Choosing between Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop can be quite baffling. Especially if you are new in the industry as a designer, it might be hard to understand the differences between the two — and when and why you should use each program — since on the surface they seem so similar.

Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator 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.

“Design is intelligence made visible.” — Alina Wheeler

Raster graphics vs. vector graphics

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.

Get More Design Insights From Built In ExpertsA Guide to the Metaverse and VR Tech: What You Need to Know


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.


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 accommodate a range of platforms and products
Adobe Illustrator workspace


What Is Photoshop?

Photoshop is 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

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
  • User-interface design
  • Graphics composed with minimal gradient
  • 3D painting and animation
Adobe Photoshop workspace


Adobe Illustrator vs. Photoshop: Comparing Their Features

While Photoshop is the tool widely used for image editing, Illustrator is best for image creation

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.

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. Creative professionals also use Photoshop for user-interface creation, website designs and graphics with minimal gradient.


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, 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.

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. WithPhotoshop 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 apps.

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

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 Adobe 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. 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.

What's Your Angle?Emotion-Focused Design Is Your Sharpest Competitive Edge


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 Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator 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 Photoshop and Illustrator — 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!

Expert Contributors

Built In’s expert contributor network publishes thoughtful, solutions-oriented stories written by innovative tech professionals. It is the tech industry’s definitive destination for sharing compelling, first-person accounts of problem-solving on the road to innovation.

Learn More

Great Companies Need Great People. That's Where We Come In.

Recruit With Us