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Opening New AI Files in an Older Version

If you're working in an older version of Adobe Illustrator but have files you need to open that were generated in a newer version and can't get them back saved, there is an easy solution.  You may have gotten this error: Can't open the illustration. The file was generated by a newer version of Illustrator and cannot be opened. Please resave it in a format compatible with your version of Illustrator.

If this is what you are seeing, follow the instructions below starting at number 1.

A different error may be: The file was generated by a newer version of Illustrator. Would you like to import this file? Some data loss may occur.  

If this is what you are seeing, say OK and follow the instructions below starting at number 3.

1. Create a New Document

File > New, cmd/ctrl + N

2. Place the Illustrator File

File > Place, browse out the file you are trying to open, and place it in the document.  Make sure "Link" is unchecked in the bottom of the dialog box when you are placing the file.  You can place an AI, EPS or PDF file.

3. Release Clipping Mask(s)

Chances are, there are numerous clipping masks in the artwork.  You will know this because all or portions of the artwork will look like they're not selectable / editable.  In this example, the pocket in the upper left is the clue that there are clipping masks - all the art is selected, but this one appears as though it's not.  With all of the artwork selected, choose Object > Clipping Mask > Release

4. Delete Clipping Mask(s)

Now, all of the artwork should be editable / selectable.  You'll want to delete the clipping masks (which aren't visible but are there around the artwork).  Select > Object > Clipping Masks and delete.

5. Final Results

You should now have all of your vector artwork available to edit with a few caveats.  Objects may have "expanded" and some details may have been lost including brushes, text and gradients.  Additionally, grouped objects will be ungrouped, so you may have to spend some time tidying up the artwork.

It's never ideal working backwards in Illustrator, using newer files in an older version, but sometimes it's inevitable.  This solution will at least allow you to open and access the vector artwork.