Can’t Edit Illustrator File – Quick Fix

There’s nothing more frustrating than an element not working in a file. When you can’t edit in Adobe Illustrator the answer is usually a simple fix. I’m a graphic designer for 25 years. Let’s get it fixed.

Common reasons you can’t edit in Illustrator include:

  • Locked items
  • File not a vector
  • Incorrect layer selected
  • Layer locked
  • Update required

In this article, we’ll look at the reasons why you can’t edit in Illustrator and how you can fix it.

Locked Items

Locked Contents

The number one reason you can’t edit your Illustrator file is that the object in the file or the whole file is locked.

The first thing to check is the file contents.

Open the file and check that the items on the artboard are not locked.

  • At the top of the screen Select Object
  • Scroll to unlock all

This will release all items that are currently locked on the artboard. If Unlock All is greyed out then there are no locked items in your file.

On a side note, I wish I could unlock certain items of artwork. You can lock individual pieces but when you select Unlock All Illustrator releases everything which can make your file more complicated than it needs to be.

In my opinion, it’s better to use Layers where you can lock and unlock items individually, but more about that further in the article.

Locked File

There is also the possibility that the file is locked because it originated elsewhere.

If you didn’t create the file then the owner may have added some security to it.

On the file icon, right-click and scroll to Properties.

Here you can tell if you have Read Only access. If this is the case you’ll have to contact the originator and ask them to change the access if you are required to work on the file.

File Not a Vector

Illustrator files are usually artwork, logos, or graphics that are saved and placed within other programs such as InDesign, as images or objects. In order to alter or edit an Illustrator file it has to be a vector, with a vector file you can adjust colors, and fonts, and move items around within the file. If the file has been created in another app, such as Photoshop, and saved as a .jpg or .bmap, and placed or opened as a file in Illustrator then manipulation or editing of this file is very limited.

It can be resized but no part of it, such as colors or fonts can be edited.

The original artwork would be required to do this, and only in the program, it was created.

Vectors differ from rasters in that they are made from paths and points. They can be easily scaled without loss of resolution. Rasters are made from pixels and lose resolution as they are scaled upwards.

Vectors for this reason are always a better graphics solution.

If the file originated elsewhere, it needs to be saved as an .AI or .eps where it can then be manipulated or edited in Illustrator.

Incorrect Layer Selection

Layers are an amazing part of Adobe products. They allow you to work on complex artwork without losing management of your file (or your sanity!)

Layers can be selected, hidden, and of course, locked. This is another reason why you might be having difficulty with your file. The layer you are trying to access is locked.

If no objects are specifically locked then we need to check the layers panel.

  • Go to Windows at the top
  • Scroll down to Layers

Firstly, if you have multiple layers you must be on the correct layer selection to select your object. All layers are color-coded and layers can have several objects within each layer. The trick is to find the layer that has your locked item.

By clicking on the hamburger, top right of the layers panel, scrolling to ‘Locate Items’ this will identify which layer your item is actually on, which will then show you if your item is locked.

Beside each object of artwork is an ‘eye’. This means the layer is currently visible. If there is also a ‘Lock’ icon beside it, this means that there is artwork on this layer that is locked in place. To unlock simply click on the ‘Lock’ icon.

This will then make your layer accessible and editable.

Update Required

If you have tried all of the above and your file is still misbehaving, it could be that your Illustrator app requires an update. Adobe is constantly updating and changing our apps to make them better and more user-friendly. But not everyone has auto update enabled and it can lead to glitches in your software.

However, it is really important to stay on top of updates. Updates can be OS updates and Creative Cloud updates.

The Creative Cloud ones we can set to Auto-Update but sometimes we’re a little reluctant to do OS updates.

This can be for a number of reasons, you don’t trust the latest update, you haven’t realized there’s an update available, or your machine, unfortunately, has become too old to complete an update.

Updates allow us to progress and do new things. Sometimes you do an update and think ‘I don’t see anything new’ but in reality, every update is making our machines and apps work smarter and gets rid of any bugs that might have generated since the last update. And sometimes the lack of an update is why your files are misbehaving.

Firstly check Creative Cloud for any Illustrator updates. If there is one available initiate it. You may want to do a restart to get everything back on track.

Hopefully, that will do the trick. If you have an Operating System update then it’s definitely worth activating. OS updates are usually security issues or a complete overhaul. Apps then work in line with the OS updates to improve user interaction and if you are lagging behind this can often result in certain aspects of the app becoming unavailable.

Tara Cunningham

My name is Tara. I am a Graphic Designer for the last 25+ years. Designing everything from Wedding stationery to Magazines. I have been using Adobe products since I was in college and know all the tips and tricks that make life a little easier when completing a project. Hopefully you will find the answer to your question on

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