Which Product Do I Use to Create That?
When you’ve got a new project on your hands, one of the first questions you probably ask yourself is, “Which design product should I use to make this?” With so many different applications, how do you know if you are using the best application for what you’re trying to accomplish? What if you only have access to one product? Can you still complete your design?
To help you get started, we’ve created an easy reference for some of the most common design projects and the products you can use to create them. And check out our new tutorial here.
First thing’s first — use what you know.
“The first thing to understand is that many of the Creative Cloud applications overlap some in their functionality,” Brian Barrus, president and creative director at Studio Element, says, “so a big part of which product you use comes down to personal preference and how familiar and comfortable you are with different apps.”
If you feel fairly confident using one program but have never scratched the surface of another, have no fear. There’s a good chance you can use the program you already know to complete your project. And when you’re ready to broaden your horizons, the even better news is that most Adobe products share very similar design language in their interfaces. Tools tend to be found in roughly the same places from one app to the next.
That being said, there is a clear advantage to broadening your familiarity across the product set. Each app has its own strengths, and professional designers use each product accordingly — often using multiple applications on a single project. For simplicity’s sake, in this guide we’ll focus on the big three design products: Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign.
Harness each program’s strengths.
To help you get a better feel for the general strengths of each app, let’s review them briefly.
- Photoshop: Photoshop does the best work on raster images (pixel-based), like photographs. It shines doing tasks like adjusting brightness, colorizing, cutting an element from the background, or blending multiple images into a collage. Photoshop is really best as an image editor and can also be useful for video and animations.
- Illustrator: Illustrator is the go-to tool for creating logos or other illustrations. Its major advantage is that it works in vector format. Rather than storing individual pixels, vector art stores points and equations, meaning that you can create an image and scale it down to a business card or up to billboard size without any pixilation (loss of graphical quality). The catch to vector art is that it tends to be less visually complex than raster art. You are unlikely to create photorealistic images with vector art, but it does work well for typography.
- InDesign: InDesign is a publishing tool at its heart. It’s built around the task of page-layouts and is the perfect app for arranging elements or creating multi-page documents, like brochures or catalogs. InDesign simplifies the creation of long-form documents with tools like ‘master pages’ and text and typography styles. InDesign is excellent for organizing visual elements on a page, but it is limited in terms of image creation or editing tools.
Reference this guide.
To close out this primer, let’s spend a moment running through some of the most common projects you’ll find (in alphabetical order, for easy reference) and our recommendations for which tools will work the best. Keep in mind that most of these projects will have multiple elements, and those elements will lend themselves to different tools.
- Any of the 3 apps could be used for book cover design, so the recommendation is really to go where you’re most comfortable. The key is to consider your vision for the final product. For visually complex covers with photorealism, consider Photoshop. For covers with many elements or extensive text, go with InDesign. For more expressive covers that blend illustration with expressive typography, Illustrator is probably best.
- Illustrator is a great choice for icons because it has tools created specifically for designing and editing simple images. Illustrator’s advantage in scaling is minimized for icons because they are designed to stay small.
- Photoshop would be a close second because it has similar image-editing tools. However, Photoshop’s power for dealing with complex images is also somewhat irrelevant as icons tend to be very simple.
- Illustrator is a wonderful resource for infographics because they tend to be ‘illustrative’ in nature. It has a powerful ability to blend visuals and text, meaning you can create charts and graphs while also being very expressive with type and composition.
- Photoshop works as an alternative thanks to its visual-editing tools.
- Illustrator has a strong suite of tools for this kind of work, but an argument could be made for any of the programs. Illustrator is the most straightforward in its ability to manipulate and get expressive with type and text.
- InDesign would be a close second, especially if your invitation focuses more on type rather than stylization. InDesign’s design and formatting tools could also be very useful for fitting multiple invitations to a single, printed page.
- InDesign is the best tool for magazine layout — or the interior layout of nearly any long-form document. It has tools to streamline and automate many of the otherwise-repetitive tasks inherent in longer documents, and its typography and style tools can ensure consistency throughout the project. It also supports templated master pages to expedite formatting and layout.
Photo Editing and Compositing:
- Photoshop is the go-to product for any kind of photo editing — it’s right in the name. When editing photos or creating advanced effects (such as combining images together with double-exposure or making collages), Photoshop has everything you need. It’s an incredibly robust tool with so many functions that even professional designers rarely utilize all the tools available. Photoshop makes it easy to do common tasks like colorizing an image or adjusting brightness.
- Illustrator is the winner here, making it easy to get very expressive with typography and images on any scale.
- Photoshop is a good alternative — especially if you are more interested in the visuals rather than text or typography — but make sure you have adequate resolution in the final product. You need at least 300dpi for printing to avoid pixelation.
Social Media Graphics:
- Photoshop allows users to manipulate raster-based or photographic imagery. It also makes it simple to blend multiple images together. The nature of social media graphics lends itself well to Photoshop’s platform.
- InDesign lends itself best to the quiet, reserved, clean style typically found in a resume. Its strength in working with multiple typography styles and producing grid-based layouts makes it the first choice.
- Illustrator is a suitable alternative but lends itself better to more expressive projects.
- Illustrator enables very creative designs while still producing artwork and text that can be scaled to the large sizes often seen in signage.
- InDesign can also produce basic vector art and would be a good option for simple or smaller signs.
Website Framework or Template:
- Illustrator is a great tool for designing the structure of a website. It allows designers to create grids for the different parts of the content and develop navigation button styles.
- Photoshop is another effective tool for creating the elements of website structure, and some designers prefer it to Illustrator. It really comes down to what tool you are most comfortable with.
Graphic Images, Headers, and Banners for Websites:
- Photoshop is the tool of choice for creating images and art elements that go in a web layout. With this application, you can edit and design photo-based images or illustrations and blend multiple images into creative collages.
- Illustrator is another solid option if your graphics are more based in charts than images.
Videos and Simple Animations:
- Photoshop is the easiest tool for creating GIFs and cinemagraph images. Its tools are specifically geared to creating these designs.
More Helpful Tools
The big three desktop applications merely scratch the surface of resources available to you. Services like CC Market are part of your paid membership and give you access to thousands of curated assets — for free. Use mobile apps like Adobe Capture CC to design and edit on the go. The possibilities are endless. All that’s left to do is be creative, and that’s up to you.
Ready to learn more about your favorite Adobe products? Visit the learning portal at learn.adobe.com for free tutorials, tips, and templates.