Joe Clay | May 30, 2017

Random preset locations are fun!

About a week ago, I was finally fed up with some setup issues with Adobe programs. Illustrator sparked it, but it's something I've wanted to do for a bit, and I did it. It's simple so I should've done it sooner.

I work a lot with Sev, and we share a lot of project files, presets, scripts, etc. If I want to save a preset out for him to use, I have to save it to my documents/Adobe/whatever directory then I have to put a copy in Dropbox, then he has to grab it and put it in his directory. And then we have an extra copy of all of these presets floating around. And then AE updates may or may not migrate that folder. And that preset location bug in 2017 means I also have to navigate to the proper folder just to save.

And what's worse, various Adobe programs install presets in all sorts of locations. And some—I'm looking at you Illustrator!—have you save your presets/templates to one location and don't even search that location! So rather than navigating through that entire mess I decided to solve this issue once and for all with an ages old method—symlinks.

What is a Symlink?

Symlinks, symbolic links, or aliases are basically a folder or file that point back to the original folder or file. Any changes made to either will affect the other. And to the filesystem, it appears that the linked files exist as real files in their linked location. It's like Portal, haha. This is a technique I use a lot with Dropbox to mirror folders outside of Dropbox. There are other ways to do this that don't even involve Dropbox, but this is my method.

The process is the same for every type of preset folder you want to move. For this example I'll talk about migrating the After Effects User Presets folder which lives in ~/documents/Adobe/After Effects CC 201X/. Symlinks exist on Windows, but you'll have to look that one up for yourself.

Symlinking Preset Folders

  1. Make a new folder with the name of the presets folder—User Presets—or copy the User Presets folder to wherever you want in Dropbox—I like to make my own folder so my user has all of the permissions on it, just in case, but it's probably fine to copy it.
  2. Open up a Terminal window and type ln -s, make sure to leave a space after the "s."
  3. Now you'll drag your new preset folder out of Dropbox and into the terminal window and its path should appear.
  4. Next, Drag the current User Presets folder into the terminal. Double check to make sure you have the correct order in your ln command—the Dropbox path should be first—and that you have all the files in the Dropbox folder.
  5. When you have verified that you have all of the files copied to Dropbox, delete the original User Presets folder—unfortunately, the ln command can't do that for you, but you can look up rm if you want to stay in the terminal.
  6. Go back to terminal and hit enter to run the command. The original folder should reappear with a small black arrow on it to show that it's now linked.


You might have to update this again when there's an update to your programs or something. You should only ever have to change the target or right side of the command—for example changing 2017 to 2018. Basically, if Adobe moves the folder location or overwrites it, you'll have to check the target path, move any new files to Dropbox, delete the folder and rerun the command. That's all you'll need to do to keep your folders in sync.

Since these commands should be very similar between versions, I've taken to saving them as a note in Notes so I can just copy them to the terminal, run them after an update, and be done. If you want to get fancy you can delete the folders through the rm command and then make your own script to update everything automatically. And then you can set it up so that you can run it by clicking something on your desktop. Either way, I can now save a preset to my Dropbox and it updates everywhere—including Sev's machines—so we don't have to stop working to move files around. And if you're running multiple versions of AE, you can link one folder to all of those locations as well so every version can have the same scripts and presets.

Adobe expects you to do this

When you save your first preset to your Dropbox folder in AE, it'll give you an error that you can set to ignore forever, talking about how the preset won't show up unless you've basically symlinked that folder, so they're kind of expecting you to get annoyed enough to do this too, haha. I've also seen some Adobe peeps suggest something similar, so there's that too.