Photoshop vs Illustrator

…at least, that’s how I used to think of it.

Adobe’s Creative Suite is pretty much the standard for web and graphic designers.

Photoshop is hands-down, used far more than Illustrator, and for a long time, I thought it was one or the other. Most people get started with Photoshop for fun, coming from Microsoft Paint, yikes — which is quite a learning curve. However, after spending years with Photoshop, we learn the tricks and get comfortable with it.

Then, we learn about vectorization, that monkey on our back. We learn how in demand it is, how important it is, and that it’s just plain required in most cases. We keep trying to find excuses why we don’t need to use Illustrator. At first glance, it’s just plain daunting, intimidating, and not worth all that time to learn a new program after we’ve been using Photoshop for years. After all, we can do everything in Photoshop that we can do in Illustrator, right?

Well, that’s almost true, except for that ever-present monkey on our back, the need for complete and proper vectorization. What’s the point of vector graphics? For future scalability, primarily for printing purposes. Whether you need your graphic for a business card or a billboard, you can create any size or format you could ever need from a vector file.


Photoshop is a raster or bitmap-based graphic editing and creation program. Although Photoshop was originally intended as a photo editing program, I personally think it’s used to create web-based graphics far more often. In layman terms, it’s often used for a lot of style-heavy effects: gradients, shadows, glow, glare, shine, particles, blur, etc. It’s perfect for any web-based graphic and can work just fine for print as well considering you know exactly what you want beforehand for your own projects.

However, you don’t know what clients might need in the future, and to me, that’s where Illustrator’s main importance lies…


Illustrator is a vector-based editing and creation program. In layman terms, it’s for creating clean shapes and designs, logo design for example. When editing, there’s not actually-embedded colors and graphics. It’s essentially mathematical and symmetrical set points with assigned colors. Because it’s not hard-coded, fixed graphics, you can scale to any size you need without pixelization (losing quality).

It’s important to use Illustrator for client projects, so that later, if/when they go to a printer (which are all different with different spec requirements), any size, color mode, file format, etc., can be created from the .ai file.

Making the Transition

It’s not so much about making a transition as it is accepting Photoshop’s sibling program. If you were like me and feared Illustrator, fear no more. Illustrator is great.

It is a bit of a head-scratcher that some of the most obvious and basic tasks that both Photoshop and Illustrator do the same, don’t utilize the same hotkeys or steps to accomplish. For example: Undo — I don’t know why they wouldn’t be exactly the same. The learning curve is mostly going to be about learning the different ways to accomplish things you already know how to do, but now in Illustrator.

If you already use the pen and shape tools in Photoshop, you’ll be 3/4 the way to understanding how Illustrator works. Next is learning about how layers and selecting/moving layers and paths differs. If you’re an expert in Photoshop, it won’t take too long to get a handle on Illustrator. Don’t forget, the web is full of helpful how-to tutorials. Good luck.

In Conclusion

On a personal note, I would say that I can probably use Photoshop the majority of the time for web projects. That doesn’t necessarily mean one is better than the other, they both have their strengths and weaknesses. However, now for logo design, I strictly design in Illustrator only. From there, if I need to, I can export to Photoshop .psd and add a ton of raster effects.