Yes, tools matter.
The biggest complaint I get from clients who switch to my services after working with another designer is “can you get the file sizes smaller”? The problem usually lies in someone using the wrong tools. In this case, the tools refer to software choices and how they are used. It seems a lot of people – experienced and educated people – get this wrong. They may have the tools of the master, but they do not know how to use them.
Anybody can make the wrong tools work once in a while, but long term success requires choosing the right tools, and using them correctly. More and more these days, when I’m picking up another designer’s files, I find that they’ve chosen the wrong software for the project. Makes me wonder what are they teaching in design school? Has it been made clear what a big difference this can make? The reasons to choose one over the other?
Adobe has long been the leader in the design industry – they have set the standard. I use Adobe for all of my work, print and digital, and any professional designer knows they won’t be taken seriously unless they use Adobe. The following software is the some of the currency I use day to day print design projects. Choosing the right software for each project makes a huge difference in my overall efficiency.
Adobe Illustrator for vector-based image projects
Illustrator is for vector-based drawing projects and logos. Good for illustrations and infographics and anything that requires a drawn object with sharp edges that scales well.
Adobe Photoshop for pixel-based image projects
Photoshop is for working with pixel-based graphics and photos. Any kind of photo, or an art file that incorporates a lot of modulated tone or soft fades and shadows are best created in Photoshop.
Adobe InDesign for layout projects
InDesign is made for page layout – combining text with images into single or multipage documents. Complex brochures, magazines, books and catalogs for sure – but I would argue even simpler documents like print ads, post cards or trifold brochures are also most appropriately created in InDesign.
Where I have seen people go wrong is to choose one of the above and use it for all design tasks. That’s when you find a logo design created in Photoshop (eek!) or a multipage brochure designed in Illustrator (gasp!).
While you can create a logo in Photoshop, you shouldn’t. Photoshop images are pixel based and do not scale up without losing resolution. In the same vein, you can create a brochure in Illustrator, you shouldn’t. Type editing and formatting tools are far more efficient through InDesign than Illustrator – so for that reason alone InDesign is a far better choice for layout. On top of that, a lot of page layout projects incorporate embedded photographic images and while Illustrator allows for importing photos, it does not save these files well. A brochure with photos created in Illustrator will be at least 4-5x the file size as the identical brochure created in InDesign. Size matters, folks – even file size.
Adobe provides the tools of the master
The folks at Adobe are pretty darn smart. The software is remarkably powerful and it’s being improved and upgraded all the time in response to the needs of their clients and changes in the industry. So let’s trust them when they advise how to use their tools. Here’s the print design work flow, as Adobe designed it:
- Create any vector based graphics, like a logo or a chart, in illustrator
- Create or edit photographic images in Photoshop
- Import those graphics and photos into your InDesign layouts to be combined with text
- Export the finished product from InDesign – this is the file you send to the printer
Do the project this way will save you considerable time and storage space, and your printer will love you. Someone once said “Give me the tools of the master, and I will create masterful things”. Very true. I’ll add on to that. “The tools of the master are wasted on the one who chooses poorly.”