Copy and Paste between Illustrator and InDesign

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Copy and Paste between Illustrator and InDesign

Whilst doing some research the other day I came across a thread on a related issue on the Adobe forums. The poster of the problem happened to mention ‘pasting’ some Illustrator artwork into InDesign and was advised that you should always ‘place’ into InDesign. In fact there are cases where it’s perfectly acceptable to copy and paste between these applications and some instances where it’s actually an advantage.

In the interest of fairness I should point out that as a general rule when working in Illustrator or InDesign the correct way to use images in your layout is to place them. These are then ‘linked graphics’– the image we see is a preview that is used for size and positioning only. When printing or exporting our document the data from our linked graphic is then used and we end up with a lovely, shiny high resolution image in our final print, PDF etc... happy days!

If we were to copy an image from Word, for example, and paste this into InDesign or Illustrator we end up with a low resolution, RGB ‘pasted’ graphic – there is no link to the original image as we have only copied the ‘preview’ data from Word. When copying from non-Adobe applications the content is cached in the system memory (clipboard) in a generic format, typically PICT, and will not always reproduce well.

When working between Adobe applications things are a little different. Adobe have deliberately built a lot of cross-compatibility into the clipboard of each application. If you look at the Preferences menu in Illustrator or InDesign you’ll see a whole section dedicated to Clipboard behavior.

Clipboard options in Illustrator

The options differ slightly between each application but, essentially, content is converted to PDF format on the fly so vector and raster information is preserved. For a full explanation of the settings refer to the Adobe online Help.

So, how might we use this to our advantage in a real-world situation. Let’s say we have a logo saved as an Illustrator file that we intend to use in InDesign. Normally this would be ‘placed’ as a linked file. Our preview is a little ragged unless we switch the display to high quality but otherwise this is good to go. However, this means we have one more asset to manage (unless we embed it) and if we want to make any changes we need to go back to our source file.


Copying from Illustrator to InDesign

If we start by opening the file in Illustrator and then copy/paste into InDesign we end up with a perfectly crisp display, editable vectors and a colour swatch all ready to roll. The graphic will be grouped initially but is completely editable as it is now native InDesign content.

Copy and Paste into InDesign from Illustrator

I’ve used this process in the past when creating a set of templates for a publisher. Their logo appears on the spine of each format of book they publish. Depending on the design of the cover the logo may well print black-on, white-out or be printed as a Pantone or even a metallic foil. Working with the pasted logo means any colour can be applied directly in InDesign along with the appropriate overprint, knockout settings etc. Had the templates been set up using a linked Illustrator file any changes would need to be made to the original source file and new version(s) saved.

You may be wondering if there is a but... well, yes there is a but, but not a huge one! Not everything is truly compatible between the applications, remember the content is being converted to PDF in the copying process. Illustrator can assign multiple fills and strokes to a single element whereas InDesign can’t. Simple graphics work perfectly but more complex graphics need to be broken down to aid compatibility – they will still look same and reproduce just as well but may not be as easy to edit. If the complexity exceeds what InDesign can handle then the content will be pasted as an embedded graphic which kind of negates any advantage.

The best thing to do is try it – for certain situations it can be a much more efficient way to work. And remember, the door swings both ways – the clipboard compatibility exist between several of the Adobe applications.