Which Adobe Program Should I Use?


With so many Adobe products on the market, it is common for designers to become confused over which app to use for their projects. Many Adobe programs have overlapping capabilities, but each has a primary focus and specialty and while it may be possible to use more than one for any given project, only one will be optimal. So, how do you choose between them?

Adobe Illustrator vs. Adobe InDesign

We listed these two first because many designers mix them up. Adobe Illustrator is (as its name reinforces) an illustration program. Its strength is its ability to help designers create vector-based graphics, making it ideal for digital illustrations, typography, icons and of course, logos. Vector-based illustrations never pixelate — which means that illustrations can be adjusted to any size with no risk of pixelation or reduction in quality.

Adobe InDesign is a page layout program with powerful tools to help you design digital and print documents like books, magazines, newspapers, posters, and interactive PDFs. It’s great for projects that require large bodies of text and imagery. This program allows the designer the choice of embedding graphics in documents or simply linking to them, which keeps the file size down, especially when combining multiple elements on a page.

Both programs include powerful typographical tools, enabling precision control over the positioning of individual letters and blocks of text, as well as other capabilities. The key to determining which program will be best for your needs is the end result. Are you creating a brand or a magazine? Does your project have a lot of copy or a little? How important is page layout? How many images involved – and how much control will you need over them?

If your project will rely more on page layout than on vector-based control over your graphics, then you should probably use InDesign, whose handy grid tools allow for easily structured, well-designed layouts. If your project requires multiple illustrations, typographical effects, and vector graphics, your best bet is going to be Illustrator. Since both programs offer similar typographical, placement and adjustment tools, many projects can go either way – but ultimately, one is meant to be used for page layout, and the other for illustration.

Adobe Illustrator vs. Adobe Photoshop

This has become an age-old question among designers. The answer, however, is clearer than whether to use Illustrator or InDesign because the capabilities of Illustrator and Photoshop are so clearly defined. Illustrator is again, for creating and editing vector-based graphics. Photoshop is a pixel-or raster-based program. Vector-based programs create mathematically-drawn lines (through Bézier curves) that do not lose integrity when resized (even to extremes). This makes it ideal for illustrations that will be used in a wide variety of media and sizes (think logos and typography).

Photoshop is designed to work with pixel-based imagery, such as photography. It’s also ideal for creating web-based designs since computer screens are also pixel-based. If you’re still not sure which program is right for your project, ask yourself: are you creating an illustration that will need to be used in multiple sizes, or is the project more photographic? If the answer is ultimately, “both,” then you may want to work with your pixel-based images in Photoshop before creating the final graphic in Illustrator.

Adobe Photoshop vs. Adobe Lightroom

This comparison can be confusing for beginners because both programs have virtually identical capabilities — and Lightroom is technically a sub-program of Photoshop. Yes, you read that correctly. The difference lies not in functionality, but with the number of images the user will need to process. Photoshop includes a tool called Camera Raw, which pops up every time a file in a camera’s native photographic format (e.g., .RAW, .NEF, etc.) is opened. This tool is virtually identical to Lightroom’s photo editing tools.

So, why bother with Lightroom at all? Lightroom is designed to edit large amounts of photos with lossless (non-destructive) algorithms, whereas Photoshop has both lossy (destructive) and lossless algorithms. So it comes as no surprise that many photographers use Lightroom to quickly batch process and edit large numbers of photos. Photoshop, however, is the more powerful choice for heavy, individual photo editing. Granted, Photoshop has some batch processing abilities but lacks the library and organizational capabilities of Lightroom.

In short, if you have a large number of photos that need to be organized and edited in a similar fashion (e.g., they all require a similar kind of color correction), Lightroom is the way to go. If you only have a few photos, or your images require more intricate editing, Photoshop is a better tool for the job.

Adobe Premiere Pro vs. Adobe After Effects

Both of these programs are great tools for video editing and special effects. As with other programs in the Adobe product suite, both have many overlapping features, but they differ in the design of their workspaces and workflow.

Adobe Premiere Pro is a video editing program — designed to organize and arrange audio and video clips onto several timelines. It also has some easy-to-use color-correction tools. Adobe After Effects is a video compositing program — designed to combine multiple elements into individual images within a video. It also has some powerful video-oriented special effects tools.

Sometimes, a project may require a designer to do both video editing and video compositing. If that’s the case, determine which tool you’ll need to use first. Either way, it’s important to have a firm grasp of your project scope to efficiently take full advantage of both Premiere Pro and After Effects.

Knowledge is Power

Many designers find it confusing to decide between Adobe programs because they understand some of the capabilities of each program – but they don’t know enough to take full advantage of each program’s true strengths. Additionally, using the right application can make it easier for anyone else who will need to use your files in their native format later (e.g., a magazine publisher, video broadcaster, etc.). Don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know and pursue opportunities to learn more. Advanced education can make you more aware not only of any given application’s capabilities but also of its limitations.

Ultimately, the right choice will make it easier for you to do the work at hand and for others to use your files later while streamlining workflow and helping you make the best use of your time.


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