How to Copy Vector Paths From Illustrator to After Effects

By Elizabeth Mott

Work produced in After Effects shows up in many TV commercials.
i Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images

Motion graphics artists work in Adobe After Effects to produce elements of commercials and music videos, main-title sequences for film and television, and animated or rotoscoped artwork or footage. Along with After Effects itself, the motion graphics workflow often implements drawings, logos and imagery created in other Adobe applications, including Adobe Illustrator. To migrate Illustrator vector artwork successfully through the clipboard to After Effects, set your preferences and make your selections with your target in mind.

After Effects and Paths

In expanding the After Effects toolset, Adobe Systems has broadened the extent of its abilities to use paths. You can draw paths directly in the After Effects interface with Pen and Shape tools that look virtually identical to parts of Adobe Illustrator's toolset. You can use paths as masks, to define where an object moves and to reveal parts of a shape layer that should remind you of comparable visual assets in Adobe Photoshop. Because Adobe Illustrator's vector shape-creation tools exceed even the burgeoning capabilities of Adobe After Effects, you can opt for Illustrator's familiar power and use the clipboard to transfer your work.

Illustrator Preferences

Adobe Illustrator supports two forms in which to copy artwork to the clipboard. Its PDF option, which serves as the default, retains any transparency applied to your Illustrator artwork. Its Adobe Illustrator Clip Board option, or AICB, can preserve either the artwork's paths or its appearance, excluding transparency. To bring your vector paths into Adobe After Effects, choose the "AICB (No Transparency Support)" option in the File Handling & Clipboard section of the Adobe Illustrator preferences and select the "Preserve Paths" radio button. You don't need to deactivate the PDF option in the preference dialog box, as the two clipboard options can coexist.

Copying and Pasting

To make the clipboard convey your Illustrator paths into After Effects, you must select an entire path, not just a single anchor point or segment. To assure that you make a full selection, use the regular Selection tool, which selects entire objects, rather than the Direct Selection tool, which selects individual anchor points or partial paths. To use the Direct Selection tool and activate the entire path when you click on an object to select it, hold down the the "Alt" key as you use the tool. You can copy the object through the Edit menu or by pressing "Ctrl-C."


How you use the paths you paste into After Effects depends on the type of layer or property you select before you paste. When you click on a layer in the timeline and select the Path property of an existing mask, the artwork you paste from the clipboard replaces the existing mask. When you select a layer that doesn't already contain a mask, the pasted artwork becomes one. If you select a layer's Position property before you paste, your artwork becomes a motion path on which you can animate the movement of the elements on that layer. Create a new shape layer and select it before you paste to turn your copied artwork into a mask that reveals parts of the fill you apply to the layer.