How to recover a corrupted Illustrator (AI) File

Yesterday I was working on some designs for t-shirts in Adobe Illustrator. Today, when I try to open the file I get a message from Illustrator that says that Illustrator “Can’t open the illustration. The illustration contains an illegal operand.” WTH??

So here’s how to fix it. Most designers aren’t even aware that there is a feature in Adobe Illustrator called ContentRecovery. By default, this function is turned off. You can turn it on and then recover your file to correct the problem. These are the steps…

Enable content recovery
1. Quit out of Illustrator.
2. Locate your Adobe Illustrator Prefs, make a backup copy. Put the backup copy somewhere else (keep the original filename) and edit the original in your Prefs:
Mac: /Library/Preferences/Adobe Illustrator CS4 Settings/en_US/Adobe Illustrator Prefs
Windows XP: C:\Documents and Settings\\Application Data\Adobe\Adobe Illustrator CS4 Settings\en_US\AIPrefs
3. Using a plain text editor that can search, (I used Bean) search for this string: /enableContentRecovery 0
4. Change the 0 (zero) to a 1 and save it. Do not change its filename.

Correct the offending command
1. Launch Illustrator.
2. Using File > Open, hold down Command + Option + Shift (Mac), or Ctrl + Alt + Shift (Windows),  and click Open. Do not use Recent files or double-click the file to open. You want the full Open dialog.
3. Your file will be blank. Close the file without saving or altering.
4. Go back to your un-openable. You will now see a second file has suddenly appeared, with an underscore at the beginning of the filename. ( vs.

The underscore file is your recovered file. It will also be much larger than your original. Mine was 4.1 megs which shot up to 10.8. When you go into your file later and edit it, it will go back down to the size it was originally.

5. Open your recovered file in a plain text editor and search for something unique in the offending command message. I searched for the word “sugar”. This was a new TrueType font I had downloaded that day. I already knew it wasn’t what I would classify as a quality font, but it had a look I needed. (I also knew that third-party Truetype fonts can be problematic on Macs. I’ve had problems with them in the past.) I was able to find the exact line that matched the message.

You should note that I was lucky in that Illustrator gave me a direct quote of the offending command and because I took a screenshot of it, I was able to search for the exact string.


This is what I deleted in the Prefs file:


Save the Prefs file and close.

A word about finding the correct offending command
According to Adobe, there are two things to be aware of…
1. Postscript is a programming language. Functions toggle on and off. So when you delete, your line should start with: %AI8_BeginPluginObject and end with: %AI8_EndPluginObject. The presumed offending command should be between these strings. You must be sure to capture the entire piece of code.

2. Sometimes, your own patterns, textures, brushes, fonts can corrupt your file. Anything coming from a third-party, and including third-party libraries of any of the aforementioned etc. should be considered a suspect in the cause of your offending command.

Also, you should always be aware of how you built your file, whether you downloaded a new font or pattern and used it in your file, whether you’re working in an old file that was converted by Illustrator… even if you used a piece of someone else’s Illustrator art. All of these are clues to a starting point in your search for the error. Illustrator will not always give you clues.

Sometimes, you will have to search and delete every instance of the string. In my case, I just happened to find the right string quoted in the error message. As it turned out, I opened the file and it still loaded the font “Sugar”. The very first thing I did was convert it to outlines to remove it from the document font list altogether.

This is my recovered file…



How to make painting vanishes, mediums, balsams and resins

Here for your reading pleasure are a list of pdfs I’ve collected over the years. These files contain recipes for painting mediums, varnishes, balsams and resins. Included in this list of goodies are century-old master recipes. Some of the ingredients can only be obtained through the net, but it gives you something to add to your arsenal and a better understanding that the varnish you may be using is not all that there is out there. They contain definitions, techniques on how to make and use and drying times times of resins, oils and balsams. Some of these recipes claim to create jewel effects in the varnishes and resins while others claim to create a depth of field effect unlike any commercially available varnish.


  • Larch, Venetian and Strasbourg Turpentine
  • Canada & Copaiva Balsam


  • Fast-drying painting mediums
  • Copal concentrate and Canada Balsam
  • Canada Balsam And Copal
  • Cananda Balsam And Sun Thickened Oil
  • Canada Balsam, Double Mastic, Copal Concentrate & Oil
  • Canada Balsam Medium (Basic)
  • Copal Concentrate And Stand Oil
  • Copal Varnish Basic
  • Damar And Double Mastic And Wax
  • Damar-Oil Canada Balsam
  • Double Mastic
  • Egg And Damar Emulsion
  • Egg And Beeswax Emulsion
  • Gelatine Solution For Paper
  • Gesso For Panels (Technical Gelatine Formula)

Personally, I think it’s important to at least know how our predecessors worked with paint, before this information is lost to time forever. Some of these recipes have been in use for centuries before the advent of modern commercial varnishes and resins. Remember, I cannot verify their longevity but I can verify their authenticity.

Download the PDFs here:

Digital Stock Photography

AS DESIGNERS, Images and text are what make up any piece of graphic design. The text we get from the client or agency writers, and the imagery we create, have created for us or purchase online. Ideally, it would be great if the photography was unique to each piece, but uniqueness costs money and can get very expensive for the client. So what does a graphic designer do when he needs some artwork for a client, but doesn’t want to spend a lot of money? He turns to online stock photography.

A stock house is a distribution house for the photographer. They use their network to get the photographer’s work out there to the graphic designing public. When an image is sold, the photographer gets a percentage, depending on the license type.  If the license is royalty free, the photographer gets a small piece of the pie, but the image can be sold over and over again. If the license is rights managed, the photographer gets a much larger chunk of pie and in some cases, can control how that image is even used. In special cases, some rights managed images cannot be used by two different companies in the same industry at the same time. And there are variations.

So in a nutshell, most stock houses are generally the same in what they do but their definitions may be slightly different, particularly from country to country. It’s always a good idea to read everything about how they do their licensing when dealing with a new stock house.

Another consideration is time zone. If you are working on a project with a tight deadline (and who hasn’t?)and you need an image at a special size (let’s say that image is stocked in a smaller size only), keep in mind where the company is physically located. An ad agency in Toronto, Canada who needs the image by 3:00 the following day, won’t get it in time because their stock house in Sacramento California is not only three hours behind them, but wont even see the request until 12 noon Toronto time or 9 am Sacramento time.

Licensing There are two types of licenses: royalty free and rights managed. Each stock house deals with these two terms differently and it’s always recommended to read the fine print of any contract at least once. Don’t assume that if one company says you can do whatever you wish with the image, they all say the same thing.

Getty’s use of royalty free images means the designer purchases the image and uses it over and over again. The larger the image, the more he pays. Some places such as 123rf allows you to purchase a set rate subscription per image. Others such as  Shutterstock have single rates where you pay once, and download as many images as you require over a set amount of time, such as a year or 25 days. The longer the time period, the higher the subscription rate. The downside to royalty free images is that anyone can have the same image as you which means although you may have come up with a smashing design, your imagery is not so smashing after all.

Rights managed means (in most cases) the stock house may distribute the image, but the photographer holds the rights to how that image gets used. Getty’s use of the term is fairly straight forward. The designer negotiates with a rep on how he or she intends to use the artwork and pays based on a number of variables such as duration (how long the printed image will be in distribution), print copies (also referred to as circulation), image percentage (ratio of how big the image is in the overall printed piece) and so on. And those variables are in reference to each usage. Want to use it in web? Then there are a whole new set of variables to consider.

Now let’s say your client decides to add a brochure into the mix, the designer must then go back to the rep and negotiate a new license based on new usage. The downside to the uniqueness of rights managed images is that only a few people may have a copy of your image and it’s far more expensive than royalty free.

And while we’re talking about the downside, let’s not forget the downside of online digital photography itself. The one horrible aspect of such photography is that it tends to homogenize all design, everywhere. Anyone can have your images and as a designer, you loose your own uniqueness when you use it. Consumers become unresponsive to the same images appearing over and over again in all advertising. Digital Stock house catalogs can take on a bland and predictable appearance. Designers crave unique, edgey photography but rarely have the client budget to afford specialty photography.

Lens Correction in Photoshop

As a painter, I’m cursed. One of the things I have to always consider is documenting my paintings. What curses me is the curvature of the lens. By virtue of the curve, straight lines always come out curving around a bulge in photographs.  That’s the lens doing that. It’s called field distortion and it drives me crazy.

I could fix it by buying a lens for my camera that would correct it, but they’re expensive.

I could buy software such as DxO Optics Pro. It too can be expensive. DxO Optics Pro retails for $253.00 CAD.

I have Photoshop already… and guess what? It comes with a lens correction filter already (as of CS2). As it turned out, I had the perfect image to try it out on. I did a painting of Queen Street in Toronto from a series I’ve been working on of a row of buildings. As you can see in my original image, the distortion isn’t bad. But enough that I’m not happy with the way it is.

The second image shows guides to see just how far off it really is. Not much… but enough. Click for the enlargement to see the detail.

Original image

Original image


From the Filter menu, go to Distort -> Lens Correction.

That calls up a workspace window with controls on the right hand side and tools on the left.


The Workspace

The Workspace

Closeup of Menu

Here’s a closeup of the controls.

Remove Distortion is a setting that controls which way the distortion will operate, convex or concave.

Chromatic Aberration is when your channels or areas in your channels are not aligned and you get an offset occurring.

Vignette is when an area of your photograph is fuzzy and out of focus.

Transform refers to the entire image tilting in perspective top to bottom (vertical perspective) or swinging left to right (horizontal perspective).

The Edge and Scale settings refer to when the image is distorted to correct the aberration, the filter will squish in the image, pulling it away from the original edge of the image. This setting tells the filter what to put there in its place. The default is transparency, or in other words nothing.

So the first thing I need to do is straighten the image by rotating 1 degree. You can see the canvas exposed along the edges after the rotation. Had I changed the Edge setting to a fill colour, the exposed areas would be solid and not transparent.

Then I changed the horizontal perspective to -4 and the vertical to +6 to align the front picture plane to the viewer.

This was the result. It was enough that it represented what I wanted. Just enough to remove most of the distortion. I’m not going to fuss too much with it. The more I fuss, the less people are going to believe that this is what my painting really looks like.

From here, I used Free Distort to align and straighten the edges more

The final image

The final image

My finished file. 🙂

Open Source Design

Here’s something I came across a few days ago. Open Source Web Design. 1,280 downloadable web designs.

The Open Source Web Design project was founded in September, 2000 by Francis J. Skettino. The goal was to provide the Open Source community with quality web designs to help get people’s projects on the web in a way that is both organized and good looking.

An advocate of the Web 2.0 standard, this Philadelphia-based site proposes to share knowledge by spreading their webwares. Its a great idea and was the basis for learning html… share, copy, modify. Now THAT’s technology.

Hello world, no really

As a designer, your eye stays peeled for anything of design interest whether you want it that way or not. You can’t help but notice little things such as the fluid curving arm of your mom’s kettle or the unusual tight kerning in an ad. It’s just the way designers are wired.

This blog represents my travels… on the net or the world around me. Anything I find of design interest is going here for other designers to rummage through. As well, anything of art and culture is landing here. So, for your reading pleasure, here are the keywords for today… design, graphic, art direction, font, type, typography, colour (yes, in Canada we use a “u”), paper, pigment, canvas, brush, oil, watercolour (See? I did it again), acrylic, alkyd, support, medium, art, painting, illustration, writing, literature, short story, novel, book cover, art direction.

This blog will link back to my online portfolio.