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First some background...

We have a custom piece of software that requires PDF files to auto generate web pages. These PDF files are pretty typical, the only special thing about these is that hey have proprietary programming codes added to the comments/annotations that instructs the 3rd party software on how to transform certain things. To any tool capable of opening PDF files it just sees a bunch of plain text annotations/comments no different from any other PDF.

Because we need to create hundreds of these pages and manage them in a source control system we are considering working directly with the PDF file. Previously we have had an .ai file that is exported to .pdf then the PDF is "marked up" (has the special codes added to the comments) finally the file is commited to source control. This means we have two files to manage keeping in sync.

This is why we are investigating using he Illustrator option "Preserve Illustrator Editing Capabilities" so we can work directly in the PDF files and avoid the storage/management of a .ai file as well as .pdf file.

Our current graphic designer claims this option limits his ability to edit the file (despite the obvious message to the contrary in Illustrator) his predecesor claimed it worked fine.

As I am just a programmer who is having to manage this graphic design process I am wondering if in fact the option works and if anybody knows of any "gotchas" with it.

1 Answer 1


All Illustrator files, by default, are PDFs with editing capabilities. You can open .ai files with Acrobat.

With the default settings in tact, Illustrator saves three files in the single .ai container. A complete PDF file, a complete AI file, and a raster composite image for previews.

  • Unchecking "Preserve Illustrator Editing Capabilities" tells the PDF generator to dump the AI portion of the file and merely save the PDF portion.

  • Unchecking "Create PDF Compatible File" when saving an AI document tells Illustrator to dump the PDF portion of the file.

I can not state emphatically whether preserving Illustrator editing capabilities will work for your particular files. I haven't seen the files. However, the PDF version is critical.

Saving any Illustrator file as a PDF will be affected by the PDF version being saved to. For example, PDF 1.4 (Acrobat 5) introduced transparency into the PDF format. PDF 1.5 (Acrobat 6) introduced layers into the PDF format. If you were to save a layered Illustrator file which contains transparency and/or blend modes to a PDF 1.3 (Acrobat 4) format even with Preserve Editing enabled, artwork will be flattened if that resulting PDF is reopened with Illustrator.

Depending upon their working style, both the previous designer and the current designer can be correct. Things may work for one designer but not for another. It all depends on what they are creating and how they are creating it.

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