When to Use Adobe Illustrator vs. Photoshop vs. InDesign
One of the things that can be frustrating to creative professionals is receiving files that have been put together using the wrong piece of design software. It could be anything from using Adobe Illustrator instead of InDesign for layout or a logo that has been put together using Photoshop.
While it’s expected that pros should know this information, someone who’s cracking open the software for the first time might not even be aware that there are instances where you should be using one over the other. Just like a plumber would use the right wrench for the job, each program has a specific area that it excels at. So what I’ll be doing in this post is breaking down the three pieces of design software from Adobe – InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop and explaining when to use them.
By examining them in this way, you can see what your specific needs are, this should help you to decide what program you’ll start learning. You’ll want to focus your attention on the piece of software that is most relevant to what your goals, and then apply that knowledge to the other two.
When to use Adobe InDesign
There should be no confusion about when to use InDesign – its specific purpose is for laying out printed materials; that’s what it is designed to do. This could be brochures, newsletters, ads, business cards or books. Virtually anything that is made up of a combination of blocks of text, photos or other artwork. Its purpose is to take the elements that you create in Illustrator and Photoshop and put them together in one place.
InDesign excels at projects that require multi-page layouts or master layouts where one theme reoccurs on multiple pages. Its text wrap functionality (where you can literally wrap text around images or objects) is much simpler and easier to use than it is in Illustrator.
People can, and do, put together layouts with Photoshop or Illustrator. However, in doing so, they often create files that are needlessly huge or put together in ways that are not optimal for commercial printers to use. InDesign, however, packages everything for you – all of your fonts and images. It does this so that you can hand off these materials to your printer and they can make your layout work in the exact manner that you intended.
While InDesign is a powerful tool, it does have its limitations. For one, it doesn’t have any photo editing capabilities. InDesign does give you the ability to draw vector graphics, like those you might find in a logo, but it doesn’t hold a candle to what you can do with Illustrator. Which brings us to…
When to use Adobe Illustrator
Illustrator, as its name suggests, is for creating and editing vector based illustrations such as logos and brand marks or other design elements. Vector graphics are scalable images that can be sized as small or as large as you need them to be, and still maintain their resolution and clarity.
While it is possible to create multi-page documents with Illustrator for items like brochures or annual reports, there are a few drawbacks to using the program in this way:
- Illustrator doesn’t have a way to setup master pages the way that InDesign does. This is a necessary tool when you’re building documents that use templates.
- Illustrator doesn’t allow you to automate page numbers. This is another feature InDesign supports, which can be especially useful when dealing with larger documents.
When to use Adobe Photoshop
Plain and simple, Photoshop is for creating and editing photos and raster (pixel) based art work. The program was originally developed as a tool to enhance photographs, but over time its functionality has developed to the point where it can be used to create:
- User interface designs
- Web pages
- Banner ads
- Video graphics
- Editing pictures for print
Because there is so much information about Photoshop out there in the form of tutorials and guides, some people feel that it’s all you need – a one stop shop. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The problem is that there are instances when you don’t need to use Photoshop, and should in fact be using Illustrator or InDesign.
- Do not create logos with Photoshop – It’s a bad idea that will do nothing but cost you time and money. Again, Photoshop is pixel, or raster based. If you create a logo with it, the files that it creates can not be enlarged or manipulated in the same manner that an Illustrator-based logo can.
- Do not set type in Photoshop for print projects – For type to print at its clearest, it needs to be vector based; Photoshop exports type as pixels. Now, you can save your Photoshop files in as an .EPS file which allows you to export type as vectors, but still this is not a best practice, so just don’t do it.
Hopefully this article has helped to clear up some of the confusion that surrounds these pieces of software and when to use them. While I’ve only scratched the surface as far as the capabilities of Adobe InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop, these are some of their most fundamental applications. Thinking about what you need to do with these programs will help you to organize your workflow better and ultimately create more professional looking documents.