Proven tricks and tweaks to speed up Illustrator on Mac

Anyone who’s ever spent some time using Illustrator knows that it’s one of the most demanding apps, with the average .ai file taking up tens or even hundreds of MB of space. It’s no surprise that slow performance is a common issue for users of Adobe Illustrator.

Sometimes the problem with your sluggish Illustrator is easily solved: you might have too many documents open at once, a lot of active apps, or your Mac just needs a quick restart. However, those large Illustrator files can also cause a slowdown.

So instead of rebooting and hoping for the best, here are a few hacks you can use when you start noticing Adobe Illustrator is getting slow.

Quick fixes for Adobe Illustrator slow performance

When the Adobe Illustrator is running slow, as a rule, Mac users will typically conclude: Illustrator itself is at fault! But that is not always the case. Here’s what I've found while doing my research...

  • Adobe suggests using Outline View to hide paint attributes and speed up the display of complex objects or creating custom views to make it easier to magnify, scroll, and switch between layers. Speaking of layers, turning off any unnecessary ones can also speed up processes. The same performance improvement will give ditching any artboards you’re not working with.
  • Using links to images, such as TIFF or BMP files, can increase the size of .ai files and slow things down, so employing the Link option is always a smart move. Likewise, turning on low-resolution EPS previews will give you a clear idea of what you’re doing but use less RAM.
  • Disabling thumbnails, or hiding the navigator altogether, is another thing that seems small but can impact the time it takes for a screen redraw.
  • Consider transforming one into a scratch disk if you have multiple drives available or partitioned drives. This will allow Illustrator to use a portion of another hard disk as virtual memory, and while not as effective as increasing the amount of RAM available, it can still help.
  • If you’re working with large images, it’s possible to set yet another disk as a Secondary scratch disk.
  • And the last thing for those looking to speed up Illustrator CS6 is to ditch the app altogether and switch to CC 2019. Using Adobe’s monthly cloud subscription service means that you’ll always have access to the latest version of the app, which should, in theory, be the most efficient and bug-free on the market.

Fail-proof tweaks to macOS settings

If you’ve tried all of the above, it may be time to take a less granular approach and look at how tweaking your operating system might speed up Illustrator. For instance, many designers are guilty of clogging up their system with countless “just in case” fonts. Using a font management utility or simply deleting any you haven’t used in a while will free up your RAM.

Another tweak is the printer driver. I know it’s difficult to imagine that a printer driver could be the cause of the slow Adobe Illustrator performance. Still, Adobe itself recognizes it as a common factor causing slow Illustrator speed.

If you have a PostScript printer, make sure you’re using it as your default one. You can also configure Illustrator to print to a non-default printer by choosing File > Print, selecting Adobe PostScript File, and clicking Save.

Must-have hardware optimization

Naturally, all of the steps you’d take to improve the performance of any other app also apply to Illustrator: use a faster processor, install additional RAM, and optimize disk space.

Freeing up disk space is something you can try to do manually. But I suggest a quicker and easier solution: download CleanMyMac X! It helps to identify and delete all the unnecessary files, clean up duplicates, and more.

To optimize your hardware with CleanMyMac X:

  1. Download CleanMyMac X for free.
  2. In the left-side panel, click on Smart Scan > Scan
  3. Review Details and delete everything you don’t need
  4. Repeat the process with specific CleanMyMac X modules if required.
CleanMyMac X - Smart Scan complete

CleanMyMac X, by far, is the best way to bring your Mac back to life, restoring productivity and performance. Remember that if you just use it to improve your efficiency (e.g., reducing the time spent waiting around for Live Trace previews to render) by as little as 10%, it’ll free up 4 hours every week for those working 8-hour days.

Automatic Mac maintenance

At least one of the above tips should help you to speed up Illustrator on Mac unless it is time to replace your device with the new one.

Overall, the most no-brainer way to ensure Illustrator doesn’t get sluggish is to have plenty of disk space and RAM for the app to function flawlessly. You can tackle that task manually, searching your hard drive for duplicate files and other junk you no longer need. Still, it’s much easier to use one of the optimization apps, such as CleanMyMac X.