In Photoshop CC (version 19) on the Mac, I have a smart object vector graphic layer. Double-clicking the layer to edit the vector graphic, opens it in Preview (Mac) because, presumably, it thinks it's a PDF (it opens with the .pdf extension).

I'd rather the vector object open in Illustrator so that I can work with it. Can I change the default applications that Photoshop hands the file off to? (One would think that Photoshop would prioritize other Adobe applications instead of the system defaults… but, I guess not.)

  • I believe the default application that photoshop uses is set in the OS. Jan 29, 2018 at 20:28
  • @GoofyMonkey I think that’s right… but I don’t want to change it so all PDFs open in Illustrator, only PDFs from Photoshop.
    – Sam
    Jan 29, 2018 at 20:31
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    I just did a test. I created an eps, changed the default application in the OS to open all eps files in preview, then dropped that eps into photoshop as a smart object. When I click to edit the smart object, it opens in Preview as a PDF. Jan 29, 2018 at 21:00
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    Thanks @GoofyMonkey :) I tend to kill Preview in every possible way, short of deleting it, on my Macs. :)
    – Scott
    Jan 29, 2018 at 21:04
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    @GoofyMonkey Yes! I just changed my Mac to default to opening all EPS files in Illustrator. Double-clicking the smart object in Photoshop now opens it in Illustrator! I guess the thing that was throwing me off was that in Preview, when the smart object loads, it gains a .pdf extension. Thanks to [at]scott too!
    – Sam
    Jan 29, 2018 at 21:07

3 Answers 3


You can place a PDF in Photoshop as a smart object.

If the original was placed, as a PDF, and the OS is set to open PDF files in Preview.. there's the reason. The Smart Object won't change the original data (that's the entire point of Smart Objects). If you place as an .eps, the Smart Object will open as an .eps. I've never seen a placed .eps or .ai file open as a .pdf from double clicking a Photoshop Smart Object. For example, double-clicking a .pdf placed Smart Object on my system will open the embedded .pdf in Acrobat for me. But I don't use Preview for, well, anything if it can be avoided. I dislike Preview and it's drawing bugs.

You may need to, at least briefly, set the OS to open PDFs or EPS files in Acrobat/Reader/Illustrator rather than Preview to circumvent them opening in Preview. Seems, from comments here, that Preview does some file suffix voodoo as well which may be undesirable.

Another option would be to right-click/control-click the Smart Object Layer and choose Export Contents. This will allow you save the .pdf contents as a .pdf file which you can then drag to Illustrator to open and then subsequently replace the .pdf Smart Object with an Illustrator Smart Object. If the original contents are indeed an .eps, that should allow you to save them as an .eps as well.

  • This is close! @scott, can you edit to specifically address EPS: "You may need to, at least briefly, set the OS to open PDF and EPS in Acrobat/Reader/Illustrator to circumvent it opening in Preview." I'll mark as the answer. Thanks!
    – Sam
    Jan 29, 2018 at 21:10

Check the default application settings in your OS to see what application is set to open the file you are placing into Photoshop.

Preview converts Postscript files (.ps, .eps, .pdf) to PDF for previewing.

So if you have Preview set to open .eps files, it will convert them to PDF. This would be why your Smart Object is opening as a PDF.

To check the default application settings on a Mac:

  1. Right Click (CRTL+Click) a file of the format you wish to check
  2. Select "Get Info"
  3. Under "Open With" choose the application you want to handle the file format.
  4. Press Change All... to change the preference for all files of that format.

Ofcourse, if your Smart Object was a PDF to begin with, that also explains why it's opening as a PDF.


I don't know if this will work on a Mac, but in Windows it's possible to change the file extension of a .pdf to .ai by simply editing the file name. To do this in Windows you need to change the view options in Explorer to show file extensions, so that they can be changed.

Then you can place the .ai file in Photoshop as a linked file. Then when you double click the Smart Object in Photoshop, it will open in Illustrator for editing.

Perhaps a Mac user could confirm if this trick works on that OS too.

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    FYI, Yes that works on a Mac as well going from .pdf to .ai. To go from .ai to .pdf means the ai file must be saved with PDF compatibility on.
    – Scott
    Feb 15, 2018 at 20:48

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