The Differences Between Adobe Design Programs | Elsie Road Magazine

The Differences Between Adobe Design Programs

If you’ve hung around the edges of the design world at all, you’ve probably heard of Adobe software. The Adobe Creative Suite is definitely the most popular choice for professional designers and these programs are powerful and flexible. If you’re ready to take your design skills to the next level, improve your blog graphics or design your own ebook, Adobe is the way to go. Although the introduction of Creative Cloud has made this software more accessible, it’s still a pretty big investment. So before you jump in, you’re going to want to know what you’re getting and which programs will be most useful for you. With Creative Cloud you can sign up for a monthly subscription to specific programs or the entire suite. I’m going to share my experiences with Adobe to help you determine what programs you’ll need and how you can use them.

These are the 4 Adobe programs I use daily:

  1. Photoshop
  2. Lightroom
  3. Illustrator
  4. InDesign

Each of these programs are geared towards specific types of projects, but are flexible enough to work for quite a few purposes.

The Differences Between Adobe Design Programs | Elsie Road Magazine

For Photography

Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom are primarily intended for photography.

1. Photoshop

Photoshop is the most common program and there are a ton of great tutorials out there for using it. This program works best for editing photos and creating photography-based graphics. You can use it for simple things like brightening up your photo or changing it to black and white to more complex tasks like layering graphics or removing photo backgrounds. It’s not the most intuitive of the Adobe programs for creating graphics with more text or page layouts, but it can be done.

Why use it instead of a free program?

There are a lot of decent photo editing programs and a ton of great apps, but Photoshop is capable of incredibly detailed edits. It’s also equipped to work with larger file sizes or RAW photos—unlike many free photo editors which often automatically decrease the quality of your images.

Who should use it?

If you’re looking for a program that gives you a lot of options for working with photos and still works for the occasional template or business card design, Photoshop is your best choice. It can also work well if the majority of the graphics you create are photo-based. There are a ton of tutorials and resources for learning Photoshop online, so it’s easy to find support and answers to your questions.


2. Lightroom

I only started using Lightroom recently. Since I already used Photoshop, I didn’t see how it could be useful. But when I was struggling to achieve consistency in my edits, I decided to give it a try. It didn’t take long to win me over. With features like copy and pasting edits and the compare tool, Lightroom was just what I needed to improve my photo editing skills.

Why use it instead of a free program?

To be honest, I don’t really have a lot of experience with batch editing software—or even photography editing software in general. If I didn’t already pay for the entire suite through Creative Cloud (and so have free access to Lightroom), I probably wouldn’t use it.

Who should use it?

I would recommend Lightroom if you’re looking to improve your photo editing skills or you’re often working with sets of photos (like from a photoshoot) or a large library of images.


For Design

Illustrator and InDesign are primarily used for graphics and layouts.

3. Illustrator

Lately, Illustrator has become my most-used program. Illustrator is primarily for designing digital artwork. It creates vector files which are infinitely scalable and can be used at any size for any platform. It works great for creating graphics with photos and text (it’s what I use to create all my pins and other social media posts) and more detailed, customized art.

Why use it instead of a free program?

So many reasons. The most important is the ability to produce vector files—no more pixelated graphics or fuzzy images. It’s also incredibly flexible and powerful. You can create graphics for web and print, save pretty much any file type you’d need, and even create your own custom drawings with the pen tool.

Who should use it?

If you’re a blogger or creative entrepreneur, Illustrator would be my top recommendation. (Unless a powerful photo editing tool is a must—then I’d say Photoshop.) Illustrator is ideal for creating logos, social media graphics, and blog images. You can also use it for more text-heavy documents like checklists, workbooks, and guides.  


4. InDesign

I first learned to use InDesign when I worked on my high school newspaper and it was still called PageMaker. Its primary purpose is for text-based documents like ebooks (or real books), guides, magazines, PDF courses—really anything where you’re working with an entire page layout. It has quite a bit of overlap with Illustrator, but with a lot more intensive text tools. You can create chapter breaks, flow text across multiple pages and fields, and set up styling for different types of text.

Why use it instead of a free program?

InDesign offers more comprehensive customization than standard text editors. The ability to create stylesheets for text and to flow across multiple columns or pages—without any weird invisible formatting—makes InDesign invaluable for any text-heavy project. You can also insert any image or graphic at high-quality without confusing your entire layout.

Who should use it?

Unless you’re designing custom-drawn graphics to insert into your magazine (like me), I wouldn’t recommend starting with both Illustrator and InDesign. If you’re looking to create page-based documents with a lot of text (like guides or ebooks), InDesign is the best tool. Otherwise you can probably just stick with Photoshop or Illustrator.


To use it or not to use it?

This isn’t an ad, I really just love Adobe software and use it for all my Elsie Road projects. I love being able to create anything I can imagine and not having to tear my hair out over weird invisible formatting in Microsoft Word. If you like working with templates, don’t feel the need for detailed customization, and don’t require specific file types and quality, I would stick with free programs like Canva. But if you’re itching for more capabilities, want to improve your design skills, or are working on a big project like an ebook, Adobe is the way to go.

There’s a bit of a learning curve with these programs, but once you get the hang of it you’ll never go back. The interfaces for Adobe software have a lot in common, so if you’re familiar with one program the next one will be easier to learn. You can also try out any of their programs for 30 days free so you can play with them to see if it’s something you want to invest in. I’ve included some resources below to help you get started.

Do you use Adobe design software? Which program is your favourite?


Tutorials on Elsie Road

Create a vision board in InDesign.
Digitize a sketch with Illustrator.

Photoshop Resources
Digital Darlings: Vancouver based in-person Photoshop workshops. Monthly subscription library with a huge range of tutorials.
Tuts+: Monthly subscription library with tutorials.
A Beautiful Mess Actions: Photoshop actions for bright and colourful easy photo editing.

Illustrator Resources
Create the optimal Illustrator workspace.
Create PDF worksheets in Illustrator.
Make a clipping mask in Illustrator.

InDesign Resources
Using InDesign for business.
11 tips to work smarter and faster in InDesign.
How to set up your files for print.

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