Photoshop vs Illustrator: What’s the difference?

Photoshop vs Illustrator: What’s the difference?

It sure seems like everyone sings their praises to Photoshop. Of course, it’s an incredibly powerful program with a load of features so vast and robust, you could spend a lifetime learning everything it can do. In the graphic design world though, you’d be surprised that Photoshop isn’t the main program for a lot of artists.

Illustrator is.

Illustrator is included with Adobe Creative Cloud and is the first program that most graphic design students learn. It is flexible, powerful, and simple to understand. It’s also fundamentally different than Photoshop.

The basic difference between Photoshop and Illustrator is Photoshop is for raster graphics and Illustrator is for vector.

Raster vs Vector: Which is better?

Before we can dive into which option is best for your project, let’s define each of these types of graphics.

Raster graphics

Raster graphics are made out of pixels. JPG, GIF, PSD files, they’re all raster formats. When you create a raster file, those pixels fill a certain size space. If you scale it up or down, these pixels get distorted. Photoshop is a raster program. It creates raster graphic files.

Vector graphics

Vector graphics are made out of points. Instead of filling a pre-determined space, vector software uses mathematical equations to evenly scale the art up and down. This means vector graphics can be infinitely increased or decreased in size and never lose their quality.

So, really, neither is better per se, but each have their own unique uses.

Why should I use Illustrator?

Illustrator is the main design program of choice for most graphic designers. It’s great for creating brand elements like logos or small documents meant for print, like postcards and flyers. There’s a lot of reasons that teachers tend to teach Illustrator to designers first. Like, for example:

It’s simple to learn

Illustrator doesn’t have quite the huge list of options that Photoshop does. Vector graphics tend to skew more on the simple side. Most graphics made in Illustrator are created using three options: the shape tool, the pen tool, and the text tool. These options can also be found in Photoshop, though they aren’t as powerful there, so it’s a great steppingstone to more complicated programs.

Graphics made in Illustrator are flexible

For example, say you’re creating a company logo. A logo needs to be made small enough to fit on a business card, yet also be able to be scaled large enough for a billboard. Vector graphics never distort, so most logos are made in Illustrator.

Look ma! No distortion! Your art stays smooth no matter how large or small it is.

Illustrator art looks smooth

Thanks to the pen tool, you can trace or draw curves and lines that are not only infinitely scalable, but they’re smooth as silk. Even an untrained hand can create smooth lineart in Illustrator with this simple-to-use vector line tool.

It makes print design easy

Say you’re designing a flyer, poster, or postcard, Illustrator makes it simple. Illustrator allows users to easily create bleeds to easily make full-coverage designs that don’t have any gaps or strange margins.

The pasteboard is your best friend

Illustrator allows for you to place elements outside of the art board, so you can easily move pieces around on your screen or place them aside until you need them. It’s game changing.

You can go heavy on the text

Illustrator’s text tool is far more intuitive to use than Photoshop’s. Typography is a breeze in Illustrator’s vector landscape. The ability to scale, squash, and stretch the text in Illustrator is worlds above Photoshop. However, if you want to create something very text heavy like a brochure or book, you’ll really want to use InDesign. But that’s a topic for another day.

Illustrator is a versatile, graphic designing powerhouse. Designers have been singing its praises since its inception and now you’re in on the secret.

When should I use Photoshop?

With all this Illustrator praise, it’s important we give Photoshop some love. It’s a powerful program with a lot of great features. Some reasons to use Photoshop would be:

You want to work with photography

You can import images into Illustrator, but it doesn’t have a lot of features for editing your photography. If you need to touch-up photos, adjust lighting, or use actions to speed up your workflow, Photoshop is where it’s at.

You need to create web graphics

Photoshop is the perfect tool for creating web graphics and web design. In fact, it’s the industry standard for creating mock-ups for the web.

You’d like to animate your project

Photoshop has built-in timelines and animation features that are great for smaller animation projects and frame-by-frame video editing.

Illustrator and Photoshop: Best when used together

The great thing about the Adobe suite is that the programs work super well together. You don’t have to choose sides on the Illustrator and Photoshop debate; they work great together.

For example, it’s likely that if you’re designing something for print, like a postcard, in Illustrator, you’ll still use some raster images. So, you can use Photoshop to touchup your image and clear its imperfections. Then, import that image to Illustrator for finishing.

On the other side, perhaps you’re creating a company website and building their brand from the ground up. You’d create the company logo in Illustrator but import it into Photoshop when you make the mockup for their website.

Finally, a lot of people like to use Photoshop to remove backgrounds on raster images. In cases of complicated images, like a model with flowing hair, that is the best option. But, when you’re cutting out large items or things with long, smooth curves, Illustrator can be a great program to use for background removal.

Illustrator is a vital tool to add to your graphic design toolkit. When it comes to creating graphics, it’s best not to get too tied to a single program. You’ll find the workflow that works for you. Just remember that it’s best to use vector graphics for print or artwork that needs to be scaled and raster graphics for the web. Beyond that, the choice is yours.


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