I was recently asked to do a quick localization project for a certain non-profit where I received a business card template in Adobe Illustrator format and had to create a Japanese version of the card for their local representative here. I don’t own a personal copy of Adobe Illustrator (CS5 list price in Japan 84,000 yen or about US$1000.00) so I faced a decision. I could do one of four things:
1. Download the trial version, use it for this short project then uninstall
2. Pay about $500 for the academic version (but would probably end up with Japanese software)
3. Download a pirate version from a torrent site (OK, this is not the right option for a Christ-follower)
4. Turn to open source alternatives
Option #1 looked good but it only works once per PC and also leaves registry bloat behind after the uninstall. Because I like open source software (always free) and because I happened to know about a great alternative to Illustrator, I decided to go with option #4.
How I did it
After installing the lastest Inkscape (currently at version 48.1) I found that Inkscape imports ai files natively pretty well. I was able to import the Illustrator CS4 file containing the business card template with no problems. I did have to specify the size, so I used a standard Japanese business card size. The file opened up in Inkscape and I was able to edit text and vector graphics. However I noticed that there was no export to Adobe Illustrator .ai format built in. I was surprised because I thought I had used Inkscape to export .ai files in the past. After a quick web search I learned that the .ai export feature was removed in Inkscape version .47. This is because Adobe Illustrator now (since version 10) supports importing .svg files, which are Inkscape’s native file format. This is good news but in my experience some Mac-based graphics designers aren’t too great with handling different file formats. So I was pleased to find that a separate open-source project exists who’s whole mission is to provide a convertor between the various vector-based graphic formats in existence. Not only that, but this project includes a patch script to run on Inkscape 47.x or 48.x which adds the specific functionality I was looking for. The project is called sk1project and the software is called uniconvertor.