After working for an Adobe Authorized Training Center for the past 10 years, students often ask me what the difference is between Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign.
First let me say that all three programs are in fact owned and developed by the same company, Adobe Systems, the world leader in web development, graphic design and e-learning software. All three programs are also bundled in Adobe’s Creative Suite, which is a great and affordable way to purchase this software.
I think part of the confusion is that certain tasks can be done in more than one of these programs. For example, you can find vector drawing tools available in Photoshop and InDesign, even though Illustrator is the predominant vector drawing program. The key to getting the most out of these three programs is understanding their key functions and how they can be used together.
Okay, so let’s look at each program individually. We’ll start with Adobe Photoshop, probably the best known of the three. Photoshop is a professional image editing software mainly used for bitmap image editing and image manipulation. Bitmap images are images defined by their pixel structure. In other words, digital bitmaps can be broken down into millions of tiny pixels, and each pixel has its own characteristics. Bitmap images are sometimes also referred to as raster images.
The most common type of bitmap image is a photographic image. Whether shot on film and scanned into the computer or created digitally, photos are made up of millions of tiny pixels. Simply put, Photoshop is a tool used to edit photographic images. It also has the ability to do many other things, but the core function of Photoshop is editing photographic images.
If you go to your local newsagent and pick up a magazine, chances are the images in that magazine were edited or altered using Photoshop. Sometimes the adjustments can be small, such as subtle exposure or sharpening adjustments, and other times they can be large, such as applying a filter or special effect. Photoshop is used for retouching – ever wonder why the models and movie stars never have cellulite or double chins – the answer is Photoshop. Often an image can consist of a few different images put together into a montage. This effect can also be created in Photoshop.
Adobe Illustrator, on the other hand, is a vector drawing program. Vector graphics are the other main type of digital images. Unlike bitmaps, vectors consist of a series of lines and shapes, which are defined as mathematical formulas. Vectors are great for creating images that contain large areas of the same color. So for example a navigation button on your website, your company logo or a non-photographic image would be better off as vector. Illustrator is the world’s preeminent vector drawing tool, so if you were given the task of creating “flat” art, such as a business profile, including logos, signing, letterheads, etc., chances are you’re using Adobe Illustrator would use.
The newest of the three programs, Adobe InDesign is a page layout or publishing program. InDesign is used for compiling things like corporate brochures, documents, magazines, newsletters or advertisements. The specialty of InDesign is working with documents that contain a large amount of text or text.
Often designers will use all three programs for the same project. For example, we recently created some new course outlines, so we used Illustrator to create our logo and a few other vector graphics, we used Photoshop to apply a special shadow effect to some bitmap images, and finally we got all those elements imported from Illustrator and Photoshop into InDesign where we added the copy and defined the layout.
Quality graphic design can make or break any company’s image. Adobe Creative Suite with Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign plus a little training can give you the essential edge to succeed in a highly competitive world.