Illustrator vs Photoshop: What Makes Them Different and Similar?

Adobe Illustrator vs photoshop cover image

Everything you see on any digital screen (or paper ) is considered graphics. From the images or the text that accompanies them, it’s all graphics. Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop are two software that can create and manipulates graphics. While they are similar in what they do, there is a lot of differences between the two when it comes to what they work on. This is Illustrator vs Photoshop and how does InDesign compare to these two. 

Beginning with Illustrator, it is a vector-based graphic editor. This means that only vector files can be edited on Illustrator. Don’t worry if you don’t know what vector is. Everything will be explained later. You can create artworks such as paintings, illustrations, typography, etc using Illustrator. As the name goes, it helps to illustrate.

Adobe Photoshop is a raster or pixel-based graphic editor. This means that Photoshop works in general, pixel-based images. These are the images you take with your camera, screenshots, etc. This single difference might not seem to be too important, but this is what divides the uses of these two software programs and gives birth to articles such as this.

Let’s dive into the details of both Illustrator and Photoshop and look at their applications, advantages, disadvantages, and the professional who use them. We also try to find which one of these two programs is easier to learn.

What is Adobe Illustrator used for?

Adobe Illustrator is like a canvas on which you can draw, paint, or write. Illustrator has tools such as the pen tool, brushes, shape builders, etc which allow you to create vector graphics. You cannot edit a pixel-based photo in Illustrator. The best you can do is crop it. 

What are vectors? Adobe Illustrator uses mathematical algorithms and geometrical points ( dots and lines ) to create shapes. Vector-based software porgrams use a mathematical grid to create an illustration. This grid is where various shapes are created and the compound result of that is the illustration.

Since this is based on algorithms, a vector graphic can be scaled to any size without the loss of quality. This is because the algorithm understands the shape adds more detail to keep the sharpness of the image. So you can keep zooming in on the illustration and there won’t be any pixelation. This allows vector arts to be used on any resolution or print size.

Since Illustrator works on vectors, one cannot edit pictures on it. So Illustrator is suitable for creating vector arts such as logos, illustrations, web graphics, icons, brochures, etc. Adobe Illustrator is used for any artwork that requires the artist to create graphics from scratch. This doesn’t mean you cannot create the aforementioned things in Photoshop. You can, but there is a disadvantage to it which will be discussed later. 

Vectors created on Illustrator (on any vector-based graphics editor) can be printed on a regular sheet of paper and a poster that covers the Empire State building and both will have the same sharpness and quality. 

Most of the fonts and texts are created on vector-based platforms. Coming back to the canvas analogy, Illustrator is like a canvas and the artist has a paintbrush to create anything out of her imagination. She can create a 10-inch long line or a 2-feet long line. The size of the canvas is infinite and the paints will never run out. 

pixelation occurs in Adobe Photoshop after zooming
Pixelation occurs at 500% zoom in Photoshop
No pixelation on a vector illustration in Adobe Illustrator
No pixelation in Illustrator at 500% zoom

What is Adobe Photoshop used for?

Adobe Photoshop is the favorite child of Adobe. Photoshop is the most popular photo editor in the world. It is so popular that photoshopping is a verb which means manipulating a picture. As the verb says, Photoshop is used to edit photos. While it wasn’t the first software from Adobe, it is the program on which Adobe focuses on the most. It is kind of like their flagship program and that’s for a reason.

Photoshop works on raster-based graphics or pixel-based graphics. This means that an image or file in Photoshop will a determined pixel value. You see these images because the screen lights up the corresponding pixel, creating the image. Photoshop is a very powerful program, and for that, it is also very complicated.  

Since it is pixel-based, if you zoom in on the image, the picture will start getting blurry (as we are looking at the pixel itself). In Illustrator, the algorithm could multiply the individual points to keep the image sharp. This cannot be done with Photoshop because there is no information for the pixel. 

This is what raster, bitmap, or pixel-based means. Photoshop can edit images and it can tweak and change almost everything of the image. It can remove elements from it, add other elements on it, change the color of different parts of the image (highlights, shadows, etc). This is why Photoshop is used mostly by photographers and image editors. 

Almost all the movie posters you see use Photoshop to edit and refine the images. Photoshop is a very powerful tool. While you cannot create vector-based illustrations in Photoshop, you can create art from scratch. Photoshop has a wide variety of brushes for digital artists. The only difference between art in Illustrator and Photoshop would be that one is vector-based and the other is pixel-based. Photoshop can also create animations and GIFs! This is not possible with Illustrator. 

What’s Adobe InDesign used for?

Amongst the two giants of graphics editing software, sometimes we hear the name of InDesign. InDesign is also a vector-based program for designing graphics. But instead of artwork or photos, InDesign focuses on text and typography. 

InDesign is used to make page layouts for magazines, brochures, reports, book covers, book layout, ebooks, etc. InDesign focuses more on creating great, professional PDF files. While Illustrator can be used to book cover and such, InDesign is much more capable for this task. 

But as it is, InDesign has a very niche market. Photoshop has a wide range of use and when it comes to illustration and digital art, Illustrator is the industry standard. But InDesign is mostly for posters or book layout, cover design, magazine design, and such. This can also be done using Illustrator, but InDesign offers a more focused and streamlined tool.

Is Illustrator easier to learn? 

A question that often surfaces when someone is choosing which program to start with is which one out of the two, Illustrator or Photoshop is easier to learn? 

Adobe Illustrator is easier to learn than Adobe Photoshop. The reason for that is Illustrator gives a lot of flexibility. In Illustrator, you work with vectors that are easily manipulatable. You can change the color, shape, size and though there are some complex steps involved, they are easier to learn because you have more control over the graphical elements. 

Adobe Photoshop is very complex and the learning curve is far steeper. Since in Photoshop, you have to work with pictures, they are not easy to manipulate and there are a lot of sliders and options and layers to work on. You can do more with Photoshop, but it also takes more effort. 

So in conclusion, Illustrator is easier to learn than Photoshop because it is more flexible since it works with vector graphics. Photoshop is a very powerful and complex tool and hence, difficult to learn.

Who should go for Illustrator? 

Designers and artists are better suited to use Adobe Illustrator. Illustrator is focused on creating icons, graphical elements, fonts, UI elements, webpages designs, infographics, statistical data representation, digital art that is resolution-independent. 

So Illustrator is a great choice for designers, digital artists, webpage designers, font designers, illustrators, even for writers such as me. I use Illustrator to create the cover images and other reference images (infographics and such). It is faster and easier to work with.

infographic showing the uses of Adobe Illustrator

Who should go for Photoshop? 

Photoshop works majorly on photos, manipulating the color balance, hue, saturation, exposure, masks, objects, background removal, color correction, etc. So professional photographers, photo editors who make posters, print images, etc should go for Photoshop. 

If you have to work on raw image files taken from cameras, Photoshop is your tool. Illustrator cannot do anything with raw photos. This does not mean you cannot make artworks using Photoshop. Some of the most brilliant art brushes, such as Kyle T’s brushes are made mostly for Photoshop.

The reason why digital artists don’t start with Photoshop is that it’s complex to learn and a little bit restrictive for free drawing. But once learned, you can do wonderful drawings in Photoshop as well. Take a look at Behance’s Photoshop section. There are so many gorgeous artworks done solely on Photoshop.

Illustration showing the uses of Adobe photoshop

Adobe Illustrator vs Adobe Photoshop

SoftwareIllustrator Photoshop
Date of release19871988
Works onVector Raster
Best for Digital artists, Illustrators Photographers, photo editors
Learning curveShallow (easy)Steep (difficult)
Capability Powerful Very powerful 
Plug-ins Available Available 
Artwork Posters, Icons, Fonts, Banners Photos, color correction, GIFs, and animation. Resolution dependent.
CC support YesYes
Community YesYes
Current version 20202020
Price $20.99/Mo$99.99/Mo

Illustrator and Photoshop prices

Yes, the heading says prices because there are multiple prices for each software. There are different packs or bundle which brings different Adobe software. Here’s the price for Adobe Illustrator for the US, UK, and Canada. The prices are all per month basis:

Adobe Illustrator prices

Version USUKCanadaAU
Illustrator Single$20.99£19.97$20.99$29.99
Illustrator CC (all apps)$52.99£49.94$52.99$76.99
Illustrator Student and teacher $19.99£16.24$19.99$21.99
Business $33.99£25.28$33.99$48.99

Here are the prices of different plans for Adobe Photoshop. 

Version USUKCanadaAU
Photoshop Single$20.99£19.97$20.99$29.99
Photoshop CC (all apps)$52.99£49.94$52.99$76.99
Photoshop Student and teacher $19.99£16.24$19.99$21.99
Photoshop Photography $9.99£9.98$9.99$14.99
graph representing Illustrator vs photoshop
Illustrator is easier to learn but there are limited features. Photoshop has more feature and hence, difficult to learn

Hope this article helped resolve your query. Whether Photoshop or Illustrator, you can create beautiful pieces of art using any of the software. You can read more articles about Illustrator tutorials here:

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