written by
Patrick Gilmour

Why you shouldn't use Adobe Illustrator for Prepress

Prepress Solutions 3 min read , July 10, 2024

Manual edits to PDF files are a common requirement, especially in the world of prepress where such edits can be critical to overcome production roadblocks before printing.

Great tools are available for performing these hands-on PDF checks and fixes, like Enfocus PitStop Pro. Time and again this tool serves as a valuable lifeline to prepress teams when they need to delve into a problematic PDF file and rectify it manually.

However, at our recent Partner Event in Hamburg, the annual event where we get together with our certified integrators to discuss the state of the industry, we were (painfully) reminded that too many prepress teams still reach for Adobe® Illustrator® when they encounter a production roadblock caused by a PDF.

If Adobe® Illustrator® is a tool you are comfortable with, this immediate impulse is understandable—but it is a bad choice.

It's important to remember that Illustrator is not a dedicated PDF editor. Using it for prepress will often introduce more errors than it corrects, as we’ll see in this article.

For efficient and non-destructive editing of a PDF file, you need a purpose-built tool, such as PitStop Pro.

What Adobe Illustrator is…

Illustrator is today a major application in the Adobe Creative Cloud® suite. But its history dates back to 1987—making it older than many of its users. Its longevity is a testament to its power and flexibility. Once mastered, Illustrator provides extensive creative liberty and provides a vast range of features and capabilities. This is why it has become the go-to tool for producing superior vector artwork.

…and what it is not

Illustrator allows you to save your work as an editable PDF. This means you can work with the PDF format, within certain limits, instead of Illustrator's own .ai format. Naturally, this also means you can open PDF files in Illustrator.

And this has led to a common misunderstandingmany believe that Illustrator is an appropriate tool for editing PDF files. Even professionals in the prepress industry make this critical mistake.

To quote legendary PDF guru, Dov Isaacs, former Principal Scientist at Adobe:

“The only PDF files that can safely and reliably be opened and edited with Adobe Illustrator are PDF files that were created from Adobe Illustrator using the “save editability” option and for which all the original fonts and linked assets are installed on the system on which the editing is to occur.”

tl;dr ? Illustrator is the wrong choice for editing PDF files, especially in prepress. Let’s see why.

Reasons you should not use Adobe Illustrator for manual PDF editing and prepress work

When you open a PDF in Illustrator, it almost always results in interpretations that alter the PDF file. As a rule, this means you will add more errors than fixes to your PDF file. How does this happen?

The dangers of using Illustrator to edit PDF files

  • Illustrator will change or, even worse, delete PDF file constructs that it doesn’t support (form fields, annotations, etc.)
  • Illustrator can only handle a single color space (CMYK or RGB). PDF files that contain objects with multiple color spaces will lose their additional color spaces.
  • Embedded PDF fonts will be lost because Illustrator will try to load fonts from the file system.

Add to this the fact that Illustrator is neither a PDF editing tool nor a prepress tool and you’ll encounter additional major inconveniences using it for prepress:

  • Interface: inability to work quickly and intuitively with page boxes, overprints, separations etc., or to inspect other common elements in prepress work
  • Preflight: wrong or difficult-to-use tools for catching common—and not-so-common—prepress issues
  • Output: saving PDF files with Illustrator can delete or alter significant parts of your PDF file.

But really why put yourself through all that when there’s a far better way…

The best way to manually edit PDFs

Like Adobe Illustrator, Enfocus PitStop Pro is also a software product with a long history. It began life in 1997 as a plug-in for Adobe Acrobat, built to offer robust solutions for fixing PDF issues during prepress.

Today, PitStop Pro is used by more than 150,000 professionals across the globe to manually edit, preflight, and automate checks and changes in PDFs.

PitStop Pro puts an amazing toolkit at your disposal for the manual editing of PDFs. This ability to work directly on PDF files and automate preflight fixes is a unique feature of PitStop Pro. Most other preflight tools tell you what’s wrong with your file then leave you trying to fix it with tools like Adobe Illustrator—a seriously bad approach!

PitStop Pro can manually edit text, fonts, vectors (paths), pages, color spaces, images, image resolution, object placement, and a huge amount more.

PitStop Pro