Photoshop, Illustrator or InDesign?


APRIL, 2017

adobe creative suite

I’ve noticed in some of my online graphic designer groups that designers use the completely wrong Adobe Creative Suite program for the task at hand. Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign definitely have distinct purposes and using the wrong program could be detrimental to a design and make your work more difficult. Until they make one program for all three, which in my personal opinion is inevitable, it’s important to know the difference.

InDesign is the best program for setting up multiple page templates

When to Use Photoshop

Just as its name suggests, Photoshop should only be used for creating, cleaning, manipulating and editing photos. It’s pixel based, so it can be used to create web graphics and banners to exact pixel sizes required for web pages. You can also design UIs and design and edit video graphics or animated GIFs.

The beauty of Photoshop is that it’s super powerful with lots of filters and the ability to make miracles happen. For example, take this project I worked on for a catering company that specializes in fresh, gourmet boxed lunches for conferences and events. I put an apple in an empty clear box thanks to Photoshop’s masking tool. I then dropped the manipulated photo into InDesign to design the ad.

The problem with all of Photoshop’s prowess is that designers think they can use it for anything. But there are several things that Photoshop should NEVER be used for:

  • Logos (no not EVER—more on this in the Illustrator section below)
  • Multipage Layouts (more on this in the InDesign section below)
  • Setting Type for Print Projects

“Until they make one program for all three, which in my personal opinion is inevitable, it’s important to know the difference.”

When to Use Illustrator

Illustrator should be used to make vector based graphics and illustrations, like logos. Vector graphics can be sized as big or as small as you need them and still retain their smooth, non-pixelated appearance. Illustrator can also be used to vectorize doodles, drawings, sketches and hand drawn lettering.

Illustrator has cool features that allow you to warp text while remaining vector and allowing you to still edit the text.

I’ve noticed that a lot of designers use Illustrator for multiple page layouts but I don’t recommend that. For one thing, you can’t make master page templates that can be used over and over. (See InDesign section below.)

When to Use InDesign

I use InDesign for about 80% of the work I do. Whether it’s an invitation, program, letterhead, business card or large scale graphic, the nature of my design work requires laying out text in combination with imagery, and for that InDesign is a godsend.

First, you can set up paragraph style sheets for each hierarchical category of text—for example, body copy, subheads, headers, captions, etc.—and quickly preview and make global changes in no time. You can also set up character style sheets to quickly bold or italicize copy in a snap.

Second, InDesign is the best program for setting up multiple page templates called master pages so that certain design elements, like page numbers, will show up on every page. Although it’s possible to set up multiple page documents in Illustrator and Photoshop, InDesign keeps the files compact and small in size, plus it optimizes the files for use by commercial printers.

Third, there are cool little perks that Illustrator and Photoshop don’t have, like the ability to easy wrap text around an object or image, find and replace fonts and set up beautiful tables.

And lastly, InDesign allows you to package fonts and layouts to easily send native files to printers for output. The package feature will also trouble shoot any potential problems, like having RGB imagery for a 4-color print job.

All in all, InDesign is my workhorse. To be honest, most of the time I have all three programs open so I can toggle back and forth between all three.

As I mentioned above, I have a feeling that one day there will only be one Adobe program. How cool would it be to be able to edit an image while laying out vector based text? But more on that another time.

I hope this little article has helped you. If you have any questions on which program to use, drop me a line. I’d be happy to help!

graphic design • pomp creative • graphic design studio • washington, dc • annapolis, maryland