern. If you have 20 objects, and the 10th one is filled, the first 9 become one compound path, then the filled path, then the last eleven are another compound path, therefore 3 objects.

    For what its worth, if you copy-paste any objects from InDesign to Illustrator, Illy will draw a clipping mask aroung the objects–go figure!

  2. One more note on this: all that I wrote assumes the same color stroke on all of the paths. If the stroke colors are different, all bets are off. Then the rules are the same as for filled paths.

  3. I have an issue concerning copying AI graphics into indesign CS. I think this is a great addition BUT my printer thinks differently. He says is a NO NO. That ID cannot handle this type of thing and that there are too many paths in the document (its 84 pages 4 colour with carouse images copied and pasted from AI) thus he says he cannot output the files? So hes having me export all the pages as EPS, open them in AI and export AGAIN as and ai.eps then place them back into ID….HELP. Kathy

  4. Kathy, your printer is overgeneralizing, I think. Normally, there is nothing wrong with copying and pasting vector objects between the programs. But remember that this should really only be done when you need to: For example, if you have a logo in Illustrator that you need to alter some more in InDesign.

    Also, you do need to be careful of overly-complex vector artwork. If you’re getting the message that the artwork is being placed as an EPS, then you’ll need to either simplify the artwork in AI or just go ahead and save it as a PDF. (I would save it from Illustrator as PDF, not EPS.)

  5. Pingback: Copy Vectors from Illustrator to InDesign (or vice versa) | InDesignSecrets