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Pasting Paths from Illustrator to After Effects

The essential trick to paste multiple paths to After Effects Shape Layers at once.

By Chris and Trish Meyer | March 13, 2008

So what's so interesting about a feature we've had for eons? We all know you can copy and paste vector paths from Illustrator to After Effects as mask paths and motion paths (you did know that, right?). But with the new Shape Layers in After Effects CS3, you may run into a little snag when trying to paste paths to shapes.

(Note: After Effects CS6 has introduced a new menu function to convert Illustrator files directly to shape layers. The tip below applies if you are still using an older version of After Effects, or want to convert paths in a selective fashion.)

If you have the 4th Edition of Creating Motion Graphics with After Effects, we cover the following tip on page 493; feel free to follow along with the sample files in the book or create a simple Illustrator file to practice with.

First off, in Illustrator, there is one preference that you need to change if you haven't already: In Preferences > File Handling and Clipboard > Clipboard on Quit, enable the Copy As > AICB checkbox, and then enable the Preserve Paths checkbox. (You can leave Copy As > PDF checked also.)

Our example Illustrator "flower" is a simple circle surrounded by 12 oval petals, for a total of 13 paths.

Basic Path Pasting

Normally, when you copy a path from Illustrator and paste it to an After Effects layer, it will default to creating a mask path. If you paste multiple paths, After Effects will automatically create as many new mask paths as needed. And if you want to paste a path to a Position motion path, just click on the word "Position" in the timeline to "target" that property, then paste.

Here we selected a red solid layer in After Effects and pasted, which created multiple mask paths automatically.

Pasting a Single Shape

Life is fairly straightforward if you only want to paste a single path to a shape layer. First, create a pen path you can target when you paste: With no layer selected, grab the Pen tool and draw a single point in the Comp panel. This will create a blank Shape Layer with a Path property that contains your single point. Now paste, and the point will be replaced with the path you copied from Illustrator. (You can also use this technique to paste a mask path to a shape path.)


You can also pre-select a specific path before you paste, to ensure that the path is pasted as a shape and not a mask. This is also useful if your shape layer contains multiple paths and you need to target a specific path.

Expand your new Shape layer to reveal Shape Layer 1 > Contents > Shape 1 > Path 1 > Path. Here you can toggle on the stopwatch and animate the path over time (try that, Illustrator CS9!).

Be aware that if you were to draw a basic rectangle or oval shape, you will not have a Path property to paste into, and you will end up with a mask path again. So be sure to use the Pen tool to create a compatible property to paste to.

As you can see, pasting a single path is fairly easy, but problems arise when you need to paste in a group of paths at once, as we need to for our simple flower object. Read on for the solution...



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Mez: | March, 13, 2008

And what about an “import AI to shapes” Mr Adobe ?

daniel.sgan: | August, 31, 2009

I found it easiest to take a detour through Photoshop and paste the Illustrator paths in there first. choose the path option when pasting and make that into a Fill color layer, save and open the photoshop file in AE with the don’t merge effects option selected. you get a comp and a solid with as many masks as you need. I found this to be better when working with a lot of Illustrator paths, say more then a dozen, it can get really annoying to count them all and all that. hope this helps

shroomstudio: | August, 23, 2011

just like to thank you for the clear tutorial on pasting illustrator path into shape layers in after effects.

I have found that you can speed up the opperation by making a single path with a keframe on the shape layer in after effects. then duplicating this up as many times as required. next you need to press u to open up all the animated properties of the shape layer, this then enables you to select all the keyframes by drawing a selection around them all thus saving you having to manually select all the path keyfames. hope this helps

Chris Meyer: | December, 28, 2012

Fortunately, the steps in this article have been replaced by AE CS6’s new convert vector artwork to shape layers command. It’s not perfect - for example, gradient colors do not get translated properly - but it’s far easier that the manual copying and pasting described here. If you’re a heavy Illustrator + AE user, this feature might be reason enough to upgrade.

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