Using InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop Together: Linking and Embedding Files


Many of my students ask why Adobe doesn’t just combine InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator into one super-application that can do everything—layout, images, paths, etc. Well, actually there is such an application. I call it “InDe-Illu-Shop.” But you don’t open it with a single click. You open it by launching each application separately; then, you use them as a single application.

In this first article on using InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop together, I’ll cover how to use each program as your main layout tool. In future articles, I’ll cover moving vectors between the apps, coordinating colors, working with the interface, layers & text, and exporting and printing.

Placing art into InDesign

Most people use InDesign as the “hub” for their projects. They import images from Photoshop and Illustrator onto their InDesign pages. Here are some tricks that can make this process more seamless so the applications work as one.

File formats

Use native Photoshop or Illustrator files. InDesign likes them the best and you have no problems going back to modify them—especially if you haven’t flattened the layers.

File > Place

The most basic way to import files into InDesign is with the File > Place command. You then choose the files you want to place, click OK, and add them to your documents. But you don’t have to add each file one at a time.

Power Tip: You can load up your cursor with as many files as you want. For instance, if you choose three files from one folder and click OK, you move back to the InDesign page with a loaded cursor. But you don’t have to place those files right away. You can select File > Place again and navigate to a new folder. Choose more files. Mix Photoshop with Illustrator files. You’ll see the loaded cursor icon increase the number of files it has loaded. With this technique you can add as many Photoshop and Illustrator files as you need.

Once you have the loaded cursor use the left/right arrow keys to cycle through the items in the queue. Use the Escape key to delete items in the queue. Switch to any tool in the toolbox to delete loaded cursor completely.

Power Tip: If you switch to another document, or even another application, your loaded cursor will still be active when you switch back to InDesign. This makes it even easier to switch from one application to another.

The Place cursors for InDesign (top left) and Illustrator (bottom right).

InDesign files into InDesign

It may seem like the snake swallowing its own tail, but you can place InDesign files into other InDesign files. InDesign treats these files as PDF documents. Then when you modify the original InDesign file, the placed graphic updates. Use this for items such as direct mail coupons that need to be inserted into many documents.

Placing images into Illustrator

I know many companies that use Illustrator, not InDesign, as a page layout program. They create short-copy projects, such as wine labels and CD covers, with lots of vector and pixel graphics. And for their needs, there’s nothing wrong with using Illustrator as their hub with placed images.

Placing Photoshop files

There’s not much difference from InDesign when you place Photoshop files into Illustrator. You load up your cursor and then click or drag on your document. You see the same preview with a number indicating how many files are in the queue. However, there is a big difference if you choose to link or embed the files.

The main difference is you can choose whether to link or embed the files as you choose them. InDesign only lets you embed files after they are in the document. Illustrator has an option to link or not in the Place dialog box. If you link files, you can still embed them after the fact.

If you link Photoshop files in Illustrator you won’t be able to apply Illustrator’s live effects to the files. However, you can use the Embed commands from Illustrator’s Links panel to change a files status.

Placing Illustrator files

Like Photoshop files, you can place Illustrator files into other Illustrator files. You have a choice as to whether or not to link or embed. Linked Illustrator files can be modified and updated within the document into which they are placed. They appear in the Links panel with icons that show if they are missing or modified.

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Sandee Cohen is a New York City-based instructor and corporate trainer in a wide variety of graphic programs, especially the Adobe products, including InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, and Acrobat. She has been an instructor for New School University, Cooper Union, Pratt, and School of Visual Arts. She is a frequent speaker for various events. She has also been a speaker for Seybold Seminars, Macworld Expo, and PhotoPlus conferences. She is the author of many versions of the Visual Quickstart Guides for InDesign.
  • Tilo Rust says:

    Here is a chatr I did to show right the same thing in my clases: The Adobe Big Chart shows how about 100 applications from Adobe System can interchange information. The PDF contains the programms in different workflows and shows how “native” the linking is. Power Tip: use the PDF layers palette do break down the workflows. Hint: start with the “printworkflow” and add more clutter. (Need the Adobe Reader, does not work in browsers previews.) Link to the free english CS6 version of the Big chart PDF: (CC version is about to come)

  • Guest says:


    Your chart is amazing!!!

  • David Creamer says:

    If your Photoshop file contains vector information (shapes and text) and you are placing the file into InDesign, you need to be aware of the file format. If you place a .PSD file, like normal, the vector elements will rasterize. If you save your Photoshop file as a Photoshop PDF, the vector elements stay vector.

    Illustrator Smart Objects are still rasterized when output; they don’t count as vector objects.

    (I have not checked to see if CC “fixed” the PSD rasteration issue, but I suspect not.)

  • Guest says:

    Thanks David. I’ve got that info scheduled for another article.

    But no, it hasn’t changed in CC.

    But the weird thing is if you output directly from PSD, that vector/text info stays as vectors. It’s only when placed into ID that the vectors get lost.

    So it’s not a Photoshop problem, it’s up to ID to handle the vectors properly.

  • David Creamer says:

    Correct–rastering in ID is ID’s problem–and a dumb one at that! As least saving as Photoshop PDF solves it.

    Not keeping Smart Object AI vectors as vectors is Photoshop’s problem–and a dumb one at that! The only solution I know of is to reverse the workflow: place the PSD file into AI.

  • Alma Galvan says:

    I agree with David Creamer. but this post is really good and more informative, thanks a lot for this best idea

  • Jessica says:

    What happens when you have linked tifs or jpeg in an Illustrator file so you can have vector art with it, and ultimately link that Illustrator file into InDesign— I know you probably need to collect the Illustrator file separately along with the InDesign collected file. But how do the linked files in the Illustrator file work in Indesign when enlarging? If the linked files in illustrator has more than 300 ppi resolution, if you enlarge the entire .ai file in InDesign does it convert it?

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