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Blog Editorial

If You’re Using Photoshop for Everything… You’re Doing It Wrong.

Some of you are probably reading the title of this article and instantly laughing it off as blasphemy. For those of you curious enough to stick around and actually read it… Hear me out. I’ve been teaching Adobe applications now for about 6-7 years. In that time I’ve come across many people in my classes (whether it’s InDesign, Illustrator or whatever) who seem to use Photoshop as their one-stop-shop for desktop publishing. Each and every time I hear someone say that I want to scream at them and tell them that they’re doing it all wrong… I don’t, of course, but I feel like it sometimes! In this article I’ll explore a few tasks that we as creatives are forced to create and I’ll also discuss why you should NOT be using Photoshop to do them.

Ok, so let’s look at some of the things that we as “creative professionals” are tasked with on a daily basis. Well, let’s start with something simple, like a business card. A business card is one of the most essential pieces of anybody’s business, and as creatives we’re tasked with churning these bad boys out. Here’s the problem… Photoshop is NOT, I repat, NOT a page layout application. Photoshop is, at its core, an image enhancement/manipulation tool. Yes, there are ways to set type and work with vector graphics in Photoshop, but seriously, don’t use Photoshop to layout a business card. Adobe has given you an entire suite of products (hence the name Creative Suite), which you probably already own if you own Photoshop. Within this suite of applications lie two pieces of software that were tailor made to produce business cards. These would be Illustrator and InDesign.

Illustrator is a vector drawing program and is the end-all-be-all for logo creation. As you know, most business cards incorporate a logo, so this is a no-brainer. Now, why should you design your logos in Illustrator vs Photoshop? The answer lies within the vectors my friend. By creating your logos in a vector format, you ensure that they are flexible and able to be scaled infinitely without penalty. Photoshop on the other hand, is what we call resolution dependent. Any graphics that you create within Photoshop rely on resolution (DPI or PPI) to determine their actual quality or sharpness. This is not a concern with Illustrator, so no matter if you’re putting that logo on a business card or a billboard, the graphics look crisp and clean. Not to mention the fact that working with CMYK colors is MUCH easier in Illustrator vs Photoshop (trust me).

Once you’ve done your logo in Illustrator, you may be tempted to throw it into Photoshop to finish up the business card… Again, NO! Remember, Adobe includes a professional publishing application in the Creative Suite called InDesign. This is a graphic designers dream for creating documents for professional print production and also for setting type. InDesign works in conjunction with other Creative Suite applications like Illustrator and Photoshop to compile all of the assets you’ve created (both raster and vector) and put them into a print-ready format. If you ask any professional printer if they’d prefer to receive an InDesign file or a Photoshop file for printing purposes, I guarantee you that they’d say InDesign 9 out of 10 times. InDesign files are much easier for printers to work with and they have the ability to compile assets (graphics, fonts, printing instructions, etc.) so that the printer doesn’t have to spend time chasing down the designer for them later.

Another project type that is often created in Photoshop is a website mockup. While I agree that there are some graphical elements that can/should be created in Photoshop, I firmly believe that Adobe Fireworks is the best tool in the Creative Suite for mockups/prototypes. Fireworks, much like Illustrator, is a vector drawing program. Again, this means that the graphics you create in Fireworks are able to be modified and scaled without penalty (i.e. no pixellation). By creating your graphics in Fireworks, you ensure that your content can be scaled and delivered across multiple screens and mediums without the need to create multiple versions. Whereas in Photoshop you might create a set of graphics to display on the web at 72dpi and another set to display on an iPhone 4S at 330dpi. With Fireworks, there is no DPI, so you can export one single graphic to any size/resolution you want without creating the extra file(s). Another advantage to the vector nature of Fireworks is that you can create, what I call, pixel-perfect graphics. This means that the graphics you create in Fireworks (oftentimes) look better than the ones you create in Photoshop… it’s just the nature of the beast. Not to mention the fact that Fireworks has support for things like CSS output (including CSS3), making it easy for you to turn your graphics into usable code for your web projects.

I realize that most of us gravitate to Photoshop because it’s what we know and we we’re comfortable with. Everyone and their brother had a bootleg copy of Photoshop while they were in college, and most of us never really took the time to learn anything else. However, I think you’re doing yourself a huge disservice by not exploring all of the applications Adobe has to offer. Hell, you bought them… So why not use them? If you take some time to learn these tools and integrate them into your workflow, eventually you’ll begin to see the benefits and learn to use them as they were intended to be. Truthfully none of these apps were meant to be used 100% on their own. This was meant to be an assembly line of applications that, when used in conjunction with one another, create a more efficient and productive workflow for creative professionals. And we all know… productivity = dollar signs!

8 Comments

  1. Yes!!!! Photoshop is a great image editor at it’s core. The Adobe “tool belt” contains other great tools such as the awesome Fireworks. Thank you so much for this wonderful article.

  2. I think it has a lot to do with, as you say, what people are comfortable with. The first design program I used was PhotoShop and therefore I have a very high level of comfort with it. Over the years i have forced myself to learn Illustrator and InDesign. My workflow now is photo retouching in PS and Lightroom. Logos and linear designs in Illustrator. Anything with multiple page layout is InDesign, website development in DreamWeaver. As I have become more comfortable with InDesign I have moved to using inDesign for ads, business collateral (letterhead, bc, envelopes etc.) and magazine covers. So far I have not made the switch to Fireworks for web design. I think you have made a good argument for that. I will take a look at it as soon as I have mastered WordPress customization. If designers are not interested in constantly learning then they are in the wrong field especially in the area of webdesign. You have to stay excited about new techniques, training and honing your craft, it is a field for people who like a good challenge. I rely heavily on Lynda.com, CreativeLive and Webdesign.com for my training. So thankful for those resources.

  3. Couldn’t agree more, I come from the “really old” table-stripping” days! We used knives, tracing paper. After giving up our Lisa Computer for the first generation Macs – we thought we’d seen the future when Aldus’s Pagemaker hit the scene. By bringing traditional training to electronic tools we made the big transition to the be one of the first “all-desktop” shops in Southern California. When Photoshop (it was first a scanner interface) hit the scene we could see the potential (but never imagined it would be so universal). Learning the full capabilities of the complete suite of software allows creative directors, and production people to really have command of complete world of creativity. You acknowledgement to vector-based program (Illustrator and Fireworks) is “spot-on.” We old “dogs” (who have survived the electronic movement) love these tools and I would urge Photoshop-only users to open up to the world of possibilities that the other tools offer.

  4. I agree Justin. I too am comfortable with Photoshop and I tried to learn Illustrator, but I tell you what, that program is really complicated. I was following Gradient Mesh and watched all your episodes and man, that program is like, ahhhh, I’ll just do it in Photoshop. lol.. But you did make a very good point, for logo design, you do need vector graphics because I ran into that specific issue when I wanted to scale a pixel based graphic on a site and when I enlarged it, little squares. Good article man, you are one of the easiest teachers for the Adobe suite I understand and you don’t expect people to already know, you thoroughly explain what this tool does and why you may not want to do this or that. We go way back like bell bottoms and air-fro’s. You didn’t know it. Back to when you remastered the first 10 episodes on Quick tips. I learned so much with navigation in Photoshop it’s unreal. Thanks for writing good articles like this because people need to know this that are die hard Photoshop folks. Now that you mentioned this, I guess I need to stop being lazy and get in there and make mistakes. You know me, if I have a question, I’ll be like, uhhhh, Justin, how do you do this!!!! You are the man dude and Lynda hired an instructor that is the boom diggity hot dog dude!! Keep the Intel coming brother. I will stay tuned..

  5. This was me until a couple of weeks ago. I traded some website work with a graphic designer who gave me a crash course. A couple of tutorial videos later (thanks Justin) and I am running with it. If you have been afraid of making the jump, don’t be.

  6. Thank You, Thank You, Thank You. I used to work in a digital print shop and I can not count how many times I had to explain the limitations of using Photoshop as a “catch all” graphic design tool. “My cousin made this (72dpi)logo for me, can you put this on a trade show booth?”….Nope

    Photoshop for images
    Illustrator for vectors
    InDesign to bring them all together

    (Here’s a hint for those that are still in doubt: Read the names of the software. Adobe actually tells you what it’s for)

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