the icons illustrator and photoshop with the text overlay illustrator and photoshop

Illustrator vs Photoshop

Daniel Scott


Hi, everyone!

In this post, we will be comparing two industry leading design tools: Illustrator and Photoshop, both part of the Adobe Creative Cloud Suite. I’ll cover their purpose, the file types they support, their most powerful tools, as well as how Illustrator and Photoshop have both introduced Artificial Intelligence (AI) Generative technology as game-changing features.

Whether you’re a designer, a photographer, a web developer or a visual artist, Illustrator and Photoshop have solutions that will bring your visions to life!

I’ll be using a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) style in this post, so it’s easier for you to follow the different topics and understand all the details I have to share.

Before we jump to FAQ mode, make sure to check out my Illustrator and Photoshop Essentials and Advanced courses at Bring your Own Laptop. Sign up and start your Graphic Designer journey from Zero to Hero!

computer screens with illustrator and photoshop logos standing next to a question mark

Illustrator and Photoshop: which one is right for your design projects?

 Is Photoshop or Illustrator the right choice for my project?

It depends on what you are designing and the kind of tools you need. Illustrator is used for designing vector graphics, while Photoshop is a photo and raster graphics editor. This is their most significant difference and it is important to understand the distinction so you can choose the right tool. 

Illustrator works with vectors. Vectors are made up of points, lines, curves, and shapes based on mathematical formulas that work mostly in the background, so you don’t have to worry if you’re not a math wizard! Vectors are fully scalable without any loss of resolution, no matter how small or how large you need them to be.

Vectors are the best solution for clear and resizable designs, like logos and iconography for a branding project, infographics, web design, custom typography, 3D graphics, or complex artwork for posters and t-shirts.

Photoshop on the other hand, works with raster images. These images are made up of a huge number of pixels. Pixels are those small squares you find when you zoom in very closely on a photo. Each pixel holds a specific color, and the combination of thousands (many times, millions) of these little fellows results in the complete image you have downloaded from your camera. Awesome, huh? It’s important to know that raster image resolution is measured in pixels per inch (PPI), so their quality is closely tied to this. Have you ever scaled up an image too much and it has become blurry? This happens when you enlarge a raster graphic beyond its pixel optimal size.

Raster graphics are great for many different projects, from photo editing to graphic design, digital art, web design, animation, or video post-production.

computer screens with illustrator and photoshop logos holding paper files

Illustrator and Photoshop allow us to manage multiple file formats

Which file types can I manage in Illustrator and Photoshop?

Illustrator’s core file format is .ai or Adobe Illustrator Artwork. It’s all about vector graphics that you can resize for multiple uses without losing any quality.

SVG or Scalable Vector Graphics is a common export file format, based on XML language, and ideal for web responsive design.

EPS or Encapsulated PostScript can hold vector and raster graphics, as well as text, and are  great for high-quality prints.

Illustrator can also export artworks in raster formats like JPG or Joint Photographic Experts Group, PNG or Portable Network Graphic, and GIF or Graphics Interchange Format, widely used on the web.

Another Adobe format, used for sharing and printing, is the PDF or Portable Document Format. PDF files can include vector graphics, raster images, and text in the same document.

Photoshop’s native files are .psd or Photoshop Document. These files can hold multiple layers, effects, and other properties used for image editing.

JPG is a common image format, mostly used for digital photography, due to good compression rates.

PNG files support transparency, perfect for web raster graphics.

TIFF or Tagged Image File Format files are usually ideal for scanning and printing applications.

GIF files support animated graphics and transparency, limited to 256 colors.

These are just some of the available formats for creating and exporting files in Illustrator and Photoshop. Knowing if your project should be vector or raster-based, and using the right file format, will bring you the best results.

computer screens with illustrator and photoshop logos wearing tool belts and safety hats

Illustrator and Photoshop hold powerful sets of vector design and image editing tools.

What are Illustrator and Photoshop’s most powerful tools?

Both Illustrator and Photoshop offer a vast set of efficient tools, all perfect for our vector and raster needs. I couldn’t possibly name them all here, so I’ll show you just the tip of the iceberg. 

Inside Illustrator’s awesome toolbox, I’ll bring these five up to the top drawer:

Pen Tool is the ultimate vector design tool, perfect for creating basic or complex graphics. It creates lines and curves, supported by anchor points, and can be adjusted in multiple angles and directions. And all it takes is an easy click and drag process – it may require some practice for beginners, but that practice will pay off!

Curvature Tool is a simplified version of the Pen Tool, and is highly intuitive when it comes to creating smoothly curved lines between anchor points. It is the BFF to many designers.

Shape Tool is ideal for setting the foundation for many vector designs. It allows us to create basic shapes like rectangles, ellipses, and polygons (stars included) by simply clicking and dragging them into our artboards.

The Shape Builder Tool is amazing for creating complex graphics through the merging of shapes, combining them into one single object by clicking and dragging the mouse across them. We can also subtract parts or shapes from a selection by holding the shortcut key Option on a Mac or Alt on a PC, while dragging the mouse.

Dimension Tool is a recent Adobe update for Illustrator. It allows us to create dimension lines that present an object’s linear, angular, and radial measurements. Excellent for any project that requires high precision measuring.

From Photoshop’s toolbox of wonders, I  recommend these five:

Quick Selection Tool is perfect for selecting objects, parts of an image, or a full background with just a couple of clicks. This tool analyzes the image’s pixel structure and snaps the selection to an object’s closest edges. We can refine the selection by adding or subtracting parts of it.

Crop Tool isn’t used only to, well, crop parts of an image. We can use it for trimming, scaling and straightening raster images. If you know me, you know I’m all in favor of non-destructive design, and the Crop Tool allows us to do so, by hiding pixels instead of deleting them.

Clone Stamp Tool is ideal for photo retouching, one of Photoshop’s top use cases. It allows us to copy a specific part of an image and place it over the detail we want to hide or remove.

Brush Tool is great for freehand painting, amazing for editing layer masks, and unbelievably fun when we add some collection of customized brush tips and use them to apply effects and textures to our compositions. You’ll spend months exploring this tool’s full potential!

Frame Tool is great for quick UI design and multiple image compositions. It allows us to set rectangular or elliptical placeholder frames and fill them with images that scale to fit.

There are dozens of other editing and productivity tools that you can explore and learn in my Essentials and Advanced Illustrator and Photoshop courses. 

computer screens with illustrator and photoshop logos holding cables and plugs

Illustrator and Photoshop benefit of a vast range of plugins and extensions.

Are there any plugins or extensions to power up Illustrator and Photoshop?

Absolutely! There are many plugins and extensions for Illustrator and Photoshop ideal to raise your design game. I’ll dive into six of them and advise you on where to find additional plugins that will  upgrade your workflow.

For Illustrator, here are three time saving plugins:

VectorScribe gives us accurate control over vector shapes and anchor points, making vector design more efficient.

Randomill is a massive plugin for Illustrator, excellent for patterns and textures, that allows us to transform our vector designs in just a few clicks, adding random settings for Color, Stroke, Scale, Rotation, Opacity, Blend Mode, Position, Order, and Selection. You have to pay a license to use it, but it’s not terribly expensive so if you feel your projects need it, it’s money well spent.

Fontself Maker is a cool typography plugin for creating and editing our own fonts in Illustrator. It allows us to create brand new glyphs, alternate shapes, and adjust settings like spacing, kerning, and color. When we’re happy with our new set, we can export it as an Open Type font (OTF).

For Photoshop, here are three plugins I recommend testing out. 

Adobe Camera Raw is a free plugin for both Windows PC and iOS Mac, and a gem for photographers and photo editors. It allows you to edit RAW images inside Photoshop and make the most out of your best shots.

Brush Box  organizes our brushes in groups, color codes these groups, and lets us tag our favorite and save presets. A great option for those of us with tons of brushes. 

Fontself Maker also allows us to create a new font from any image and export it as an OTF. It includes all the features displayed in Illustrator for maximum flexibility.

computer screens with illustrator and photoshop logos planning generative recolor

Illustrator and Photoshop are powered by generative AI tools.

What AI generative features do Illustrator and Photoshop have?

Illustrator is taking its first steps into AI generative technology, powered by Adobe Firefly,  and the available innovations already are changing the way we design vector graphics. Let’s look at the Text to Vector Graphic feature. As in Firefly and Photoshop, Illustrator designers can now use text prompts to generate new vector graphics. We’re offered the possibility to fine tune our prompt with Subject, Scene, Icon, and Pattern types. We can also set a visual reference to assist Illustrator and adjust the complexity of the final generated vector graphic. Illustrator then generates multiple variations we can choose from.

Generative Recolor is another AI-assisted tool for creating color palettes from a basic text prompt. These color palettes can be easily applied to the vector designs on our artboards. It’s an incredible feature that literally transforms our thoughts into colors. So cool!

Photoshop has integrated a number of AI assisted tools that really bring creative work to new levels and streamline many complex actions. Let’s have a look at what’s AI-hot in Photoshop right now!

Generative Fill allows us to add a layer of content to an image with just an easy selection and a text prompt. Photoshop generates multiple variants for us to choose the best fit for our project in development.

Generative Expand is a spectacular upgrade inside the Crop Tool that we can use to expand an image beyond its limits, in any direction. After dragging the Crop Tool to set new dimensions for our canvas, Photoshop will fill the space with content that perfectly bends with the original image. Brilliant.

Content-Aware Fill lets us remove any unwanted subject or object from an image. After quickly selecting the element we want to remove, Photoshop will replace it with pixels that match the surrounding area. This is great for photo retouching and restoration.

Object Selection uses AI technology for a more accurate selection of complex elements inside our images or when these images don’t have enough contrast for a quick and basic selection tool. This is perfect for layer masking tasks and photo retouching.

Generative AI is an exciting new world of possibilities for creative minds and we can be sure that both Illustrator and Photoshop will keep developing new AI tools to assist us all the way. I can’t wait to see what comes next!  

computer screens with illustrator and photoshop logos dressing up as superheroes

Illustrator and Photoshop save the day with brilliant designs.

 Can Illustrator and Photoshop combine features in Graphic Design?

Yes, definitely. This is one of the top advantages from using Adobe Creative Cloud Suite. Illustrator and Photoshop are no exception and combining them brings us:

Flexibility: by combining Illustrator’s ability to create clear and scalable vector graphics and Photoshop’s tools for image editing, we can create powerful compositions that display the best of both tools – a scalable image that is rich in texture and detail.

Efficiency: this team-up saves time and optimizes workflow. We can create a vector graphic in Illustrator, let’s say a logo, and then move it to Photoshop and place it in a larger composition, like a corporate newsletter.

Creativity: we can design cool shapes with Illustrator’s vector design tools and then bring it to Photoshop to add texture, shading, or any elements that are better edited in a pixel-based workspace.

Consistency: Illustrator and Photoshop are a perfect solution for branding projects. Scalable vector elements, like icons and logos, can be designed and then brought into Photoshop to be placed in UI layouts or marketing materials.

Typography: Illustrator has stronger tools for designing new fonts but we need Photoshop's ability to add powerful visual effects to give our text impact.

Compatibility: extensive file compatibility options make it possible for us to work different designs on both applications, allowing us to  go that extra creative mile without compromising quality.

computer screens with illustrator and photoshop logos wearing graduation gowns

Master Illustrator and Photoshop and take your designs to new incredible levels.

What is the most important thing to know about Illustrator and Photoshop?

Above all, we should remember that Illustrator and Photoshop act like twins, they are great by themselves but excellent when they work together. A few quick takeaways to keep in mind: :

  • Illustrator is best for vector graphics, and Photoshop excels at rich, pixel-based images.

  • Illustrator vector graphics are fully scalable, without any quality loss. Photoshop raster designs can only be scaled to a certain limit without losing resolution.

  • Illustrator workspace is optimized for logo and graphic design, and Photoshop is perfect for image editing and manipulation.

  • Illustrator is best for flexible typography design but Photoshop will add extra layers of style and visual impact to a text.

  • There is a vast offer of plugins and extensions for both Illustrator and Photoshop, which are used to add new features or assist on complex tasks.

  • Generative tools like Text to Vector Graphics or Generative Fill are already available for both applications, pushing graphic design  to new levels of creative possibility.

  • Illustrator and Photoshop are integrated in the Adobe Creative Cloud Suite, which offers seamless workflow for designers across both applications.

Now you know more about Illustrator and Photoshop, what makes them special, how they can team-up to help you create brilliant designs! 

What 's Next?

Dive deeper into Illustrator and Photoshop at Bring Your Own Laptop. When you become a BYOL member, you will gain access to my Figma courses as well as my 30+ additional courses on Lightroom, Premiere Pro, Webflow, and more. As a BYOL member you will also enjoy personalized support, earn certificates, and tackle exciting community challenges. Head here to sign-up! 

See you in class! – Dan

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