I'm wondering if there is any way to draw an image in Photoshop and place it into Illustrator in a way that allows for modification of the original raster (in PS) to update the Illustrator live trace of said image.

My goal is to be able to make edits to the image in its raster form and have Illustrator trace it real time (or near real time, I wouldn't mind having to re-save the PS file for the changes to take place).

In this (potentially hypothetical) scenario, each layer of the original PS file would be traced on their own layers in Illustrator according to the values I would have set for each instance of tracing.

I'm open to suggestions that would accomplish the same goal via alternative means; my main goal is be able to draw something (preferably in PS) and have it turn into a vector that can be modified via altercation to the original raster, in order to quickly see the modifications in vector form.

Currently I'm drawing in Photoshop, placing the file into Illustrator, then vectorizing the image upon each placement (meaning I'm repeatedly setting the trace values for each and every modification on a project that has many layers and many iterations, which seems wasteful).

I welcome any suggestion that would help me cut out some steps. Thanks!

  • Is there a specific reason you aren't just drawing this directly in Illustrator? Commented Jan 13, 2016 at 19:42
  • Anything is possible but what you are asking for (if even possible) is a full on application/plugin. In addition, the tracing feature in AI is really not that good left to it's own devices. It really needs finessing as each image would vary and need adjustments. The only suggestion I have in order to ease the process is to create an action within AI that would import the image from a specific folder and run it through as many processes as you can. Then manually export image with a given name. Of course the PS drawing would need to be save with the same exact name each time for action to work.
    – ErickP
    Commented Jan 13, 2016 at 19:45
  • @HandsomePhil I'm using Photoshop for its handling of the brush tool and because I'm more familiar with it. I'm drawing character sprites for a game and using Illustrator to finish off the sort of cartoony style and put it in a resizeable, lossless format. I figured this forum would be the proper place for this question despite my intent not being graphic design since I'm using tools graphic designers use and might know more about.
    – garkzen
    Commented Jan 13, 2016 at 21:00
  • @ErickP I wasn't aware "actions" were a thing in Illustrator, I'll look more into that, thank you
    – garkzen
    Commented Jan 13, 2016 at 21:01

1 Answer 1


Illustrator can import files as Linked Objects. Rather than embedding the raster image in the illustrator file (eg. by copy/pasting it in), a Linked object points to another file within your file system. This separate file can be edited and updated independently of Illustrator.

To import a linked file:

  1. In Illustrator, select File > Place and select the raster image.
  2. Click the Link checkbox to link the object to the file, rather than embedding it in the Illustrator document.
  3. Click in the Illustrator document to place to file.

Once placed, you can continue to edit the linked file in Photoshop. To update the linked file in Illustrator:

  1. Open the Links panel and select the linked object.
  2. Click the Update link button.

If you are using Live Trace on the linked object, make sure you don't Expand the trace as this will replace the linked file with an Illustrator paths object.

You can set Linked objects to auto-update in the Preferences > File Handling & Clipboard window by changing the Update Links drop down to Automatically.

For the process you described, I would investigate a Photoshop action to export each layer of your PSD as a separate file, then place all those files in Illustrator as Linked objects, set to automatically update.

To demonstrate all of this, I did a quick screen record of a Linked file autoupdating after changing the hue in Photoshop: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TTMVJKmcJtk

Note, this can cause performance issues on slower systems as a lot information needs to be stored in RAM and the scratch disks (especially with un-expanded Live Traces). I would recommend a machine with at least 16GB of RAM and potentially even a dedicated scratch disk connected via SATA (not USB!). This does of course depend on how many linked objects you are using and the type of live trace being performed.


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