A Beginner’s Guide to the Adobe Creative Suite: Photoshop, Illustrator, or InDesign

If you are in the creative field, I’m sure you know about the Adobe Creative Suite. Being a cornerstone in the graphic design field, the Adobe Creative Suite comes with many programs to help designers create stunning projects.

Although all these programs are spectacular for what they are designed to do, many times people misuse them, loading up one program to design something that would be more suitable to create in another.

As there are many programs in the Adobe Creative Suite, we’ll be narrowing down the focus to just three: Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. The differences between these three programs (as well as their similarities) are the reasons why they work so well together.

Here is a quick guide to clarify when you should use Photoshop, Illustrator, or InDesign.


When you should use it

Everyone, even those who don’t normally do design work, recognize the name Photoshop. It has become a moniker for any kind of image editing, and rightfully so, as Photoshop is a powerhouse and industry standard in image and raster graphics editing. There are many other things that Photoshop can do that the average Joe might not know, however. Photoshop is great for:

  • Image editing
  • Web graphics and UI designs
  • Web mockups
  • Some motion graphics (such as gifs)
When you shouldn’t use it

With this large barrage of talents Photoshop has under its belt, there are some qualities that limit its use. For one, Photoshop is a raster based program, meaning that its images are made of pixels. While this is great for image editing and web use, this also means scaling a graphic created in Photoshop can easily cause it to become “blurry” or pixelated.

Along with not creating graphic that can be scaled up, Photoshop is also not great at handling paragraphs of text.

Here are some things you should probably leave to another program:

  • Creating logos
  • Multiple page documents
  • Anything involving a medium to heavy amount of text


When you should use it

Next we have my personal favorite: Illustrator. Illustrator has actually been around longer than Photoshop (hard to believe), and yet is a little more elusive in the public eye. This is because many people outside of the design field have no use for Illustrator, as it is a vector based program.

This is quite different from a raster program like Photoshop. Instead of relying on individual pixels to create an image, Illustrator uses Bézier curves that rely on mathematical equations to ensure they can be scaled indefinitely with no loss in quality. Graphics made utilizing Bézier curves are called vector images, and vector images are great for:

  • Creating logos
  • Icons and Infographics
  • Projects that involve a lot of iconography and not a lot of text
  • Print projects (again not involving a lot of text)
When you shouldn’t use it

Because Illustrator is a vector based program, it has hardly any photo editing capabilities (at least compared to Photoshop). This makes it worst out of the bunch to “Photoshop” any images.

Although Illustrator utilizes artboards (think of them like multiple canvases or “pages” in one Illustrator document to work on), it is also not the best for creating multiple-page documents like brochures or booklets.

Here are the kinds of projects where you should stay away from Illustrator:

  • Image editing
  • Multiple page documents
  • Animation of any kind


When you should use it

A more recent program (making its debut in 1999), InDesign was created by Adobe to replace PageMaker as the new desktop publishing software.

Yes, desktop publishing.

Finally, a program that can handle multiple-page documents. In fact, not only can it handle multiple pages, it was made for exactly that! InDesign has unique properties like master page templates, automatically numbered pages, consistent margins and columns, and the ability to handle large amounts of text.

Use InDesign for projects like this:

  • Magazines
  • Brochures
  • E-books
  • Interactive PDFs
When you shouldn’t use it

As you may have guessed, InDesign isn’t the strongest image editing program (especially in comparison to Photoshop), and it doesn’t have as many vector tools as Illustrator.

So, really just don’t use InDesign for projects Photoshop or Illustrator are champs at:

  • Image editing
  • Logo design
  • Graphic heavy projects

The strengths and weaknesses of these programs make them fit like puzzle pieces, and a good designer know what elements of a design need to be made by each program. These programs work together so beautifully because you can import files from one software into any of the others to create stunning designs. It’s just important to understand the differences between them so that any designer can effectively utilize their Adobe Creative Suite.


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