The Difference between Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign

The Difference between Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign

The Difference between Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign

You probably already know that Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign are the central components of the Adobe Creative Suite. However, you may not have a strong grasp on the details of when to use each one and what each program is capable of—especially since these distinctions often confound even professionals working in the industry.

Knowing the differences is key to creating better work, because using the wrong program can mean an unusable logo, sloppy text, or a blurry end product. Learn the ins and outs of Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign so you can use all three together to produce your very best work, because where each program fails, another comes through.

The basics of the programs

Here are the three programs, broken down by their basic functions:

Adobe Photoshop

Photoshop is a powerful tool when properly used. It works at the pixel level because it is a raster based software, and this is why your text images in Photoshop can become pixelated. Photoshop is perfect for editing photos but not for images that have text in them. Similarly, it can give you trouble designing layouts for print or web.

Photoshop is ideal for editing and creating photos and pixel based artwork, creating banner ads, editing pictures for print, designing video graphics, and creating user interface designs. On the other hand, Photoshop is not the right program for creating logos, because you won't be able to manipulate or enlarge your files the way you can with a file from Illustrator. And remember, don't set type in Photoshop.

To recap, use Photoshop for:

  •         editing photos to post and print
  •         creating banner ads, user interface designs, and video graphics
  •         creating icons and images for the web

Adobe Illustrator

Illustrator is very versatile, because you can use it to produce anything from web designs and graphics to text documents. It is a vector based software, so it uses lines to work and doesn't pixelate or lose detail. This vector basis means it is really intended for scalable design elements like brand marks and logos. If you resize things repeatedly in Illustrator they won't become distorted as they do in Photoshop. Choose Illustrator for creating web graphics, full page designs, and documents, but not for working on photographs and straight images, or for large multi page documents.

Remember, use Illustrator for:

  •         creating website designs
  •         creating images with text
  •         creating documents for the web or for print, but not if they're very large multipage documents

Adobe InDesign

Adobe InDesign is designed for laying out printed materials and is frequently used for complex book layouts. It's also great for newsletters, pdf presentations, brochures, ads, and anything that needs master pages and multiple pages. InDesign was created to allow users to take elements produced in both Photoshop and Illustrator and put them together elegantly in a single location.

Like Illustrator, InDesign is a vector based program; the primary difference is that its power is focused on the master and multiple page capabilities and loses some other capabilities such as photo editing. However, with InDesign you can customize each page while also creating a master view including page numbers, a logo, etc. The text wrap function in InDesign is far simpler than in Illustrator. Furthermore, layouts created in Illustrator tend to be needlessly large and fail in the commercial printer optimization category.

Remember, use InDesign for:

  •         creating a book layout
  •         creating a PDF presentation
  •         creating newsletters, pdf presentations, brochures, ads, and anything that needs master pages and multiple pages

Adobe programs project by project

Since each program is different and comes with its own strong points and deficits, choose your program based on your project.

Project: Draw graphics and shapes

Program: Illustrator is your best choice because its vector-based visual elements are professional looking and can be altered, manipulated, and resized. Photoshop is a decent alternative if you don't need to resize anything.

Project: Adding special effects and filters

Program: Photoshop is your best choice for this with its library of special effects and filters. InDesign is your next best option for basic projects, but it doesn't have as many filters.

Project: Writing copy

Program: InDesign and its word wrap feature are your best bet for large sections of text free of pixelation. Your alternative option is Illustrator, but without word wrap, it's harder to get great looking text layout.

Project: Logo design

Program: Illustrator and it's scalable vector images is your best, most professional looking choice for print logos. InDesign is your backup choice.

Project: Photo manipulation

Program: Photoshop is your top choice, but use InDesign for the basics of manipulating photos if you can't access Photoshop.

Project: Layout design

Program: InDesign is your best bet, because it offers you multi-page templates and layouts for print. Your backup option is Illustrator, although it is not as easy to use for layout design.

Project: Creating files that are print ready

Program: InDesign is the easiest option for creating print-ready designs that are sharp and accurate, with Illustrator as the second choice.


Although every designer has his or her own style, there are some basic dos and don'ts to remember about each of the three core Adobe Creative programs, Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. Knowing the purposes, strengths, and weaknesses of each one along with practice ensures that you'll be able to choose the right tool for each task.

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