Don’t Work on Illustrator files on a Server

29th May 2009
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Before continuing, Read this Adobe article on optimising Illustrator CS4, “Illustrator, networks, and removable media”.

“Multiple factors affect data transmission along a network, including file servers, routers, bridges, network cards, software, cables, connectors, power cables, and power supplies. Network connections can suddenly become unavailable, increasing the risk of data loss and application error. During transmission and reception, network software verifies that data has been sent and received. The depth of verification depends on the network software package, and may not be accessible by the operating system. When you try to save files across a network, you may receive the error, “Could not complete the request because the file is locked,” or “Could not save because of a disk error.” However, the network and operating system may not notify you if an Illustrator file or scratch disk file contains damaged or incomplete information.”

In short, many Adobe programs like Illustrator and Photoshop, require constant access to virtual memory as well as RAM. If you require a network to serve as your virtual memory you are asking for trouble, namely corrupted files and highly degraded system performance. This added layer of complexity adds time to your file processing; why intentionally slow down your workflow?

Especially if you are on a mac, the odds are your files create extra .ds files on pc servers. You can use TinkerTool to avoid this extra file creation, but essentially you’re asking the mac two fork directory structure to play nice with the pc one fork directory structure which is asking for compatibility issues.

Give your Illustrator files a fighting chance

The best and fastest way to use these resource gobbling apps is to give them lots of very fast, easily accessible virtual memory and RAM to play with; namely that attached to your computer. If you have an external hard drive attached via firewire or USB 2.0, then so much the better. These beat any 100Mbps ethernet network any day of the week.

DO NOT follow this advice Adobe gives regarding defragging your hard disk:

“Note: Adobe recommends that you use a disk utility, such as Norton Utilities or TechTool Pro, to optimize and defragment the hard disk regularly.”

Read my post on repairing permissions to understand more about this; but suffice to say a mac never needs to be defragged as OS X is constantly optimizing files for you.

So really, as in any graphic design job the goal is to create a file that prints error free, and without hassle. Working on files on a network, though more efficient from a workgroup point of view, is not the safest option. Adobe recommends using Version Cue in order to more effectively managing your design group’s work without depending on a server connection:

“If you use Illustrator CS2 or CS3 with Adobe Creative Suite, Adobe recommends that you work with files in Version Cue. This file version management feature in Adobe Creative Suite makes files available to everyone in your workgroup or team from a single workspace. You don’t have to leave Illustrator CS2 or CS3 to work with files in a Version Cue workspace: you can preview files, search for files based on metadata (such as author name, keyword, or version comments), and set permissions from within Illustrator. For more information about using Version Cue, visit the Adobe web site at, or refer to Adobe Creative Suite documentation.”

To decrease Illustrator file size, refrain from embedding images, and make sure you use 8bit previews for your placed eps and tif files and not full res previews:

“Embedded bitmap images (such as TIFF, BMP, or Photoshop EPS) can dramatically increase the size of an Illustrator document, causing slower performance. To improve performance, select Link in the Place dialog box when you place a bitmap image. The Link option references the placed image on the hard disk. (If a service bureau requires embedded images, save a copy of the file and select Include Linked Files in the Illustrator Native Format Options or EPS Format Options dialog box.)”

Fonts are an entirely different discussion, but in short, avoid using FontBook. It’s just not a pro level application. Use the free FontExplorer instead from Linotype: The first thing I do on a new computer I’m using for print production is install this software and then go to Tools/Clean System Fonts Folder; it makes sure all user fonts are out of there leaving only the required system fonts. Then you aren’t loading all your 1000s of fonts every time you boot up or use an app.

Okay, that’s my spiel. More soon!


Nathaniel Flick

I'm a Front End Web Developer passionate about usability. My primary specialties are HTML5, CSS3, SCSS, LESS, and jQuery and I am very familiar with Foundation and Bootstrap frameworks. I've worked on top of and with WordPress, Shopify, Rails, Python, and frameworks.

One thought on “Don’t Work on Illustrator files on a Server”

  1. My wife was working on a Macbook Pro with local files, and the performance was ok.
    Then I bought her a Mac Mini, told her to save all of her files on our NAS, and work directly off of the network share. The Mac Mini was unusably slow. After a little fiddling (disabling GPU acceleration helped a little), saving the file locally on the Mac Mini and reenabling the GPU acceleration was the solution – performance was on par with what she was experiencing on the Macbook.

    Now I’m wondering: how the hell Adobe makes their software so that open files don’t have a local cache?! WTH, Adobe?!

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