The 18 best Adobe Illustrator plugins

Example Adobe Illustrator drawing by Ben OBrien

Illustrator plugins are a useful addition to Adobe's vector tool, and in this article, we'll guide you through the best ones around. While Adobe Illustrator doesn't have as many plugins as its raster brother Photoshop CC, the ones that are available do a great job of introducing new new tools, effects and workflow solutions into the app. 

The following plugins won't cause a mini-revolution in your studio, but they will enable you to carry out certain tasks quicker, and help smooth out your workflow. Plus, many of these are designed for older versions of Ai, adding some functionality of newer versions like Adobe Illustrator CC 2018 without the expense of upgrading.

You'll find a couple of collections in the following list, too, so there are actually a few more plugins than you'd expect. And if this list leaves you itching to try a few new tricks, take a look at our collection of the best Illustrator tutorials.

01. VectorScribe v3 

  • Compatibility: CS6 to CC 2017
  • Price: £69

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. Cineware for Illustrator

  • Compatibility: CC 2017-2018
  • Price: Free

Start working in 3D with this free plugin by MAXON in partnership with TurboSquid. This entry-level piece of software is perfect for designers who have felt intimidated by 3D tools in the past but still want to experiment with the medium. The Illustrator plugin works by allowing users to import any Cinema 4D file and adjust the view, lighting and textures to integrate 3D elements with 2D design.

One crucial difference between this plugin and Adobe's Project Felix is that with Cineware you don't have to leave Illustrator to start rendering. This streamlines the workflow for product designers, especially seeing as changes can be made at any time and the image will re-render automatically.

03. VectorFirstAid v2

  • Compatibility: CS6 to CC 2018
  • Price: £59

Clean up your vector files with one button-click with this, the latest version of Astute Graphics' VectorFirstAid. This Illustrator plugin is designed to help strip out the excess data and bloat that can come with imported artwork.

The new features in VectorFirstAid V2 focus on text handling. The Combine Text Lines engine has been revamped and now supports rotated and/or transformed type and retains kerning, tracking, super- and subscripts, indents, and more. Alignment of Point Text is a useful tool, with options to break text apart and remove text transforms (rotation and shear). 

04. Gold Rush

Adobe Illustrator plugins: Gold Rush

Add some sparkle to your Illustrator designs with Gold Rush

  • Compatibility: CS3+
  • Price: $18

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. 

The set 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.

05. Hot Door Control

Adobe Illustrator plugins: Hot Door Control

Ramp up your productivity with Hot Door Control Plug-ins
  • Compatibility: CS6 to CC 2015
  • Price: $20 each, $98 complete set of seven

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.

06. Concatenate/Assimilate

  • Compatibility: CS3 to CC 2017
  • Price: $20

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.

07. ColliderScribe v2

  • Compatibility: CS to CC 2017
  • Price: $33/£25

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.

ColliderScribe 2 includes a Rotate To Collision Tool, plus severa features and improvements not seen in version 1 – including a New Space Fill feature, which lets you fill the container path with selected objects, distributing them evenly within the shape.

08. ArtBlue Gold 2.53

Adobe Illustrator plugins: ArtBlue Gold

A stunning geometric sculpture created with ArtMatrix

  • Compatibility: CS6 to CC 2014 (Mac OS X only)
  • Price: $159

For a more pricey but sophisticated shape-creation tool, 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.

Among other features you'll find ArtMatrix, a shape transform matrix tool, which enables you to convert a simple shape into common shape formations or complex geometric sculptures, as well as editing and tracking objects placed in 3D space.

09. Patharea

Adobe Illustrator plugins: Patharea filter

Calculate the area and perimeter of a shape with Patharea plugin

  • Compatibility: Ai 7/8/9, CS, CS2, CS3, CS4, CS6
  • Price: Free

If you need to calculate the length or area of interlocking or singular Illustrator paths, there is an inbuilt option in Illustrator. However, it involves accessing the debugging dialog box and scanning for the appropriate info.

Patharea makes the process speedier. You access this free Illustrator plugin 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.

10. EskoArtwork Data Exchange plugin

  • Compatibility: CS6 to CC 2017
  • Price: Free

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. It also works as a bridge between Esko's other apps: Automation Engine, PackEdge, Plato and ArtPro.

11. CADtools 11

Adobe Illustrator plugins: CADtools

Add some CAD functionality to Ai with this plugin

  • Compatibility: CS5 to CC 2018
  • Price: $379

As the name suggests, CADtools adds CAD functionality to Illustrator. One of the most useful features is the ability to snap objects and project art onto isometric grids, which can save hours. CADtools 11 also adds 92 new tools, organised into 10 groups, to the Illustrator toolbox. 

It's a well thought-out plugin that can boost efficiency dramatically, but it's not cheap. Upgrading from version 8, 9 or 10 costs $229, or newcomers can get the full version for $379.

12. SymmetryWorks 6

Adobe Illustrator plugins: SymmetryWorks

The new Color Symmetries pane offers 46 secondary symmetry buttons
  • Compatibility: Ai 10 to CC 2017
  • Price: $364 (full version – other options available)

At $364 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.

13. Select Menu

Adobe Illustrator plugins: Select Menu

Add selectable items under the Select > Objects menu with this plugin

  • Compatibility: CS3 to CC 2018
  • Price: Free

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 that, while present in Illustrator natively, can be combined here for saving transparencies and flattening images quickly.

14. Xtream Path 2

Adobe Illustrator plugins: Xtream Path

There's no need for control points with Xtream Path 2
  • Compatibility: Ai 8 to CC 2018
  • Price: $139

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.

15. Phantasm v3

  • Compatibility: CS5 to CC 2018
  • Price: $78/£69

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.

16. FILTERiT 5

Adobe Illustrator plugins: FilterIt

FilterIt 5 is a versatile tool that lets you create simple to complex images in seconds
  • Compatibility: CS6 to CC 2018
  • Price: $129

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 Live Cut Out, Emboss, Live Neon, and Border features. Finally, a Live Circle feature enables users to quickly copy a single object into a circle pattern.

17. CAD-COMPO

Adobe Illustrator plugins: CAD-COMPO

CAD-COMPO is a cheaper combination of plugins than CADtools 9
  • Compatibility: Ai 10 to CC 2018
  • Price: $150

A cheaper alternative to CADtools 9, CAD-COMPO is a combination of technical drawing 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.

18. Magic Exporter

Adobe Illustrator plugins: Magic Exporter

Quickly export objects from your AI docs to PNGs for all devices and screens
  • Compatibility: CC
  • Price: $25/£23

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 the web in Illustrator, this will save you valuable time.

Main image: Ben O'Brien

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