Program Knowledge

One of the biggest frustrations I’ve seen, and a big stumbling block that designers starting out come across is the proper program knowledge and which programs to use. In school they will often have an intro class to certain programs and how to use them. The problem arises in that the schools often don’t teach or instill in designers what each program should be used and when it should be used. Program knowledge is even more confusing in those just starting out.

Thinking of each program as being equally suitable for a job is a misguided approach. It’s like think that my car it has four wheels, just like my truck, but that doesn’t mean the car is meant to go off-road. Below is a list of 3 programs associated with graphic design and what they should be used for. Currently I am only going to focus on 3 of Adobe’s programs. The reason for this is that most designers starting out are using 1-2 of these programs for their work.

While there are a great number of other programs that could be used, many of those are competitors to these three programs. Also due to the fact that these three are all available from Adobe through Creative Cloud, it makes the availability much more likely within the industry.

Adobe Photoshop

Program Knowledge - Adobe Photoshop

From Adobe: Adobe Photoshop software is the industry standard in digital imaging and is used by professionals worldwide for design, photography and more.
Out of all the programs that designers use this is probably the most recognized. When it comes to Adobe Photoshop most people “know” what it’s used for; Editing photos. This is the ideal use for Adobe Photoshop. The artwork produced by Adobe Photoshop is raster or pixel based. This is important to keep in mind as the artwork produced is based of a generally rectangular grid of pixels. Originally created to enhance photographs, Adobe Photoshop has expanded to much more, including web graphics, web banner graphics, and user interfaces (UI). With every release Adobe has increased the scope of what can be done within the program, video, images for large scale printing.

What Adobe Photoshop is meant for:

  • Photo editing
  • Software UI design
  • Web/mobile UI design
  • Online graphics
  • Enhanced/Special effects

What is NOT meant for:

  • Branding/logo creation (PLEASE DON’T!!!)
  • Stationary
  • Business cards
  • Type Layout

Compared to Adobe Illustrator and Adobe InDesign

  • Adobe Photoshop does not create multi page layouts. Adobe Illustrator and Adobe InDesign allow for multi page PDF creation.
  • Adobe Photoshop filter effects are stronger than Adobe InDesign or Adobe Illustrator.
  • XML, is supported in Adobe InDesign not Adobe Photoshop.
  • Adobe InDesign supports vectors, imports .AI and .EPS with original vector data encoded. Adobe Photoshop converts these imported formats to pixel based.
  • Adobe Illustrator has superior vector support, while Adobe Photoshop has limited and still outputs rasterized files.
  • Adobe Photoshop has better pixel layout than Adobe Illustrator or Adobe InDesign.
  • Adobe Photoshop is meant for photo enhancing.
  • Adobe Photoshop layering functionality is stronger and allows for better organization.
  • Adobe Illustrator and Adobe InDesign allow for linking to files, allowing for updating/replacing/swapping out of the links. Adobe Photoshop’s closest thing is a smart object but is not a true linked file.
  • Adobe Illustrator and Adobe InDesign exports .EPS file formats better than Adobe Photoshop.

Wrap Up
Adobe Photoshop is arguably one of the strongest programs a designer might use, but its important to know its limits. Adobe Photoshop sh should never, ever be used to set large bodies of type in a print project. While Adobe Photoshop’s handling of text has gotten better it is better to use InDesign or Illustrator to layout your text. A tip I would recommend for anyone using Adobe Photoshop to create UI or for the web create at a higher resolution. You never know when your small graphic might be needed in a larger print format.

Adobe Illustrator

Program Knowledge - Adobe Illustrator

From Adobe: Adobe Illustrator is a vector-based drawing program used by design professionals worldwide and is developed and marketed by Adobe Systems.
I have to admit that I have a love/hate relationship for Adobe Illustrator. I along with a great number of my colleagues learned with Adobe Illustrator. There is an initial belief that Adobe Illustrator can be used for any type of project. Adobe Illustrator is a vector based program, which allows for virtually unlimited scalability. Adobe Illustrator was first released as a tie in with Adobe’s in-house font development software and PostScript file format. Few realize that Illustrator has been around longer (1986) than its flagship photoshop (1988). As web became more prominate in the 90s new features were incorporated to support web publishing such as PDF and SVG.

What Adobe Illustrator is meant for:

  • Illustrations
  • Technical illustrations
  • Branding/logo creation
  • Type layout for certain print campaigns

What is NOT meant for:

  • Multi page layout
  • layouts where pixel based layout is ideal
  • Enhanced/Special effects

Compared to Adobe Photoshop and Adobe InDesign

  • Adobe Illustrator does not have master pages as compared to Adobe InDesign.
  • Adobe Illustrator cannot define page numbers as compared to Adobe InDesign.
  • Adobe Illustrator is best for vector layouts.
  • Adobe Illustrator does better page layout than Adobe Photoshop.
  • Adobe Illustrator does not handle pixel art the same way as Adobe Photoshop does in terms of effects.
  • Adobe Illustrator supports multiple page output for PDF while Adobe Photoshop does not.
  • Adobe Illustrator and Adobe InDesign allow for linking to files, allowing for updating/replacing/swapping out of the links. Adobe Photoshop’s closest thing is a smart object but is not a true linked file.
  • Adobe Illustrator exports better .EPS file than Adobe Photoshop.

Wrap Up:
Even though Adobe Illustrator has an artboards feature, that allows for multi page output, it doesn’t mean you should use it for multi page layouts. Any time you need to layout a page I strongly recommend you use Adobe InDesign. Try using Adobe Illustrator In combination with the Adobe Photoshop and Adobe InDesign.

Adobe InDesign

Program Knowledge - Adobe InDesign

From Adobe: InDesign CS6 is built for designers, prepress and production professionals, and print service providers who work for magazines, design firms, advertising agencies, newspapers, book publishers, and retail/catalog companies, as well as in corporate design, commercial printing, and other leading-edge publishing environments.

When I started out with I began with Aldus Pagemaker the precursor for what would later become Adobe InDesign. Adobe InDesign was not a simple reversioning or rebranding of the Pagemaker product that Adobe acquired. It was and is its own product line. When Adobe InDesign came out the market leader was QuarkXPress a highly feature rich program at the time. Many feel that the InDesign gained popularity by being the first desktop publishing software on Apple’s Mac OSX platform.

Below is a very brief video talking about the history of Adobe Indesign. This comes from Adobe InDesign’s Facebook page

What Adobe InDesign is meant for:

  • Single and multipage brochures/product sheets/Annual layouts
  • Publication layout such as books
  • Interactive layouts
  • Digital publishing

What is NOT meant for

Vector Illustrations

Compared to Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop

  • Adobe InDesign cannot draw objects as well as Adobe Illustrator.
  • Adobe InDesign does not have filters, as Illustrator does.
  • Adobe InDesign has stronger type wrapping tools.
  • Adobe InDesign creates page layouts while Adobe Photoshop does not.
  • Adobe Illustrator and Adobe InDesign allow for linking to files, allowing for updating/replacing/swapping out of the links. Adobe Photoshop’s closest thing is a smart object but is not a true linked file.
  • Adobe InDesign supports multiple pages for PDF and print, Adobe Photoshop does not.
  • Adobe Photoshop has filter effects while Adobe Illustrator and Adobe InDesignis limited.
  • Adobe InDesign supports XML.
  • Indesign supports vectors, imports .AI and .EPS with vector data encoded. In Adobe Photoshop this gets converted to paths or pseudo vector. The final output is still pixel based.

Parting shot:

Even though Adobe InDesign has a pen tool and is capable of creating vector style art it is best to do this in Illustrator.