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Adobe’s Creative Suite (CS) products have been around a long time – the first commercial CS program, Illustrator 88 (logo above), launched in 1986. Technology has come a long way since rat-tails, cassette tapes, and New Kids on the Block were in style. Like the New Kids, Adobe CS has grown with the times. Today, there are over 15 CS programs, offering tools for digital media, print, video, multimedia and more to create anything from basic graphic designs to the avant-garde.

Most people use two or three CS programs, and amongst all of the programs, Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign are the most popular. Because CS software is used by graphic designers, artists, photographers and other creative professionals, some may be intimidated or hesitate to take a crack at using CS software. But, have no fear. While Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign have deep functionalities that could take months, years or a lifetime to learn (not joking), even the basic functions of these programs can yield amazing results.

Before embarking on your Adobe CS voyage, it is important to know what Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator are built for and the differences between the three programs. Taking a moment to read through the information below could save you from drowning in an ocean of random information floating around the web. If you have a question after reading this, please feel free to leave a note for us in the comment box at the end of this post.

Photoshop

ABCs of Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign

In the simplest of terms, Adobe Photoshop is all about manipulating digital images however a user wants to. Users can enhance a singular image or integrate multiple images into a single document to create a variety of media ranging from artwork to photo albums to web media to video. If you have seen something that looks too cool to be real, you can probably thank Photoshop for it.

As you can imagine, there are several versions of Photoshop to suit the needs of a massive, diverse user base. Let’s meet the Photoshop family:

The most basic software of the bunch, Photoshop Elements is a slimmed-down version of Photoshop best suited for organizing and editing photographs on a basic, casual level. This software has automated tools that instantly add effects to your materials and tools for manual enhancements. Photoshop Premiere Elements brings video into the fold, and also adds additional effects for photographs. User friendly and relatively inexpensive compared to other Adobe products, Elements is great for those who want a Photoshop-lite experience.

At the heart of it all is the self-titled Photoshop software. Photoshop is all about enhancing and combining digital materials (photos, graphics, etc) to make one stunning design. It is not suited for creating designs from scratch, but Photoshop tools can technically be used for this as well.

Photoshop can be used for a wide variety of media, including web graphics, animation, illustrations, photographs, print design, typography, illustration, video and general image editing. For 3D compositions, Photoshop Extended is your best bet. Because of its wide range of functionality, it is likely that this software would be the best starting point for aspiring graphic designers.

Photoshop Lightroom offers a complex toolkit ideal for editing digital photographs. Even though Lightroom contains advanced functions, this software is recommended for professional and amateur photographers alike. When your images are ready, Lightroom’s photo book options allows you to package images in creative ways, giving your work another coat of polish.

Photoshop is an amazing tool, but there are limitations. For instance, Photoshop should be used mainly for content that won’t be resized. This is because Photoshop creates “raster” files. Sparing you the details, raster images are made of millions of tiny square pixels. When a Photoshop image is resized, it becomes distorted, or pixilated. Also, because of pixilation, Photoshop doesn’t always do well with text-based graphics.

For more information about Photoshop, Lightroom and Elements, read our recent post, “Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop, or Photoshop Elements — Which One is Right for You?”

Illustrator

ABCs of Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign

Adobe Illustrator is the perfect tool for two things: creating designs from scratch and for when a design will be used in various sizes. A common misconception is that Photoshop overshadows Illustrator. While the two programs have similarities, keeping Photoshop for image editing and Illustrator for image creation maximizes your available tools and saves you from running into major issues like saving a design as the wrong file type.

Why is Illustrator better than Photoshop for working with a blank canvas? Its various drawing and shape tools create smoother edges and generally crisper lines than Photoshop. From cartoons to portraits, Illustrator can achieve just about anything you can dream of, and its deep tool set is virtually limitless.

Remember all that mumbo-jumbo about raster files? Well, meet its cousin, “vector” files. Illustrator can create vector files, which can be enlarged or shrunk without losing any of its graphic integrity. For example, a thimble-sized vector image can be blown up to the size of a billboard without looking fuzzy, stretched or pixelated. Photoshop, however, doesn’t do this naturally.

Putting together what Illustrator does best, design creation and scalable designs, many graphic designers turn to this software when working on materials such as logos and icons. These types of projects necessitate original graphics that can be repurposed for anything from letterhead to ads to websites.

InDesign

ABCs of Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign

Chances are, you see Adobe InDesign every day. It has become ubiquitous software for magazines, newspapers and just about any other type of published media you see. While Photoshop and Illustrator deal with designs, InDesign combines designs with other elements like written copy to create eye-pleasing page layouts and multi-page documents. Used for web, print and mobile purposes, if you have a message to deliver, InDesign offers plenty of options for creating a professional package.

InDesign’s tools work in a way that you can arrange text and images in any orientation you can think of. In most cases, you won’t write content directly into InDesign, and you certainly won’t create designs directly in the software. But, InDesign allows users to easily import (read: pull) content from sources like Photoshop, Illustrator and other CS programs into your layout.

Like the other CS software, Adobe InDesign is built for empowering users. For example, you can create timesaving templates that can be used in multiple projects or create a “master” page layout that will replicate in a multi-page document. Thinking beyond printed media, InDesign can also be used for multimedia. Videos and animations can be incorporated into a page layout and used with text or graphics for messages with a modern touch.

 Using text blocks, you could technically make a page layout in Illustrator or InDesign. But, that would be like using a golf club to hit a baseball. Likewise, you can create some vector graphics in InDesign, but you’ll wish you just used Illustrator.

It may not seem like InDesign would be relevant to an aspiring graphic designer. However, Adobe InDesign shares the same feel of Photoshop’s and Illustrator’s interface, which makes learning InDesign that much easier. Many companies look to graphic designers to create eye-popping visuals and put together page layouts. It may sound overwhelming, but Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign are all connected–learning one program feeds into understanding another.

Hopefully, you have a solid foundation and plenty of questions about Adobe CS. Feel free to contact the Digital Workshop Center in the comments. We’d love to hear your thoughts.