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Adobe Illustrator vs. Photoshop vs. InDesign – Print Design Guide

Adobe Illustrator vs. Photoshop vs. InDesign - Print Design GuidePhotoshop, Illustrator and InDesign represent the “big three” of the Adobe Creative Suite—but never assume that one is interchangeable with another.

Use the wrong design program to create a certain element of your artwork, and you might end up with blurry text, sloppy layouts, or a logo that you can never resize without turning it into a pixelated nightmare.

Using all three programs together, however, turns them into the ultimate dream team. You can maximize the strengths of each Adobe product while also minimizing their weaknesses; where one program fails, another can pick up the slack.

Photoshop vs. Illustrator vs. InDesign at a Glance

Which Adobe Program Should You Use for Designing Print Media?

Since each program has its own set of strengths and weaknesses, the one you should choose depends on which part of the print design you’re actually making.

Lake Geneva Summer Camp Presentation Folder (Front View)Lake Geneva Summer Camp Presentation Folder (Inside View)

Using this presentation folder design as an example, let’s break down which Adobe programs (Photoshop vs. Illustrator vs. InDesign) were used to create its various elements.

Designing a Logo: Illustrator

The perfect scalability of vector images makes Illustrator, hands-down, the best program for creating print logos. A logo you create in Illustrator can be imported into a number of different projects and will always print with crystal clarity.Adobe Illustrator vs. Photoshop vs. InDesign - Designing a Logo
Runner-Up: InDesign
If you don’t have Illustrator, InDesign also has the vector tools you need to create a scalable logo. Photoshop can work as a last resort, but keep in mind that the vectors you create will be converted to raster images and you’ll likely see some slight pixelation if you try to reproduce the logo in different sizes.

Drawing Shapes and Graphics: Illustrator

Illustrator is the go-to choice for drawing any shaped visual elements, since vectors can be easily manipulated, altered and resized. Vector illustration can be tricky to learn, but the results are much more professional looking than other hand-drawn options.Adobe Illustrator vs. Photoshop vs. InDesign - Drawing Graphics
Runner-Up: Photoshop
If you don’t mind working in a pixel-based environment, you can achieve similar results using Photoshop. Since not all of your illustrative elements will be reused in other designs, you won’t run into any pixelation issues as long as you don’t have to resize the image.

Adding Filters and Special Effects: Photoshop

Photoshop gives you access to an impressive library of filters and special effects. If you want to give your print media projects that extra level of flair, Photoshop should be your first choice.Adobe Illustrator vs. Photoshop vs. InDesign - Adding Filters and Effects
Runner-Up: InDesign
If you don’t have access to Photoshop, you can add a few limited filters to your photos directly from InDesign. It doesn’t have quite the same scope as Photoshop, but it can handle the basics.

Manipulating Photos: Photoshop

The name says it all—Photoshop has the most tools for manipulating photos, and since photos are created using pixels, you don’t have to worry about distortion. Whenever your print design includes photographs, use Photoshop first to improve the image quality before importing into another program.Adobe Illustrator vs. Photoshop vs. InDesign - Manipulating Photos
Runner-Up: InDesign
Again, if you don’t have access to Photoshop, InDesign can at least handle the basics, like cropping and resizing. It shouldn’t be your first choice, but it’s manageable in a pinch.

Writing Copy: InDesign

If you’re designing a brochure, pocket folder or other print project that has large passages of text, InDesign is very handy for its intuitive word wrap feature. Word wrap helps you easily break up your copy into columns, letting you utilize every inch of canvas space. InDesign also creates crisp, clean text devoid of pixelation.Adobe Illustrator vs. Photoshop vs. InDesign - Writing Copy
Runner-Up: Illustrator
Illustrator can also be used to create smooth, scalable text out of vector shapes, but without the word wrap tools, it can be difficult to create a good-looking layout for text.

Designing Layouts: InDesign

InDesign has all of the best tools for creating complete layouts for print, especially multi-page layouts using its master page system. It can also handle multi-page templates, which makes it easier for you to quickly put together a sharp-looking layout.Adobe Illustrator vs. Photoshop vs. InDesign - Designing Layouts
Runner-Up: Illustrator
Illustrator can also handle multi-page layouts to a degree, but without the master page system, you’ll end up having to do a lot of extra work.

Creating Your Print Ready Files: InDesign

Composing a print-ready folder design in InDesign is a fairly simple affair. It keeps all of the design elements in their original state, so when it comes time to print, you’ll have the most accurate representation possible. InDesign is also better than most other Adobe programs at creating .EPS files, one of the more ideal formats for print-ready artwork.Adobe Illustrator vs. Photoshop vs. InDesign - Making Print-Ready Files
Runner-Up: Illustrator
Illustrator makes a decent second choice for its ability to export accurate print-ready .EPS files.

What About Adobe Fireworks?

Adobe FireworksAlthough Adobe Fireworks is an excellent illustration and photo editing tool, when it comes to designing print media, there isn’t much that Fireworks has to offer over the other programs in the Adobe Creative Suite.

It’s actually something of an amalgam of all three programs—it has layers and photo editing tools like Photoshop, vector illustrations like Illustrator, and the use of master pages like InDesign.

However, Fireworks is primarily for web and digital design, so when it comes to creating print designs, it doesn’t bring anything new to the table.

Conclusion

We all have our own ways of doing things, and you should ultimately choose the program that best fits you as a designer. In the end, what matters is that your final product is clean, clear and catching to the eye.

Do you have any questions about using Illustrator vs. Photoshop vs. InDesign for creating print media designs? What have been your personal experiences with using the Adobe Creative Suite for print media? Is there another alternative program that you prefer over these three? We really want to hear from you, so please leave your comments below!

Vladimir Gendelman Author: Vladimir Gendelman

As CEO of CompanyFolders.com, Vladimir is a knowledgeable authority in print marketing and graphic design for businesses. He leads a team of talented designers and experts dedicated to helping customers create print collateral that puts forth the best possible impression. You can keep up with Vladimir by connecting with him on Google+ and Twitter.

Discussion

  1. judith says:

    I read your article and thank you very much for breaking it down like that. It begs the question though to clarify: In creating one piece of material (a brochure for example) can different elements be created in the different programs and then be brought together to create the one?

    • Vladimir Gendelman Vladimir Gendelman says:

      Yes that’s correct. You could retouch photos in Photoshop or create vector graphics in Illustrator, and then incorporate them into a brochure using InDesign.

  2. judith says:

    Ok, I guess the next question would be which program should you use to create the master document?

    • Vladimir Gendelman Vladimir Gendelman says:

      It depends on your personal preference, but for a multi-page document such as a brochure, I’d recommend InDesign.

  3. Chris says:

    I’ve always thought of Indesign as the “mixing bowl” or container for all your AI and PSD “ingredients”.

  4. baldo patino says:

    just went thru my first magazine designing, printing and sent for print.
    for yrs ive used corel draw and this was a nightmare lol

  5. Judith J says:

    I am in the process of preparing my book for amazon.com and it is recommended that I use Photo Shop or InDesign software. The book is in MS Word and would like to know which program would be best. The book has no illustrations or photos, just text. My computer skills are limited, so which do you think would be best and easiest. Thank you for your assistance. Sincerely, JJ

  6. Tyler says:

    Thank you for this great summary!

    Regarding Illustrator and Photoshop, I have a question. I am designing UI elements (custom checkboxes, sliders, buttons etc) and am using Illustrator as some of these need to scale. I require a final bitmapped image, however, in PNG format. I have found that illustrator’s export to web png tool seems to do odd things to my circular UI elements, but when I place the illustrator file into photoshop and export to PNG from there it looks great.

    Would this be a proper workflow or should it be possible to produce great bitmapped images from vector source at even the smallest scale (20px X 20px at 72ppi)?

    Thanks!

  7. Mary says:

    My 10 year old son is doing a family tree for a class assignment. Would either illustrator or indesign be a good product to use for this? Basically looking to print a poster at Kinko’s with a pix of a tree and names of family member to great grand parents with name DOB DOD, place born.

  8. Judith D. S. says:

    Hello Vladimir! Does your studio use Mac or PC? Thank you.

    • Vladimir Gendelman Vladimir Gendelman says:

      We actually use both Mac and PC, whichever our graphic designers feel most comfortable using.

  9. Francis James says:

    Hello Sir Vladimir. I want to know which software is better in creating vector/cartoon art, Photoshop or Illustrator? Thank you.

  10. Natalie says:

    Hi Vladimir,

    I am wanting to start my own business from home. My main interests are invitations, program fans, cards, sparkler tags, table numbers (basically anything for weddings, parties etc.). I am wanting to create templates that I can use again and again but I will also do custom works when required. I’ve read your article and I am leaning towards inDesign. Is that what you would recommend?

    • Vladimir Gendelman Vladimir Gendelman says:

      InDesign is more for multipage tasks, so I wouldn’t recommend it in your case. Do you plan to use vector or raster artwork predominantly? If you’re mostly working with vectors, I’d suggest Illustrator. If raster, you’re better off with Photoshop.

      • Primrose A. says:

        My question is similar to that above. But perhaps I am not understanding the difference between raster artwork and vectors. I am creating a postcard with text over a chevron print pattern. I have a .jpeg of the chevron print that is 329KB.
        Which is better for this?
        Similarly; Subway Art. Which is best? I want to create a personalized 8 x 10 print of encouraging words for my friends in my cancer support group in some fun fonts. (I collect them. Fonts; not friends.)
        Finally, really; just to make a simple black/white “Bake Sale Fundraiser Today” flyer! Which easy button do you press?! Thank you for your assistance!
        P.S. I have Creative Cloud; but seriously, not feeling very creative at all.

  11. Val says:

    Hi Vlad,
    I am in the process of designing a book cover for a well known writer. One of my tasks will be to design a realistic looking MOTEL SIGN (old Vegas style). Any suggestions on which programs to use? I really like photoshops effects (glow) capabilities…would I ruin the asset I build in Illustrator if I throw it in Photoshop to do some glow effects?

    Thanks,
    V

  12. Zanda says:

    Hello,

    I am currently using Photoshop Elements 12. I am creating a children’s book and need my RGB files converted to CMYK for commercial printing. Which Adobe application should I upgrade to? I have scans of paintings which I edited in my current Photoshop. Thanks…

  13. Maddie says:

    Hello Vladimir,
    I’m trying to figure out the most effiecient way to accurately remove the background of hundreds of high resolution images (photographs). The photos range from family photos, flowers, candy…just about anything. I’ve been using Photoshop and a mouse and the select tool, but I’m wondering if you have any suggestions that might help me make the task easier and faster, but just as accurate.
    Thank you for your time.
    Maddie

  14. clarke says:

    Commencing business working with Direct printing on to wax candles. personalised candles mainly baby photo’s supplied in Jpeg.
    Is photoshop the program for improving photos ready for printing. use a Epson ink jet printer.

    • Vladimir Gendelman Vladimir Gendelman says:

      If I understand correctly, Photoshop would be your best choice for editing JPEG photos.

  15. Rana says:

    Hi Vladimir,

    I am planning to make a poster for a conference. What would be the best for that ?
    Thanks

    • Vladimir Gendelman Vladimir Gendelman says:

      It depends largely on whether the poster consists of vector or raster graphics. If the design contains photos, you’re better off with Photoshop. If it’s just lines and shapes, use Illustrator.

  16. Leslie Charles says:

    I would like to create printable documents, perhaps as much as 1000 pages long, with numerous illustrations from Photoshop Elements 10 and MS Visio. In addition to the illustrations I also use many footnotes, citations, a bibliography, index, page numbering, and a table of contents. Other things too, but you get the idea.

    Currently I use Word 2010. After about 50 pages (or even 20 pages that contain numerous illustrations) the Word applications becomes very slow to save, open, and manipulate. What do you suggest? What would give me the resources listed above and provide fast saving, editing, and opening?

    Thanks!

    • Vladimir Gendelman Vladimir Gendelman says:

      You may want to try out InDesign, it’s practically made for multi-page documents with graphical elements.

  17. Hello Vladimar,

    I took a class in 2009 learning Photoshop. Now I want to create my own book covers. I am a beginner. Which adobe product and version do you suggest for Windows 7 or Windows 8.
    Thank you so much for this help. I really appreciate it.

    • Vladimir Gendelman Vladimir Gendelman says:

      You could use Photoshop if the covers are primarily made up of photography elements. If they mostly feature vector artwork, you may want to use Illustrator.

  18. Danielle says:

    I am going to be designing a print ad for our business that will be used in magazines, among many other things down the road. I am vaguely familiar with photoshop, illustrator, and indesign and need to make the appropriate purchase for what I will be doing. Do I just need one or all? I will be teaching myself how to use these programs through online tutorials.

    I appreciate your help!

    • Vladimir Gendelman Vladimir Gendelman says:

      Does the ad consist mainly of photos or vector art? I’d suggest either Photoshop or Illustrator, depending on which type of element will dominate your design.

  19. Marco says:

    Couldn’t be clearer. I am in the process of designing a brochure and feel VERY comfortable enough with PS and AI, but I think it is *time* to tackle another learning curve with InDesign. This is ultimately what makes most of us happy at work (well at least myself); the learning curve of mastering something and the never-ending process of learning.

    You sold me with the multiple pages/text options of InDesign. Gonna give it a try. Many thanks!!

  20. Andreas Sieg says:

    I am at first a motion designer, working with After Effects or Premiere Pro. Since two years I am also working on different print projects which complete my portfolio. The projects are always one page layouts, such as medical product packages for pills or eye sprays, posters of the packages for use as banners at medical fairs or print ads in medical related magazins.
    The designs include pixel-pictures from istock footage – for example eyes or faces with eyes, or drops and bubbles. But also vector or EPS logos of the companies. And last but not least standard text for incredients, headlines etc. Output format is always illustrator or PDF format. Is it ok to work with Illustrator or do I have to upgrade to InDesign??

    Thanks for your help, Andy

    • Vladimir Gendelman Vladimir Gendelman says:

      Illustrator should work fine. I’d only consider switching to InDesign if you’re creating a multi-page project.

  21. mike ephraem says:

    am in process of designing my website,,,which is the best software for designing the images like header,,,am eager for the answer plz

    • Vladimir Gendelman Vladimir Gendelman says:

      It depends on the type of images. Photoshop is best for photo-based images, illustrator is best for vector artwork.

  22. Kat Yane says:

    So hi, I have to create flyers for my customers that they can manipulate on the front end of the site. They should also be able to insert their logo or their unit name into this flyer. We will be creating the initial flyers for them to work from. What do you suggest…Adobe / photoshop or indesign . My daughter who is a designer in NY says indesign…my sister says photoshop..I don’t know what to use. My guy in India who handles the hosting and management of the site will have to put this into the site for me.
    Any ideas

    • Vladimir Gendelman Vladimir Gendelman says:

      If the flyer design consists mostly of vector artwork, I’d suggest Illustrator. If it uses photos, Photoshop is probably a better choice. Otherwise, either program could do the job.

  23. Yvonne says:

    Hi Vladimir

    I currently own Photoshop Elements 10 & 12 and Lightroom 5. Thank you for your article!
    I hope you can help me shed some light. Everything I design is photo based.
    I currently design folded greeting cards and calendars. However, I have been forced to use online websites owned by the companies where I print since I am still a novice. What is provided as templates in Photoshop on cards and calendars is too limited for me.
    However, I now would like to have my independence to be able to design the following (all using photos and add “clip art” type illustrations if required e.g. balloons for birthday card): folded greeting cards, calendars and children’s board books for the young ones and children’s books up to 8 yrs of age.
    I am trying to decide what is the best program or combination of programs to use for the design of all these mentioned items using photos as my main “illustration” on each page.
    Hope you can help me; your input will be greatly appreciated.

    • Vladimir Gendelman Vladimir Gendelman says:

      Hey Yvonne, sorry for the delay in responding to this (all of our comments have to be moderated manually before they get published).
      Since you mentioned several multi-page mediums (such as books and calendars), I would recommend trying out InDesign. It’s generally the best choice for multi-page documents.

  24. vinay says:

    thanks for your nice article . i want to write a book which is having some line diagrammes . i also want to draw some diagrammes for the same .which software do you suggest me for doing the same.

    • Vladimir Gendelman Vladimir Gendelman says:

      If it’s a multi-page book, I would suggest using InDesign. You could also use InDesign to create the diagrams, or Illustrator if you prefer.

  25. Caroline Garcia says:

    If I am making fold over greeting cards with about 3 photos and the salutations in font, would you recommend illustrator or photoshop? Does it change if the greeting card has vector handlettering rather than a provided font?

    Thanks!

    • Vladimir Gendelman Vladimir Gendelman says:

      You can use whichever you’re more comfortable with, but I would recommend Illustrator if your project includes vector art.

  26. Dhritiman says:

    This is probably going to be obvious from my comment, but I’m an absolute newbie when it comes to design of any sort. I work as an advertising copy writer, but am looking to start doing design work as well, to expand my own skill set. Would you suggest going about learning the entire Creative Suite simultaneously, or would you suggest beginning with one particular software and then taking it from there? It’d be great to get your inputs!

    • Vladimir Gendelman Vladimir Gendelman says:

      I would suggest learning one program at a time. Start out with whichever program you think you’ll need most often. Photoshop would probably be a good place to start.

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