How to Convert Artwork from Flash to Illustrator

A client recently asked me if i could supply him with artwork from a game so that another team could produce a video. The video team, of course, couldn’t/wouldn’t do anything with the native .fla (Flash) files i had on hand. They wanted Illustrator files.

It took a lot of back and forth and futzing to finally convert the artwork properly, and when i finally found the solution, i realized i had known it all along and had merely forgotten it (because i don’t do this type of thing often). So i’m recording the solution here for posterity; the next time i have to do this, a Google search will turn up my own blog :) It actually wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened.

i’ll keep you on tenterhooks and take you through the frustrating conversion process, just so that you can swear along with me and nod your head and say “yep – that’s happened to me.”

Export Image


These are the Flash vector characters the client needed me to convert.

The ability to export artwork to .ai format has actually been removed from Flash Professional as of version CS5, and has been replaced with the Adobe .fxg format, which works as expected. The .fxg format even converts gradients properly, which have been a longstanding asspain for the past 10 years. If you’re running CS5 or better, export to .fxg and you’re done. If you’re trapped in CS4 or below, here’s what you may have tried:

Export Image

  1. File > Export > Export Image
  2. Choose Adobe Illustrator (*.ai) from the drop-down filetype list
  3. Punch in a filename, and click “Save”
  4. Open the file in Illustrator

The first roadblock you encounter may be this message:

Can't open the illustration.

Can’t open the illustration. The illustration contains an incomplete or garbed object description.

Offending operator: “”

Adobe_Illustrator_AI5 / initialize get exec
%%BeginEncoding: _pixelmic … feh. i can’t be arsed to look up the accented characters to type the rest.

i’ve ranted at length before about the error messages eggheads put into their software products. How on Earth is joe average user – and an artist, at that – supposed to react to and troubleshoot a message like this?

Obviously (?), all the egghead wanted the artist to do was this:


Select the single movieclip and press CTRL+B to break apart the object into separate objects. Now, when i go through the export process and bring the file into Illustrator, i get this:


Um … yuck? Who sucked all the color out?

The reason why the colors are desaturated and grey-looking apparently has to do with the Flash .ai export routine deciding to convert RGB artwork to CMYK artwork. i don’t know why it does this, but it’s not helpful. But at least the artwork is in Illustrator in vector format, right?

At this point, you could pick through every piece of vector art and tweak the color by hand … if you’re a sucker. Instead, let’s get on to the reason you’re here: the actual solution to this non-working nonsense.



The mighty (and seldom-understood) wmf

The secret is to export as a Windows Metafile. Mac people, i don’t know if you have this option. If not, i’m not sure how to help you … but once you counter-intuitively export as a .wmf file instead of an .ai file and bring THAT into Illustrator, voila: your artwork is beautifully preserved with its RGB colors intact.


As i mentioned, the one drawback is that gradients don’t survive the crossing. This character’s cell phone casts an alpha gradient glow across her face, which shows up as a flat white polygon in Illustrator:


.fxg format will fix that. If you’re not ready to upgrade your software, this might entail an ugly hand-conversion process of all your gradients … unless someone else has discovered the esoteric conversion secret to preserving gradients? Anyone?

Big thanks to Gavin Friesen, my Art Director back at Corus, for originally cluing me in to this solution.

For more Flash AS3 Tutorials and a pile of other useful stuff, check out our Flash and Actionscript 911 feature.

22 thoughts on “How to Convert Artwork from Flash to Illustrator

  1. Mark

    I had found that exporting via WMF was also the best option. It will break your gradients into many bands of solid colour (similar to saving a smooth gradient as a gif or png) but they print very well. Transparency is clearly still a problem with WMFs.

    For me, the Adobe FXG file support is the most useful improvement introduced in Adobe’s CS5.

    1. Ryan Henson Creighton

      Two Illustrator drawing features i wish Flash had: curved gradients, and text along a path. Aside from those, Flash/Fireworks is a far superior drawing tool that i wish more people would adopt, so i wouldn’t have to go through this conversion nonsense.

  2. Gavin

    Thanks Ryan. For the record, yes, Mac users are without native .wmf support.
    Idea for a follow-up post:
    “How to stop waiting on your client to send vector logos and grab them yourself from PDFs”

    1. Ryan Henson Creighton

      i do a lot less brand work these days. Is that still a problem? i remember back in the day at YTV, we’d ask clients for vector versions of their logos – you know, like .ai files – and they’d send a BMP image placed into an Illustrator file. Sheesh.

      Some clients would even refuse to supply vector logos, because they didn’t trust anyone with them. And in other cases, they wouldn’t even SEND me logos – i’d have to actually find their logos on various websites and right/click copy the image. The number of client logos i traced by hand in those days … geez. Tracing bitmaps as vectors was honestly one of the most useful and marketable skills i learned in college.

      i found it loosened up around 2003-2004, though. Clients were a lot less protective of their vector art (and they actually knew what vector art WAS). You’re doing more brand work – are you STILL having trouble with clients not supplying you with vector logos?

  3. Micha Ritchie

    Thank you for posting this, I needed to convert some graphics from Flash to Illustrator so that we can get other graphics to line up and I didn’t want to bring them in as bitmap files.

  4. Chris Gavin

    Thanks for this.
    I’m here because I too wish to export some flash artwork into Illustrator. (We’ve made an animated TV ad and he client wants some stills too (in .ai format))
    Thing is, I am using CS5.5, yes .ai export from Flash has been discontinued, and so we tried .fxg export… BUT the colours still change when I place the .fxg file in Illustrator. Whether my blank Illustrator document is RGB or CMYK makes no difference, the colours just come in to Illustrator looking very muted or less saturated

    1. Ryan Henson Creighton Post author

      Dumb question … have you tried straight-up copy & paste from Flash to Illustrator? i know they’ve supposedly made improvements to the process somewhere along the line. Not sure what the current best method is. (Another reason why i’m comfy sticking to CS5. No compelling reason to upgrade.)

      1. sbn

        as far as I remeber straight-up copy-paste (from flash to illustrator) did worked. i did this some 7 8 years ago but in later versions it paste as raster.
        as Solution for Colour change problem
        if u are stuck with such imports in AI and you have to change the colour
        select the object
        go to Select -> same-> (choose whatever option suits you)
        it does work with gradients for strokes/fills

          1. Ryan Henson Creighton Post author

            Ever tried copy/pasting an Illustrator object with a gradient into Flash? Each colour band of the gradient is treated as a separate object. And even without gradients, every single object gets grouped. It’s a mess.

  5. Nica Lorber

    Solution for MAC:

    Export as Adobe FXG. I don’t actually even know what that file extension stands for but Illustrator opens it just fine and retains the vector art. I have experimented much with complex gradients, but the vector art is sound at least. It also ports grouped objects accurately.

  6. nic

    I am trying to convert a flash cs6 file to AI(and wnat to retain some of the editable layers)… exporting to fxg doesnt seem to work for me… I tried opening the fxg file in illustrator and it said it cant.

  7. Frank

    The best way I found is Printing the .FLA file as PDF and oppening it with Adobe Illustrator, it will import it as vectors.
    Note: The PDF Printing program I use is “PDF Complete”

    Good luck!!

  8. Gmanicvs

    Thanks heaps for this mate!

    Ill lean how to use Adobe Illustrator one day but for now this workaround will allow me to draw things (probably more inefficiently) in Flash and them export them over.

    Thanks again boss.

    1. Ryan Henson Creighton Post author

      Hi, Marieke. Earlier versions of Flash/Animate had Print functionality. It’s been removed in recent versions of the software. Currently, when i need to print, i export to an image or pdf, and print the resulting file from Chrome or Photoshop.

  9. Me

    What kind of fucked up company is Adobe that is Sabatoges it own user base????
    Why remove important features???
    They make people miserable and work flow a pain.
    Shame on Adobe.


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