author Claudia McCue

Which software is the best fit for your project—Photoshop, Illustrator, or InDesign?

from Graphic design layout basics by Claudia McCue

We experience graphic design every day, in advertising, logo design, film, print, computer interfaces, and on the web. Successful graphic design communicates a brand's voice and identity, calls the viewer to action, makes computer programs easier to use and navigate, and gets important messages to a wider audience. Graphic designers have a strong foundation in typography, page layout, illustration, and key software like Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator. Let's walk through your choices in graphic design software.

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Chapter 6 / Layout Basics: Choosing an application

From the course: Print Production Fundamentals

In this video tutorial, author Claudia McCue discusses the benefits of each software program when designing for print.

June 29, 2012 Claudia McCue 4h 26m

Choosing graphic design software

There are good reasons why Adobe software is the preferred standard for graphic design, but which Adobe application is appropriate? After all, Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign all allow you to set type and layout graphics, but they're not interchangeable.

Photoshop is called Photoshop for a reason. It's appropriate for manipulating images, period. Not for graphic design. Now in rare instances, such as large headline type that you want to apply special effects to, it's okay to create type in Photoshop, but be sure to keep it as a vector. To do that, save as a Photoshop PDF and then that vector content will be correctly rendered. Don't set small body text in Photoshop and don't use Photoshop to create layouts such as business cards or a logo design. 

There's considerable feature overlap between Illustrator and InDesign, and there are some types of graphic design projects that really you could handle equally well in either application. Illustrator is perfect for creating a logo design, maps, or collateral, since you can have multiple artboards within an Illustrator file, and you can place images and apply pixel-based special effects.

The type handling in Illustrator and InDesign are very similar. You can create character and paragraph styles in both, but in Illustrator, all text is vector. When working in Illustrator always remember to set your artboard dimensions to your correct trim size, and specify a bleed zone outside the artboard. Also remember that Illustrator doesn't support master pages, automatic page numbering, hyperlinks, or cross-references, so for any of those projects you'll want to use InDesign.

InDesign can be used to create anything from a little business card to an 18-foot by 18-foot banner. The minimum size in InDesign is one point by one point, but I doubt you'll ever need to use that. With the ability to create multiple page sizes within a single InDesign document, you could create a business card, letterhead, and envelope in one file, much like you could in Illustrator. InDesign supports common blending modes and graphic design effects such as shadows, glows, and embossing. In this way, it's very much like Illustrator.

So given the overlap between Illustrator and InDesign, which graphic design software do you choose? Well, here are some suggestions. I would recommend using InDesign if you need to set a lot of body text; you may find some of the formatting functionality to be a little bit clunky in Illustrator. If you need master pages you absolutely need InDesign. If you have more than four pages, go with InDesign. And if your document contains more than just a few images, I would recommend using InDesign. It's a little bit of a challenge to crop images in Illustrator, while it's very straightforward in InDesign, so if you need to do a lot of work with images InDesign is a better solution.

About Claudia McCue

Claudia McCue incorporates more than 20 years of traditional and digital prepress production experience in her current incarnation as a consultant and trainer for the graphic arts industry. Claudia's company, Practicalia LLC, provides custom on-site training for a national client base of design firms, publications, printing companies and marketing professionals. She is a frequent speaker at industry conferences, and has been using Adobe software for over 20 years. … more »

Artboard: Drawing surface in graphic design software applications.
Bleed: The printing that goes beyond the edge of the physical sheet after trimming. It is extra printed space to help the printer with size or design inconsistencies.
Master pages: Nonprinting pages containing elements that are repeated on each page of a document, such as a header, footer, page number, etc. Master pages ensure consistent design and function almost like templates.
Negative space: The space around a block of text or an image.
Vector graphics: Geometrically based images that are created with lines, curves, shapes, polygons, and points based on mathematical formulas. Vector graphics are based on structure, rather than freehand drawing.

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