Choosing Which Graphic Design Program to Use


One of the things a lot of graphic designer struggle with is what tool to use in a specific situation. Too often, folks rely on their default program of choice (usually Adobe Photoshop), although this may not be the best program to use in given situation.

Different situations call for you to use different apps to produce the results that you want. For example, one case where you should use Adobe Illustrator instead of Photoshop is logo design. While it’s true that Photoshop is capable of producing vector graphics, this is not its native function. Illustrator, on the other hand deals vector graphics as its main function, and as a result it has more tools to appropriately produce scalable logos. And making artwork that can scale to any size is one of the fundamentals in logo design.

Photoshop is appropriate to use for photo editing, photo manipulation, and composite artwork. Illustrator is best suited to logo design, certain aspects of branding, scalable vector graphic artwork, technical illustration, typography, and pattern-making. Adobe InDesign is best suited for jobs like print work, packaging, magazine layouts, and e-publishing.

Combining the power of Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign

There are also times when you can use these programs in combination to achieve the desired result. For example, in designing a print poster you may use a combination of Photoshop, illustrator, and InDesign. You could use Photoshop to perform the digital artwork and photo manipulation jobs, such as removing people and objects from backgrounds, and rendering any digital effects that you want to use to create the right atmosphere. Then you could use Illustrator to incorporate things like logos to promote sponsors or companies affiliated with the poster, and even potentially the title treatment. InDesign could be used to lay out the poster, add any necessary body copy, and prepare the job for printing.

Illustrator and InDesign

A case when you might use just Illustrator and InDesign is in the production of a business card. Again, Illustrator would be used to create the logo and potentially any iconic graphics (like an email, telephone, and web icons). InDesign would be used to arrange the layout of the business card, and prepare it for printing with bleeds, if necessary.

Illustrator and Photoshop

If you need to design a piece of typographic artwork to be distributed across the web, consider using a combination of Photoshop and Illustrator. Photoshop can add more depth of the artwork (including 3-D elements) to make the design more interesting. For example, you might produce a very interesting piece of art using Illustrator, but it may just feel flat or you might want to add some more organic elements to it utilizing Photoshop brushes and gradients. If this artwork will not be printed as a poster you probably don’t need to use InDesign at all.

Choose the Right Tool for the Job—Not Your Favorite Tool

It’s important for a graphic designer to have a proper understanding of which tools and software are appropriate to use in any given situation for their clients—and to advise those clients of how to utilize the assets appropriately. Just because you may have more experience as a designer in one application does not mean that tool will produce the best results.

Software suites like Adobe Creative Cloud allow designers to create workflows between different software applications, and use the best tools at their disposal all in their projects. Applications like Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign share many common interface elements and shortcut keys to help you move smoothly between each application.

It’s true that having to go outside your comfort zone and learn to use different tools and software can be challenging, but its worth the effort. In the long run, you’ll spend less time to get better results, and end up with happier clients.


Roberto Blake is a graphic designer helping entrepreneurs and small businesses improve their branding and presentations. He also teaches graphic design and Adobe tutorials through his YouTube channel and community. See for more details.
  • Alex G. says:

    I am an old school graphic dinosaur, sorry designer! While at school I learned, hand drawing, photography, typography, geometry and paste-up/layout — so after all dinasour was correct!

    When computers arrived I transfer all those skills and apply them to produce computer generated graphics. Most importantly, the new computer tools (software) were created and developed based on those old school subjects/skills. I just find fascinating now, that we have to educate new grapic designers on which tool is for what. That’s all, just a silly comment!

  • scommetix says:

    Hand drawing is outdated! This is the new age! keep up the good work!

  • wordspinner says:

    I work in the newspaper industry. Please, please, PLEASE do not create camera-ready ads in Photoshop. They turn into fuzz-edged crap. Newsprint = AI + INDD. Thank you.

    • Oh I agree! (Exception being when its an actual photo and even then place that with InDesign and for any text convert to outlines). For every tool there is a purpose and believe it or not most schools don’t even teach any print production related to Newspaper (granted its niche and many designers will go mostly digital and stock print) but learning things like ink color density are still important.

  • Tilly Wilson says:

    Great Article.But, Adobe Illustrator is the best design application.
    Thanks for sharing an awesome content

  • dawn wells says:

    my son is in college for graphic design. i want to help him get the best programs available to designers. is adobe better than corel or are they different in the functions they can achieve? thank you

  • Stephany says:

    Hey Blake, Great post. Love reading it. We are Coffee roasters in Sunshine Coast, currently working to build up our new brand with a graphic design agency in Sunshine Coast to promote our brand in online. Here I got more useful tips to build our website with the mentioned graphic design programs. Thanks for sharing.

  • Levi Dryer says:

    I completely agree with the article’s point that choosing the right design tool for the job is crucial for achieving the best results as a graphic designer. Often, defaulting to one’s preferred program may not be the best option for the task at hand.

    The article’s explanation of the strengths of various design programs, such as Illustrator for vector graphics and logo design and InDesign for print work, is incredibly helpful for designers to understand which tool to use in a particular situation. It’s also great to see the suggestion of using a combination of programs to achieve the desired outcome, as this can often result in even better results.

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