Adobe Illustrator vs. Adobe Photoshop: Differences and When to Use Each

While Illustrator is best for image creation, Photoshop is excellent for image editing.

Written by Ksheeraj Kandra
Adobe Illustrator vs. Adobe Photoshop: Differences and When to Use Each
Image: Shutterstock / Built In
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UPDATED BY
Brennan Whitfield | Nov 21, 2023

Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop are two of the most popular graphics programs in the design industry. If you’re working on a new project, you might have a tough time determining which of the two programs will work best for your specific requirements.

The Main Difference Between Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop

  • Adobe Illustrator creates scalable vector graphics. It is best for creating images.
  • Adobe Photoshop utilizes pixel-based raster graphics. It is best for editing images.

As you’ll learn in this article, the choice depends on what you’re trying to create.  The main difference between Photoshop and Illustrator is the graphic format each application produces.

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What Is Adobe Illustrator?

Adobe Illustrator is an advanced, vector-based editing software. Vectors are scalable images that can be sized as small or as large as you need them to be, and they’ll look the same when it comes to clarity and resolution. 

Illustrator uses mathematical constructs to create its vector graphics. That means that if you draw a line, every time the application displays the line, it will redraw the line from scratch using the equation it has in memory.

adobe-illustrator-example

A vector graphic will never lose its quality if it’s scaled up or down. Illustrator will also give you a better print output since it’s not dependent on resolution. Common vector file extensions include .ai, .eps and .svg. Illustrator is considered the best application for:

  • Freehand drawing
  • Logo and icon creation
  • Infographic creation
  • Projects with an extensive line drawing (e.g. graphs and charts)
  • Custom fonts and typography
  • Print projects with excessive typography
  • Custom font creation
  • Work that needs to be scalable to a range of platforms and products or will be printed
adobe-illustrator-workspace
Adobe Illustrator workspace

 

What Is Adobe Photoshop?

Adobe Photoshop is a raster-based software that uses pixels to create images. Raster graphics create an image by arranging small squares, called pixels, side by side. The computer memorizes the arrangement of these pixels and uses that record to display the picture. Photoshop files are saved with the extension .psd, so that you can continue editing from where you have left off. Typical raster file export extensions are .jpg and .png.

bitmapped-raster-graphics
Bitmapped raster graphics

Photoshop is a great program for modifying already created images or graphics — for example, editing photos, since those projects will stay at a fixed size. Another great benefit of Photoshop is that you can have complete control of your projects since you can edit your graphic pixel by pixel. Photoshop is considered the best application for:

  • Photo editing and enhancements
  • Lighting, coloring and cropping modifications
  • User interface (UI) and user experience (UX) design
  • 3D painting and animation
  • Works that are photorealistic or will be digitally published
adobe-photoshop-workspace
Adobe Photoshop workspace

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Features of Illustrator vs. Photoshop

Illustrator and Photoshop both handle images, but each application has its own capabilities when it comes to creating and modifying images. Here’s some of their major features — and differences — to know.
 

Graphics Creation

Illustrator’s advantage lies in its graphics creation: You sketch images and then enhance the work through the application. Illustrations are more than digital eye candy. Coloring options — along with line drawing and typography features — make Illustrator ideal for artists, illustrators  and anyone who likes to draw. Illustrator is also beneficial for businesses that need to create logos and icons for their marketing materials. Web designers often use Illustrator to create logos and images for banners and websites. Artists use Illustrator’s line-drawing tools to create charts and freehand drawings.

adobe-photoshop-vs-illustrator
Adobe Photoshop vs. Illustrator

 

Image Format and Scaling 

Photoshop is not a good choice when creating logos. Everything in Photoshop is just a series of pixels, so if you’re scaling something up or down, it can lose its quality very quickly. Because the computer memorizes the pixels, the image can’t be enlarged without losing some of the quality. Vector graphics on the other hand, as seen in Illustrator, have a huge advantage over raster because no matter how you zoom in or enlarge the picture — and no matter how large you want to print the image, vector graphics will never fail you.

Even though Photoshop can handle vector images, it is not recommended because the result isn’t as good as the one you’d get from just using Illustrator. On the other hand, Photoshop works best for “digital paintings,” thanks to its brush icon that allows you to mix pixels up and give them a new color. Creative professionals also use Photoshop for user-interface creation and website designs.

raster-vs-vector
Raster graphics vs. vector graphics
designing-logos

 

Editing Tools and Modification

Illustrator doesn’t allow you to automate page numbers, and it’s not easy to modify images that are already created, since there are limited filters and image-editing tools available. Photoshop’s editing tools let you crop, adjust lighting and coloring, mask blemishes and add or remove backgrounds. 

 

Object Selection

Illustrator is an object-based editing tool. Therefore, you have a collection of objects with their own attributes. Whenever you select an object in Illustrator and apply an effect on it, the entire object is affected. With Photoshop in contrast, you select a few chunks of pixels instead of the whole object. This is one of the fundamental, imperative differences between the two applications.

 

Image Compatibility 

Images edited previously in Adobe Photoshop can always be re-edited in the same software. 

This luxury isn’t available in Adobe Illustrator, however. Once an image — be it a logo or an icon — is created on Illustrator and saved as a normal image, it cannot be edited on the same software. Once an image is saved, it develops pixels that don’t work on Illustrator, but that image can be edited on Photoshop.

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When to Use Illustrator vs. Photoshop

Adobe Illustrator is best used for image creation, while Adobe Photoshop is best used for image editing.
 

When to Use Illustrator 

Illustrator is used to create vector images and graphics. Vector graphics can be scaled to any size and still retain their image quality, making the format ideal for smooth 2D visuals and branding graphics like logos, icons or business cards. 

Illustrator is often utilized by graphic designers and digital artists to make original designs and illustrations.

 

When to Use Photoshop

Photoshop is used to edit photos or create rasterized, photorealistic art. Raster graphics are composed of pixels, making the format ideal for images that require detailed shading and color gradients, like web designs, photographs or digital publications.

Photoshop is often utilized by graphic designers and photographers to quickly edit aspects of images like lighting or coloring, or to make a new creation from multiple images.

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Illustrator vs. Photoshop: The Takeaway

You’ll come to find that some people just prefer to use one software over another, but sometimes it’s best to use Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop in tandem. Many of the hotkeys and tools are the same in both apps, and they complement each other in unique ways.

One program is definitely not better than the other; they’re just different in their own ways. Understanding the difference between Illustrator and Photoshop — and each program’s proper application — will help you make the decision about which is best for your next project. Make your choice and start learning today!

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Adobe Illustrator is a program for creating vector graphics and original illustrations. It's ideal for making freehand designs and scalable images meant for print like logos, icons and business cards.

Adobe Photoshop is a program for creating raster graphics and editing preexisting images. It's ideal for editing images with extensive detail and shading like photographs, web designs or photorealistic art.

Illustrator is best to learn first for users focusing on image creation and print designs.

Photoshop is best to learn first for users focusing on image editing and digital designs.

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