When to Use Photoshop, Illustrator or InDesign

Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign are the three main programs used in design today, and are often the most commonly used in Adobe’s Creative Suite. While many operations can be performed in more than one of the applications, these programs are not interchangeable. Each one has a specialty and a designer may move from one program to the next depending on the task at hand.

To determine when to use Photoshop, Illustrator or InDesign, some questions to ask are:

  • What is the final output?
  • Will it be for print or web?
  • Will the final graphic need to be vector or raster?
  • Will the graphic need to scale?
  • Will the asset need to be a JPG, PDF, EPS or GIF?

Here’s a basic rundown of each program:

Photoshop Illustrator InDesign
  • Raster based
  • Ideal for photographic editing and color correction
  • Ideal for web graphics and UI design
  • Can support minor animation
  • Great for webpage layout and wireframes


  • Vector based
  • Ideal for logo creation and any other graphics that may need to scale
  • Ideal for typography treatments
  • Excellent for web graphics
  • Ideal for vector illustrations


  • Vector based
  • Used primarily for layout design (books, brochures, business cards, etc.)
  • Ideal for text layout and treatments
  • Ideal for editorial design
  • Excellent for form and interactive PDF creation




Since Photoshop is a raster (pixel) based program, it should be used to make any photographic edits. Photoshop has a vast range of filters and color correction tools that are not available in Illustrator and InDesign. As a raster based editing program, many edits made to images and graphics actually change and alter the pixels. This is also why Photoshop has many more filters than Illustrator or InDesign. Moreover, because there are no vector limitations, manipulating images and graphics can be faster and easier. Making changes to vector graphics in a program like Illustrator can be more time consuming, as creating vector objects is often more complex.

Since text will always print more cleanly in a vector format, Photoshop is not an ideal format for print jobs that are not images or photos. One solution for simple jobs like brochures or business cards is to create the majority of the visual design in Photoshop, then import it to either Illustrator or InDesign to handle all text and logos.

Most digital and web images are raster. This makes Photoshop an excellent tool for creating web assets, as well as webpage wireframes as you can work within an exact pixel ratio dimension, then hand them off to a web developer in the exact format and size required.

Photoshop also supports some 3-D design, as well as animation and animated GIFs.


Illustrator is commonly used for logo or vector graphic creation, and is the best tool for creating logotype, text, and type manipulation. While it is a vector based drawing program, its final output can be either vector or raster based.

A company logo will likely be used in a variety of different formats, such as business cards or an email signature. Having the logo designed in a vector format enables the asset to scale to any size so that it may be used on business cards, a website, or billboard.

Illustrator uses artboards, which allow for multiple options and layout variations. Artboards and the fluid and simple way of selecting objects (a couple steps fewer compared to Photoshop) can make creating wireframe comps for webpages more efficient in Illustrator than Photoshop, however this will usually come down to the personal preference of the designer.

Illustrator can be used for simple layout design, such as business cards, but it lacks the page layout features that InDesign has and therefore more complex layouts can be tedious to build.


InDesign’s primary use is for layout design. It’s great for projects with multiple pages, like books or brochures, as well as business cards and template design.

InDesign can also be thought of as a mixing bowl for graphic assets designed in Photoshop and Illustrator. Photographs that have been retouched in Photoshop and logos created in Illustrator can all be placed in an InDesign-created layout. Text layout and treatments are additional areas where InDesign stands out. It offers loads of features, enabling just about any text treatment imaginable.

To create multiple pages for a book or comps to show a client, InDesign uses pages instead of artboards and layer comps. The master pages feature allows designers to create a master page template that can then be applied to every page for consistency.

Forms, whether interactive or just for print, should be created using InDesign. Recent versions of InDesign have features that allow designers to make forms interactive within InDesign, which can be easier than using Adobe Acrobat.

These programs can handle many of the same projects, but each has its limitations.

It’s certainly possible to design business cards in Photoshop, edit photos in InDesign, and lay out a book in Illustrator. However, the process will likely be more time consuming and the end product may be in a less-than-ideal format. Most designers adopt a comfortable workflow that incorporates all three programs, and will often work in all three simultaneously.

Since all three programs are published by Adobe, they seamlessly integrate and interact with one another. Objects, graphics and text can literally be cut and pasted from one program into another, and styles, color swatches, and other effects can be imported from one program to the other.

So, the next time you’re admiring a book with rich photography, a clean text layout and polished logo design, know that that final product likely received some TLC from Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign.

You may also like

Leave a comment