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How to Recover Unsaved or Deleted Illustrator Files

How to Recover Unsaved or Deleted Illustrator Files

Losing hours of design work due to an unsaved or accidentally deleted Illustrator file can be an artist’s nightmare. Unfortunately, this situation is more common than we’d like to admit. However, there are methods to recover these important files that I have personally used and can attest to their effectiveness. In this article, I’ll guide you through several strategies to retrieve your lost Illustrator files.


Common Scenarios:

Frequent Power Outages 😵

  • Unexpected power loss while working on an Illustrator file can result in unsaved changes being lost.
  • Systems with unreliable power sources are at higher risk of such issues.
  • Using an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) can help prevent data loss due to power outages.

System Crashes or Software Errors 🖥

  • Illustrator or system crashes can lead to the closing of the application without saving.
  • Software errors may cause files to become corrupted or deleted.
  • Regular updates and maintenance of your system can minimize the risk of crashes.

Accidental File Deletion 🗑

  • Mistakenly deleting files is a common occurrence, especially when clearing workspace or organizing files.
  • Not realizing an important file was selected can lead to accidental deletion.
  • Establishing a structured file management system can help prevent such accidents.


Step-by-Step Guide. Recover Illustrator File:

Method 1: Adobe Illustrator’s AutoRecover 💾

  • Open Adobe Illustrator to check if the AutoRecovery feature prompts you to recover unsaved files.
  • If prompted, review the files list, and select the ones you wish to recover.
  • If not prompted, navigate to ‘Preferences’ > ‘File Handling & Clipboard’ to adjust AutoRecovery settings and check the recovery folder path.
  • Use a file explorer to navigate to the specified recovery folder and look for files with the .ait extension, then open them with Illustrator.

Note: Illustrator’s AutoRecovery saves temporary files at intervals you specify in the program’s preferences.

Conclusion: The AutoRecovery feature is a first-line defense against losing unsaved work, though it’s not guaranteed for every situation.

Method 2: Check Your Temp Files 🔎

  • Close Illustrator and navigate to the temporary files directory of your system. On Windows, search ‘%temp%’ in the Run dialog (Win+R), on MacOS, open ‘Terminal’ and type ‘open $TMPDIR’.
  • In the temp folder, look for files that begin with ‘AIP’ or similar. These could be Illustrator temp files.
  • Copy these temp files to another location.
  • Change the file extension to ‘.ai’ and attempt to open them with Illustrator.

Note: Temporary files are not always reliable and may not contain all the latest changes.

Conclusion: This method requires some sleuthing but can be a lifesaver for recovering unsaved work.

Method 3: Use a Data Recovery Program 🔄

  • Download and install a reputable data recovery software, such as Recuva.
  • Select the drive and file type that you want to recover. For Illustrator, search for ‘.ai’ files.
  • Start the scan. Once the scan is complete, look through the recoverable files for your lost Illustrator file.
  • Follow the data recovery software’s instructions to restore the file to a safe location.

Note: The sooner you attempt to recover a file, the better the chances of success as overwriting can occur.

Conclusion: Data recovery programs can be highly effective, especially when files have been deleted.

Method 4: Restore from Backup ⏮

  • Locate your backup system, whether it’s a Time Machine backup on MacOS, File History on Windows, or a third-party service.
  • Navigate through the backup to the date and time before the file loss occurred.
  • Locate your Illustrator file, and then restore it to your computer.

Note: This method assumes you have a pre-existing, up-to-date backup system in place.

Conclusion: Maintaining regular backups is crucial and makes recovery as simple as a few clicks.

Method 5: File Versioning in Cloud Services ☁

  • If your file was saved in a cloud service like Dropbox, Google Drive, or OneDrive, log into the service.
  • Right-click the file in question and look for a ‘Version history’ or ‘Previous versions’ option.
  • Select the version of the file prior to deletion or loss and restore it accordingly.

Note: This method is only applicable if the file was previously uploaded to a cloud service that supports file versioning.

Conclusion: This is a straightforward method for recovering previous versions of files if cloud services are part of your workflow.


Precautions and Tips:

Safeguard Your Design Work 🛡

  • Enable automatic backups using the options within Illustrator or through a third-party plugin.
  • Maintain a clear and organized file structure to minimize the chances of accidental file deletion.
  • Utilize cloud storage and services like Adobe Creative Cloud, which offer automated versioning and backup.
  • Regularly update Illustrator and your operating system to ensure stability and minimize the risk of crashes.
  • Consider investing in a reliable UPS to guard against power outages affecting your work.


Enhance Your Workflow

As graphic designers, we often focus intensely on the creative process, but sometimes we neglect the importance of safeguarding our creative assets. Implementing a robust file management and backup strategy can seem like a mundane task, but it’s essential for peace of mind and workflow continuity. By using tools such as cloud syncing, we not only protect against data loss but also gain the flexibility of working from anywhere. Additionally, keeping software updated with the latest patches through the Adobe Creative Cloud ensures that the AutoRecovery feature is at its most effective.


Experiencing the loss of an Illustrator file can be a stressful situation, but with the methods outlined above, your chance of recovery is high. Whether you’re implementing AutoRecovery, delving into temp files, seeking help from data recovery software, reaping the benefits of cloud backups, or simply relying on your own backup systems, there’s often a way to rescue your hard work. By also considering the preventive measures suggested, you can further protect yourself from future file loss incidents and create a more secure design environment.


Immediately check the Autosave folder in Illustrator's settings. If enabled, you might find your unsaved work in a recovered file there.

Yes, if you've enabled Time Machine on macOS or File History on Windows, you can restore previous versions of your Illustrator files from those backups.

By default, Autosave files are saved in C:UsersUSERNAMEAppDataRoamingAdobeAdobe Illustrator [Version] Settingsen_US*x64Recovery on Windows or ~/Library/Preferences/Adobe Illustrator [Version] Settings/en_US/Adobe Illustrator Prefs on macOS.

Open your document and select 'File > Revert' within Illustrator. This will return the document to the last saved state, thus discarding all unsaved changes.

Stop using the storage device immediately to prevent overwriting and run a scan with Illustrator file recovery software or check your backups.

Check the original file location for temporary files or use Time Machine on macOS or File History on Windows to restore an earlier version.

Illustrator's Recover Unsaved Documents feature under the 'File' menu can help locate and restore unsaved files after crashes or software hiccups.

Regularly save your work, use the Illustrator Autosave feature, and keep backups using services like Time Machine for macOS or cloud storage solutions.

If a recovered file won't open, repair it using a file repair tool or try importing it into a new Illustrator document.