How To choose the right graphic design program

The Core Design Programs

Design is fun, and a lot of people want to improve their skills when it comes to design.  But, using the right design program depends on the final product. Navigating the many design programs Adobe offers can be overwhelming, especially if you’re getting familiar with different capabilities each has to offer.  For now, we’re going to take a look at the core graphics programs, Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign and which programs should be used for which types of design projects. Knowing which program to use is a huge step in the right direction to figuring out what tools these different programs offer and how to make sure you’re happy with the final product.

Below is a break-down of three popular programs along with a cheat-sheet breaking down the best project use of each program.


Photoshop is a favorite among people just getting started in design, and often becomes the “go to” design program for creating everything from logos to posters – not exactly what it was intended for.  In fact, you only have to look at the name to get an idea of what Photoshop was meant for – photos.

Photoshop was designed for creating, editing and retouching raster-based images (raster images are made up of tiny little dots called pixels).  These images are resolution dependent, which means when you change the size of an image that is made of pixels the dots either shrink or stretch.  Shrinking images is okay, but you can’t add additional pixels to the image, so as you enlarge raster based images it makes the image blurry and unclear.

When you think of Photoshop, web based images, photography, and digital artwork should all come to mind.  Photoshop, while perfect for editing images, is not ideal for creating graphics and laying out text.

When to use Photoshop:

  • Retouching photos
  • Creating digital images for the web
  • Websites or app mockups
  • Animation and video.
  • Web files
  • Posters

Illustrator is my favorite design program.  When I’m working in Illustrator, it means I’m working on the fun stuff – logos, infographics, posters – anything vector based.

Illustrator is used to create vector based images – images made up of basic geometric shapes such as points, lines and curves – that can be scaled up or down in size without losing quality (unlike a raster based image).  Illustrator has countless tools to help you manipulate text and shapes, making it perfect for strong visual illustrations.

When to use Illustrator:

  • Infographics
  • Creating logos or icons
  • Typographical art
  • One page flyers
  • Business cards
  • Vector social media graphics
  • Posters
  • Print files

InDesign was just making its appearance when I was a graphic design student.  It is the newer version of Quark X Press for those of you still using Quark.

InDesign is a lifesaver when you need to create multi-page, text-heavy documents, print or digital.  It was designed for the sole purpose of laying out text.  If you’re working on magazines, manuals or brochures, this program is for you!  InDesign offers several tools to make laying out text quick and simple, a feature Illustrator and Photoshop both lack. InDesign also works well with vector and raster based images, which makes importing images into your document seamless (just don’t forget to save the links).

When to use InDesign:

  • Multi-page text heavy documents
  • Brochures
  • E-books
  • Magazines
  • Print files

While the prospect of learning your way around additional design programs might seem frustrating, I’m confident that using the correct tools of the trade will make you a much happier and knowledgeable designer.