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When should I use Photoshop, Illustrator or InDesign? An Adobe Creative Cloud rulebook.

 
When should I use Photoshop, Illustrator or InDesign? Tips on when to use Adobe Creative Suites for different tasks for graphic designers, bloggers and small business owners.
 

Every profession has their tools of the trade. Chefs all have a favorite knife, nurses a stethoscope and photographers have a favorite lens for the job at hand.

You wouldn’t use Microsoft Word to create a 10-page spreadsheet, would you? While it is entirely possible, it isn’t exactly effective. The same goes for your favorite Adobe Creative Suite (now known as Creative Cloud) programs.

One of the biggest questions I get as an instructor and designer is, "When should I use Photoshop, InDesign or Illustrator?" Here we’re going to talk about the difference between a designer’s crown jewels of the Creative Suite: Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign and the best uses for each program for designers, non-designers and bloggers alike.

Before we break down into the digital goodness, I’ll be upfront: You’ll hear opinions on the best program for each design job from people all across the world wide web. Everyone has an opinion! Some programs may work better for others due to their knowledge of each, but here’s what works best for me as a graphic designer and how I’ve guided my students in the past.

Let’s start off simply: Photoshop is for images. Illustrator is for creating vector-based logos and illustrations. InDesign is for text-heavy documents and merging the worlds of images, graphics and text.

 
 

photoshop

Ah, Photoshop. My old friend. I’ll be honest: before I got heavy into graphic design, I held on tightly to my good buddy Photoshop. In fact, I started out with Photoshop in 2000. I created everything from photo manipulations (yes) and tacky teenage filters on said photos (sure, why not?) to graphics for zines and logos for friends’ imaginary businesses (noooo!). Those are things you’ll never see in a #ThrowbackThursday. Sorry, world!

But in all seriousness, being a photographer who morphed into a graphic designer over the years, I’ve used Photoshop for just about everything. Then I realized that Photoshop is so, so perfect for editing images and not so ideal for creating graphics and laying out text.

Let’s take a look at generally what happens when you bring our text friend into Photoshop:

 
When should I use Photoshop, Illustrator or InDesign?
 

 

Not gorgeous, is it? I know. So sad. So pixilated. Let’s go over a few of Photoshop’s best uses:

  • General photo editing
  • Photo manipulation
  • Animated gifs
  • Banner ads
  • Mock ups of products or print work

Photoshop is a pixel-based program,* so for photographers, Photoshop is your jam when it comes to advanced image editing like color balance, curves/levels, brightness/contrast and so on. 

Want to blur out a background, add a dinosaur in the clouds, slim your legs, create a gif of your cat walking on its hind legs? Fire up the ol’ PS to manipulate your photos to the moon and back. You can even bring in some of your designs in Illustrator to create a 3D mockup of your latest book on swamp people. The world is your manipulative oyster.

*Yes, you can bring vectors in! It’s not ideal nor as easy to work with as it is in Illustrator or InDesign. We’ll talk about that later. But hey, what are pixels and why does it matter? We’ll be doing a post about pixels and your most common design phrases in the next few weeks!

illustrator

For anyone who is jumping into Illustrator for the first time (or third or tenth and you’re still confused): you’re not alone. The pen tool can be intimidating. What in the world is a blob brush, anyway? However, once you’ve mastered the basics, Illustrator can be a wonderful tool to let your creativity seep out of your brain, through your hands and onto your screen.

Feel like creating a graphic for a 12 foot tall banner sliding down the side of building? Branding for a new product? A logo to pop onto your business cards and network with the world? Illustrator is here, ready for action.

Illustrator is vector-based, which means you can create artwork which will remain crisp and clear no matter how large or small you scale it - the complete opposite of pixel- or raster-based artwork. Illustrator has countless tools to help you manipulate text and shapes, making it perfect for posters and strong visual illustrations.

When it comes to images, step away from the AI. When placing images in Illustrator, it’s difficult to crop - compared to InDesign and Photoshop - within your Artboard. I like to think of Illustrator as the abstract, artsy-fartsy sibling of InDesign. InDesign can easily create creative works of art, but Illustrator feels its essence. Too weird? I thought so. Let’s move on.

indesign

As a designer, I consider InDesign my absolute go-to. My always-there-for-you-in-times-of-need pal. In my previous life employed as a full-time designer, InDesign was never not open on my computer. Drop photos in, crop, create simple illustrations and shapes and upload to social media or your website. In my opinion, InDesign can do it all as long as you’re not looking for the advanced options from the other two programs.

InDesign is the best of both worlds in terms of vector and pixel-based images, text and shapes. For bloggers or small business owners, InDesign is your best best for creating media kits, e-books, brochures and other print and digital files that require several pages. You won’t find page options in Illustrator or Photoshop.

It works seamlessly with Illustrator and Photoshop. Place an illustration for Illustrator and you can make minor edits to the color or shape. Need to edit an image you’ve placed in the document to be a little bit brighter? Right click > "Edit… WIth". Once the edit is complete, InDesign will update the image to its newest version without a second thought.

Here is a quick list of InDesign’s strengths:

  • Type-heavy documents
  • Brochures
  • Social media graphics
  • Flyers
  • Posters
  • Multiple-page documents (page automation)
  • Print files
  • Text wrapping

And, of course, with strengths, come weaknesses: Vector drawing capabilities aren’t as strong as Illustrator’s. While you can create simple line drawings and shapes, you’re better off hopping over to InDesign’s sibling, Illustrator to knock out that logo from scratch. Another weakness of InDesign is with its image manipulation: you can easily crop and resize images and there are a few image editing filters, but not too many. Jump on over to Photoshop!

what's next?

From here, the jury is split. Personally, I’ll create any vectors, logos, icons or brandmarks in Illustrator and drop them into my InDesign file to lay out surrounding text and export from InDesign for things like social media graphics, business cards and media kits. Some lay text over images in Photoshop, but I would rather have the ability to make the graphic larger at a later date without worrying about pixilation. Some create their web graphics solely in Illustrator. From here, it’s your choice!

A question I’m asked a lot is which single program in the Creative Cloud should someone invest in. As someone who uses all three in tandem to create graphics, branding, illustrations and marketing materials, it’s difficult to say. It depends on the person. If you never plan on using illustrations, you could get by with only Photoshop. Never plan to make major changes to images, but lay out lots of texts for e-books, brochures and more? InDesign may be your best investment. If your main business is creating family illustrations for holiday greeting cards, Illustrator could be the program you’ll benefit most from.

Comment below and let me know which programs you use the most for your daily tasks! Have questions about how to use the programs? Shout it out below! I’ll include your questions in future blog posts about some of each programs’ FAQs for small business owners and bloggers.

Get access to Adobe Creative Cloud by clicking here.

Interested in just one of the programs? Follow the links below:
Photoshop (Lightroom included!) | InDesignIllustrator

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