While Illustrator doesn't have as many plugins as its raster brother Photoshop, developers take the application very seriously when it comes to building new tools, effects and workflow solutions.
Extending the abilities of Illustrator isn't usually necessary, but, as with Photoshop, plugins can save time and effort. These plugins won't cause a mini-revolution in your studio, but they will enable you to do certain tasks quicker. Plus, many of these are designed for older versions of Ai, adding some functionality of newer versions like Creative Cloud without the additional expense of upgrading.
You'll find a couple of collections in the following list, so there are actually way more than 17 Adobe Illustrator plugins here – enjoy!
01. VectorScribe v3
- Price: $83.70
- Compatibility: CS6 to CC
Take control of your vectors with VectorScribe, described by its creators as a vector Swiss Army knife. You can use it to manage points, paths and handles, making your work easier to edit and reducing file sizes at the same time, you can create and edit shapes as well as applying different styles of corner to your work, and with VectorScribe's dynamic measurements you can quickly and accurately measure everything from simple lengths to angles and path areas, removing any guesswork when you need to get things exactly the right size.
02. Gold Rush
- Price: $18
- Compatibility: CS3+
Give your work a classy, presidential look with Gold Rush, a plugin providing all the metallic, glitter and foil effects that you'll ever need. Containing 218 swatches in raster format and 35 brushed elements, it's ideal for anything that needs a bit of bling and includes hot foil effects, crumpled foil, gold leaf, bokeh, metallic paint, and much more, not just in gold but also rose gold, black, silver and copper.
03. Hot Door Control
- Price: $98
- Compatibility: CS6 to CC 2015
Control is a set of seven plugins for Illustrator that enable you to ramp up your productivity with new techniques for editing, organising and labelling your work.
Available for $20 each – or $98 for the whole set – the various plugins can help you select artwork with custom search criteria, create layer groups for organisation and printing, nudge artwork at less than 1pt increments, log your time spent on documents, call out artwork and document attributes and attach tags to artwork for counting and tracking materials.
- Price: $20
- Compatibility: CS3 to CS5.5
Concatenate is a plugin filter that connects multiple paths into one continuous path, similar to the Merge Path command when using the Blob Brush tool in Illustrator CS4 and CS5.
However, Concatenate adds a few extra features including an 'assimilate' function, which scans a selected area or layer for unselected paths, and adds them to the merge. The 'connect' function then enables users to subsequently add lines or extra segments between open paths.
- Price: $30.33
- Compatibility: CS to CC
ColliderScribe provides a simple toolset for Illustrator that lets you position shapes accurately, placing any object precisely next to another when they touch, and enabling you to quickly and easily arrange shapes in formations and patterns.
The release of ColliderScribe2 brings with it a new Rotate To Collision Tool, plus several new features and improvements – including a New Space Fill feature, which lets you fill the container path with selected objects, distributing them evenly within the shape.
- Price: $159
- Compatibility: CS6 to CC2014 (Mac OS X only)
For a more pricey but sophisticated shape-creation option, Amazon Canvas' ArtBlue Gold 2.5 comes with a range of tools and a custom shape feature that lets you import and export formations between ArtBlue and Photoshop.
A new Shape Transform Matrix tool – amongst other features – means you can convert a simple shape into common shape formations or complex geometric sculptures, and objects placed in 3D space can be edited and tracked.
- Price: Free
- Compatibility: Ai 7/8/9, CS, CS2, CS3, CS4, CS6
If you need to calculate the length or area of interlocking or singular Illustrator paths, there is an inbuilt option, but it involves accessing the debugging dialog box and scanning for the appropriate info.
Graffix Path Area makes the process speedier. Users access it via the Filters menu, and it gives the length of a selected path, or area of conjoined paths and shapes, making precise calculations for printed graphics far snappier to retrieve.
- Price: Free
- Compatibility: CS6 to CC2015
ArtiosCAD is a mainstay application in the packaging design industry, and this Illustrator plugin acts as the perfect bridge. It enables users to open native ArtiosCAD files in Illustrator without the need to convert and flatten them, position them on the artboard and then apply swatches, objects and full Ai files upon the ArtiosCAD design. You can then manipulate guides and paths of the Illustrator artwork directly on the ArtiosCAD object.
09. CADtools 10
- Price: $349
- Compatibility: CS5 to CC2015
As the name suggests, CADtools adds CAD functionality to Illustrator. Very useful features include the ability to snap objects and project art onto isometric grids, which can save hours.
CADtools also adds many tools to the Illustrator toolbox. It's a well-thought-out plugin that can boost efficiency dramatically. Download the free trial and see if it suits your needs, because it's not cheap.
10. MultiPage 4
- Price: $79
- Compatibility: Ai9 to CS4
MultiPage is about as simple a plugin as you'll find. But, as is often the case, this simplicity makes it very effective and very usable. MultiPage cleverly uses layers, in combination with its own palette, to set up the effect of having multi-page documents in Illustrator. You can even use master pages.
The plugin is handy for the occasional longer print job and very inexpensive. But if longer print jobs come your way more often, you might as well get your hands on InDesign.
11. SymmetryWorks 6
- Price: $364 (full version - other options available)
- Compatibility: Ai10 to CC2014
At $364.00 for the full version, SymmetryWorks isn't a casual purchase. It's a specialist tool, but if you work with repeat graphics and complex patterns, it'll save you a considerable amount of time.
SymmetryWorks lets you quickly generate repeating graphics using Illustrator's drawing tools, then apply transformations to 'grow' the pattern. Once they're complete, patterns can be saved as swatches. LivePresets then augments this process, enabling users to update and edit these pattern swatches and symbols through a 'live edit' function.
The latest version adds a new way of automatically creating patterns – by adding colour reversals to simple geometric transformations. This technique balances 'positive' and 'negative' counterparts and automatically generates spectacular, easy-on-the-eye patterns.
12. Select Menu
- Price: Free
- Compatibility: Ai 8 to CS6
The addition of 18 extra objects to Illustrator may seem unnecessary, but this plugin grants users access to guides, open paths, closed paths, unfilled paths, stroked paths, unstroked paths, dashed paths, undashed paths, compound paths, groups and more on a single object.
It twins these with additional export options, which, while present in Illustrator natively, can be combined here for saving transparencies and flattening images quickly.
13. Xtream Path
- Price: $139
- Compatibility: Ai 8 to CC2015
A brilliant addition to Illustrator's path-editing providing, among other things, the freedom to grab anywhere on a path and edit it from that position, rather than adding control points.
It takes a while to get the hang of but soon becomes a very efficient way to construct artwork. The Symmetric Edit tool is beautiful and Smart Rounding is fantastic. A great suite of tools and excellent value.
- Price: $71.57
- Compatibility: CS5 to CC
Phantasm CS's appeal is in its simplicity. It effectively plugs a hole between Illustrator and Photoshop, adding familiar bitmap-editing functions and options to a vector workflow. Such tools include Curves, Hue and Saturation, Levels and even Automation functions for all of the above.
All of the effects are non-destructive, and it also offers duotone and halftone options, an overprint preview and a separations option that adds some serious prepress weight to Illustrator's arsenal.
15. FILTERiT 4.4
- Price: $129.00
- Compatibility: Ai 8 to CC2015
This classic suite of plugins has been updated in response to Adobe incorporating many of the original feature sets into CS4 and CS5.
For earlier version users, the 3D Transform options are still a solid choice, but now all users can benefit from its Trace Options for quick animation work, and new Live Cut Out, Emboss, and Border features. Finally, a Live Circle feature enables users to quickly copy a single object into a circle pattern.
- Price: $150
- Compatibility: Ai10 to CC 2015
A cheaper alternative to CADtools 9, CAD-COMPO4 is a combination of plugins including BPT-Pro4, which adds a highly functional 2D-CAD program into Illustrator, and EXDXF-Pro4, which assists the import of CAD-standard DXF files to Illustrator and export of Ai files to CAD.
17. Magic Exporter
- Price: $25
- Compatibility: CC
Jeremy Marchand's Magic Exporter simplifies the process of exporting objects from Ai docs to web-ready PNG files. Instead of having to manually slice or hide layers to export the object you need, all you have to do is mark the object you need and export it using the dedicated menu.
Helpfully, it can automatically create several PNG copies of the same object scaled to screen sizes. If you're creating UI elements for web in Illustrator, this will save you valuable time.
Contributors: Craig Stewart/Julia Sagar/Jim McCauley
Main image: Ben O'Brien