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Photoshop vs Illustrator vs InDesign: What Are the Differences and When to Use Which App?

Adobe dominates the market when it comes to professional design software. The company boasts over 20 current apps and has progressively added software over the years to accommodate new industries and professions. Photoshop is one of its flagship products. However, as a photographer, designer, illustrator, or developer, you may have heard about or used Illustrator or InDesign as well.

In this article, we’ll compare Photoshop vs Illustrator vs InDesign to understand exactly what each one does and when you should use them.

Photoshop vs Illustrator vs Indesign

Photoshop vs Illustrator vs InDesign: what’s the difference?

Keep reading to understand the core differences and how those differences make each Adobe app unique.

Here’s a quick summary if you’re in a hurry:

Photoshop vs Illustrator vs InDesign
Best for Types of designs Key features Pricing
Photoshop Editing photos, web design, making digital artwork Photos, artwork, web graphics, mockups, one-page documents Layers, image editing and adjustment, simple animation, video editing, content tracing, healing and cloning $19.99 to $31.49 / month. $9.99 / month for the Photography bundle. Or $52.99 / month for all apps
Illustrator Making digital artwork, creating logos and mascots, business cards, flyers, and wireframing Mascots, logos, flyers, icons, one-page documents Custom brushes and colors, gradients, item selectors, shape-building, excellent scaling, vector shapes, typesetting, and artboards $19.99 to $31.49 / month. Or $52.99 / month for all apps
InDesign Making multi-page documents, business cards, flyers, and the occasional simple logo Magazines, pamphlets, flyers, eBooks, case studies, and all short and long documents Master pages, typesetting, automated formatting, document templates, advanced searching $19.99 to $31.49 / month. Or $52.99 / month for all apps

Photoshop is a pixel-based editor and image management tool that focuses on the manipulation of images that eventually get published on the internet or in print.

Photoshop has become the industry standard for editing raster and digital images, with some limited functionality for vector, 3D, and video editing.

It’s commonly used by photographers and digital artists such as web designers.

 
PS picture - Photoshop vs Illustrator vs InDesign

Some Photoshop features include the option to combine several photos into one, change the colors of a photo, and eliminate imperfections.

raw settings

What’s Illustrator?

Adobe Illustrator excels where Photoshop is a little weaker – in the vector-drawing and manipulation department.

With the software, an illustrator or graphic designer is able to digitally draw, paint, and reshape incredibly precise vector graphics, making it more suitable for when you want to make an animation or cartoon-like graphic, as opposed to a real-world photograph.

 
logos in illustrator

Vector Logo Graphic by Vecteezy

Because of its exacting design tools, creators use Illustrator for massive displays (like on billboards or signs), while also focusing on illustrations for things like logos and icons.

What’s InDesign?

Adobe InDesign is not at all like Illustrator or Photoshop. Instead, it often functions as the second app being used after completing a vector or photo edit in Photoshop or Illustrator.

In short, InDesign is for designing beautiful documents, as both one-page and multi-page files. You can make media-rich pamphlets and magazines where InDesign allows you to organize your photos and vector artwork into a more presentable format.

 
indesign pamphlet

InDesign also doubles as a text editor with its professional typesetting tools and formatting options.

πŸ‘‰ In their simplest forms, Photoshop is for editing photographs, Illustrator for vector graphics and fonts, and InDesign for bringing together text, photos, and vector graphics into a magazine-type layout.

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Design possibilities: Photoshop vs Illustrator vs InDesign

It’s normal to immediately think of Photoshop when it comes to graphic design. We even have the term “photoshopping” as a verb that’s leaked into common vernacular.

However, Photoshop isn’t always the right tool for a graphic design job. It depends on your file type and the desired end result.

Take a look at our Photoshop vs Illustrator vs InDesign comparison on when it’s best to use each app.

When to use Photoshop

photo cropping in photoshop - Photoshop vs Illustrator vs InDesign
  • To retouch photos and make them stand out compared to the RAW versions. Photoshop is a powerhouse for quick, professional photo edits, with options for airbrushing blemishes, cropping photos, and making landscapes brighter or darker.
  • For editing digital artwork to put on the internet or in a print version. Photoshop has plenty of tools for painting and drawing and incorporating fonts and photo elements. It’s not nearly as powerful as Illustrator for advanced, custom digital designs, but it has lots of the same tools, just for simpler projects.
  • For designing digital banners and editing images for the perfect size and placement on a blog, social media site, or email newsletter. Not only can you optimize the images for the internet but you can make them look better and add things like text.
  • To develop mockups for a website or app. Photoshop utilizes layers so that it’s easy to move design elements and ensure that your designs look great for the screen. You could then transfer that static design to software like Adobe Dreamweaver to add more interactivity.
  • To make simple edits to your videos and add graphics and filters and other effects.
  • To complete minor 3D editing, whether that’s for a mockup or even a product prototype.
  • When you need to generate straightforward animations and don’t need as powerful features as you’d get from Adobe Illustrator.
  • For compiling design elements for posters and flyers. Photoshop is solid for this when you’re sticking to one document and the focus is on photography or combining premade elements like typography and raster images.
one-page photoshop design

When to use Illustrator

Illustrator offers options for developing print and digital designs. Overall, it’s the app you turn to when you’re working with a vector and drawing or painting completely unique animation-type designs, not just photos and simpler graphic design edits like you would with Photoshop.

illustrator infographic

Infographic Vector by Vecteezy

Here’s when you would use Illustrator:

  • For designing custom icons to place in other designs such as apps, websites, and banners.
  • To make beautiful logos from scratch, with drawing and painting capabilities and options to expand the sizing of logos to fit both business cards and billboards.
  • For constructing unique infographics, seeing as how many of those documents work with vector graphics and illustrations.
  • When you need to work on a simpler, one-page document layout, like a quick flyer that requires illustrations. Examples include business cards, posters, and flyers.
  • To draw new typography to complement your other designs. Illustrator works wonders for drawing new font styles.
  • For designing brand mascots that need to be completely new and versatile for placing on all sorts of other documents.
illustrator mascot - Photoshop vs Illustrator vs InDesign

Mascot Vector by Vecteezy

When to use InDesign

InDesign comes in handy for longer documents where you bring together other designs from places like Illustrator and Photoshop.

indesign magazine

Here’s when to use InDesign:

  • For any single page document, especially ones that are heavy on text and imagery. Photoshop and Illustrator can both be used for this, but InDesign has more features for this exact purpose.
  • To put together multi-page documents, for print or digital, with many photos and fonts and formatted paragraphs. Examples include brochures, case studies, and magazines.
  • When you’d like to stylize an eBook instead of sticking with the standard formatting from places like Amazon.
  • For custom stationery that you can either sell or use for yourself. This includes business cards and greeting cards.
  • To make highly creative resumes, especially resumes with advanced typography and formatting that you can’t find in software like Microsoft Word.
resume on indesign - Photoshop vs Illustrator vs InDesign

The features: Photoshop vs Illustrator vs InDesign

Seeing as how Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign aren’t directly similar apps (they all complete different tasks), we can’t do a true side-by-side comparison.

Having said that, we’ll cover some of the most important features from each one for you to see exactly how you would go about using them for specific projects.

Primary Photoshop features

discovery - Photoshop vs Illustrator vs InDesign
  • A Discover Panel for checking in on resources and figuring out how to use each individual feature.
  • Plugins for launching third-party functionality including templates and quick actions.
  • A content tracing tool that’s aware of items in your graphics and photos for rapid outlining.
  • Image adjustments with advanced capabilities like highlight and shadow, and color changes.
  • Rapid image cropping and resizing.
  • Spot cloning and blemish healing to clean up portraits and landscapes.
  • Non-destructive layers for placing elements on top of each other, making masks, and always being able to go back a step.
  • Syncing with the Creative Cloud for constant access to files.
  • Automated tools and processes like a magic wand selection tool and actions, which compile several edits into one for automation in the future.
magic wand for photoshop - Photoshop vs Illustrator vs InDesign

Primary Illustrator features

item selector
  • Individual item selections for adjusting any element in your design, no matter how small or detailed.
  • Custom brushes and colors for designing your own elements.
  • A cloud library for accessing files at all times.
  • Color syncing and font searching for finding the ideal blends.
  • Pattern creation and stroke width settings for drawing and painting unique designs.
  • A gradient tool that’s simple to use and powerful enough for the most professional of shades.
  • Shape-building and dynamic symbols that work well with the free transform tools.
  • Rapid scaling to enlarge or shrink designs without losing quality.
  • Multiple artboards and options to use quick keys and resizing tools for the artboards.
illustrator artboards - Photoshop vs Illustrator vs InDesign

Primary InDesign features

templates - Photoshop vs Illustrator vs InDesign
  • Various templates to design professional documents like magazines and pamphlets.
  • Connection to the cloud for seeing files at all times.
  • A font finder and text management module for bringing in beautiful typography and formatting it to fit.
  • Paragraph borders and endnotes for the ultimate formatting.
  • Multi-page design functionality with quick keys to move around large documents and insert media items with the click of a button.
  • Integrations for things like asset management.
  • Content restructuring with frames, helping with simple optimization and better-looking designs.
  • Advanced search tool for locating anything from text to specific colors in your documents.
  • Intelligent object detection so that all designs are formatted properly.
indesign format

File support and file output options: Photoshop vs Illustrator vs InDesign

The type of file that you need to work on also helps to make your decision between Photoshop vs Illustrator vs InDesign. Each app imports and supports different file types. They also all have varying export file types.

Here’s what to expect from each:

Files supported by Photoshop

Photoshop supports a wide range of file formats, some of which can utilize all Photoshop features while others are more useful if you have large files or documents.

PSD files

As a basic standard, the PSD (Photoshop format) file type is the best option, seeing as how it allows you to use all Photoshop features.

For large files, usually larger than 2GB, Photoshop supports the following for both importing to Photoshop and completing the Save As function. Photoshop file types:

  • PSB (a large document format for Photoshop)
  • Photoshop RAW
  • TIFF
  • DICOM

Photoshop file types for 16-bit images:

  • PSD
  • PSB
  • Cineon
  • DICOM
  • IFF
  • Various JPEG formats
  • PDF
  • RAW
  • PNG
  • Portable Bit Map
  • TIFF

Photoshop file types for 32-bit images:

  • PSD
  • PSB
  • OpenEXR
  • Portable Bit Map
  • TIFF
  • Radiance

Photoshop also offers limited support for EPS and some vector formats.

Photoshop export formats

PS export - Photoshop vs Illustrator vs InDesign

Exporting is typically used for converting the design file into a more optimized format for print or web publishing. Therefore, the list of file formats is shorter. Photoshop file types for exporting:

  • PNG
  • JPEG
  • GIF
  • SVG

Files supported by Illustrator

vector file

The list is long for the file types supported by Illustrator. Here’s a taste of some common file formats allowed for opening in Illustrator and for the Save As function.

Illustrator file types:

  • AI (Adobe Illustrator vector file)
  • Draw
  • Line
  • PDF
  • DWG
  • BMP
  • EPS and EPSF
  • JPEG
  • RTF
  • DOC
  • PSD
  • SVG
  • PNG
  • TIFF

Illustrator export formats

illustrator exports - Photoshop vs Illustrator vs InDesign

An export in Illustrator is much like that of Photoshop, where you’re optimizing the design and saving in a format that’s ready for print or digital publication.

Illustrator export files include:

  • DWG
  • DXF
  • BMP
  • CSS
  • EMF
  • SWF
  • JPG
  • PCT
  • PSD
  • PNG
  • SVG
  • TGA
  • TXT
  • TIFF
  • WMF

Files supported by InDesign

indesign file

These file types are both for editing and using the Save As function. InDesign file types:

  • INDD (InDesign document file format)
  • INDL (InDesign library)
  • INDT (InDesign template)
  • INDB (InDesign book)
  • INX (InDesign interchange format)
  • IDML (markup language for InDesign)
  • PMD
  • XQX

InDesign export formats

exports for indesign - Photoshop vs Illustrator vs InDesign

InDesign export files include:

  • PDF
  • EPS
  • FLA
  • SWF
  • IDML
  • JPG
  • XML
  • TXT
  • ICML
  • RTF

Photoshop vs Illustrator vs InDesign: the pricing

Seeing how Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign are all products from Adobe, the pricing is fairly standardized. One isn’t significantly more expensive or cheaper than the others, and you actually have the advantage of saving money by bundling all three.

However, there’s no reason to pay extra for a bundle if you’re not planning on using all three on a regular basis. There’s no value in that. You’re simply spending more money than you would have to in the first place. Therefore, keep an eye on the differences in features we cover in the article to see if you only need one of the products.

Here’s what to expect from Photoshop vs Illustrator vs InDesign in terms of pricing:

Photoshop vs Illustrator vs InDesign PRICING
Photoshop pricing Illustrator pricing InDesign pricing
Photoshop (standalone) – $19.99 to $31.49 / month depending on whether or not you sign up for the monthly or annual plan. It includes 100GB of cloud storage. Illustrator (standalone) – $19.99 to $31.49 / month depending on whether or not you sign up for the monthly or annual plan. InDesign (standalone) – $19.99 to $31.49 / month depending on if you go with monthly or annual.
The Photography Bundle (Photoshop and Lightroom) – Starting at $9.99 / month with 20GB of cloud storage. Get 1TB of storage for $19.99 / month.

Buy all Adobe apps together?

When bought individually, Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign all have similar prices (with the exception of the other Photoshop bundles).

The All Apps plan, as an alternative, is listed at $79.49 / month for a monthly plan, and $479.88 / month or cheaper with an annual plan. This bundle includes Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and more than 20 other Adobe apps.

all apps - Photoshop vs Illustrator vs InDesign

Therefore, take the $52.99 price (or $79.49 / month price), and compare that to buying two of the apps or just one of them if that’s all you need.

In general, individual Adobe apps seem to always be cheaper than the All Apps plan. However, the Student plan (covered below) changes that.

Even purchasing two of the standalone apps (like Photoshop and Illustrator individually) ends up starting around $40 / month when prepaid for a year. So, you’re still better off going for the individual apps, and skipping the All Apps Bundle, if there’s absolutely no need for that third one.

Student pricing: Photoshop vs Illustrator vs InDesign

We understand that students are often trying to learn how to design with products like Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. That’s why we really like the student pricing!

Start by checking with your school for deals. Some universities offer steep Adobe discounts or even free licenses!

If that’s not an option, the student plan from Adobe starts at $15.99 / month for the first year and $29.99 / month after that. And that gets you every app from Adobe, which usually costs $52.99 for an annual plan.

Consider older versions

Adobe used to sell its software as an individual, one-time payment download or CD purchase. Those older versions still exist and it’s not uncommon for professionals to use them instead of getting looped into the never-ending monthly payments for Adobe Creative Cloud.

With this approach, you only pay once (around $100 to $200), and that Adobe software from five or ten years ago is still professional-grade stuff. You typically don’t need many of the new features and updates from the Creative Cloud subscription.

The downside is that you could get ripped-off. We recommend using eBay to locate Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign versions from before 2013 – the most recent being the CS series, starting with CS in 2003 and ending with CS6 in 2012. Seek out reputable merchants on eBay, or consider hunting down copies in used technology stores or even thrift shops, yard sales, or Craigslist-type sites. Remember, eBay merchant ratings are there for a reason, and a Photoshop disc that’s selling for $20 is probably too good to be true.

buy old version of photoshop

Pros and cons of Photoshop vs Illustrator vs InDesign

Photoshop PROS πŸ‘Photoshop CONS πŸ‘Ž
  • βž• Wonderful for editing photos and graphics that already exist, as opposed to designing from scratch.
  • βž• You can incorporate elements like text and filters on videos and photos.
  • βž• It helps with editing regular photo files like JPEGs and PNGs.
  • βž• It supports RAW photo files.
  • βž• Photoshop is the industry standard so you can find all sorts of tutorials, and you can work with others who make designs in the same app.
  • βž– It’s best for individual document files, not multiple pages.
  • βž– You only work with one canvas at a time.
  • βž– It’s a pixel-based app, so your designs won’t be great for drastically increasing or decreasing in size.
 
Illustrator PROS πŸ‘Illustrator CONS πŸ‘Ž
  • βž• Excellent for working with raster files.
  • βž• You can also use it to further edit files from Photoshop.
  • βž• It lets you select the most detailed objects.
  • βž• You can work with multiple artboards at once.
  • βž• Make a design larger or smaller without losing quality.
  • βž• Generate beautiful typography from scratch.
  • βž– It’s lacking if you plan on making multi-page documents.
  • βž– Illustrator doesn’t have many tools for editing photos.
 
InDesign PROS πŸ‘InDesign CONS πŸ‘Ž
  • βž• Offers powerful support for lots of text.
  • βž• More stylish than a text editor like Word.
  • βž• Generates multi-page documents with ease.
  • βž• Integrates seamlessly with other Adobe products to combine images and illustrations.
  • βž• Provides wonderful support for file types and commercial-grade printers.
  • βž– You won’t be doing any heavy photo editing as you would be in Photoshop.
  • βž– You can’t make advanced vector graphics.
  • βž– It can be tricky ensuring fonts and other element files are loaded into InDesign for compatibility with templates.
 

Our conclusion on Photoshop vs Illustrator vs InDesign

Adobe products provide an intimidating number of features, and some of those features overlap from app to app.

Hopefully, this comparison helped you understand the differences, but if you still have questions, read our final pros and cons list below.

Also, here’s that summary table again:

Best for Types of designs Key features Pricing
Photoshop Editing photos, web design, making digital artwork Photos, artwork, web graphics, mockups, one-page documents Layers, image editing and adjustment, simple animation, video editing, content tracing, healing and cloning $19.99 to $31.49 / month. $9.99 / month for the Photography bundle. Or $52.99 / month for all apps
Illustrator Making digital artwork, creating logos and mascots, business cards, flyers, and wireframing Mascots, logos, flyers, icons, one-page documents Custom brushes and colors, gradients, item selectors, shape-building, excellent scaling, vector shapes, typesetting, and artboards $19.99 to $31.49 / month. Or $52.99 / month for all apps
InDesign Making multi-page documents, business cards, flyers, and the occasional simple logo Magazines, pamphlets, flyers, eBooks, case studies, and all short and long documents Master pages, typesetting, automated formatting, document templates, advanced searching $19.99 to $31.49 / month. Or $52.99 / month for all apps

πŸ’‘ Here’s something to consider; maybe you should broaden your search for the perfect design tool beyond Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign? For instance, check out this this list of Sketch alternatives for Windows or this in-depth comparison of Figma, Sketch, and Adobe XD – the new breed of tools for a modern designer!

If you have any questions about our comparison of Photoshop vs Illustrator vs InDesign, let us know in the comments.

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Layout and presentation by Karol K and Chris Fitzgerald.

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