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InDesign vs Illustrator: When and what to use them for?

InDesign vs Illustrator comparison

I recently had an intense conversation with a friend of mine on one of the most frequent questions a designer has: InDesign vs. Illustrator.

To be clear, I would have the same discussion with many of the results to this Google search because they were not written by someone who uses InDesign often.

But don't worry, I am here to make it super simple for you to get the most out of InDesign or Illustrator based on the documents you are producing.

I'll also point you to the features you can use to get the job done quickly.

If you have some doubts about InDesign, I'd suggest you have a look at the best InDesign courses I have found online (there is one by David Blatner that is 30-minutes long and is perfect if you are just getting started).

And here you can find a 7-day free trial of InDesign or Illustrator.

InDesign vs Illustrator: Short answer

The fact that you have doubts, it generally means you should go with InDesign.

But let's go more in detail:

When should you use Illustrator?

You should use Illustrator when you are working on vector graphics‚ Shapes, logos, icons. Words or titles that use effects that can't be replicated in InDesign (see picture below).

Examples of text effects in Illustrator

When should you use InDesign?

OK, here is where all the confusion starts. InDesign is the perfect tool to create documents that contain text.

It can be used for multi-page documents like catalogs, brochures, resumes, annual reports, interactive digital publications, EPUBs, books, and magazines.

But it can also be used for single-page documents like business cards, flyers, posters when:

  1. your documents contain more than one sentence;
  2. you are creating several documents starting from a template.

I'll go into this more in detail later.

Combine InDesign and Illustrator for the best results

InDesign completely lacks photo-editing capabilities (use Photoshop for that) and has very little few tools for vectors editing.

You should create any kind of vector image in Illustrator and then import it into InDesign.

In this way, you can work on the icon/vector in the best environment possible (Illustrator) and then insert the image inside the InDesign document.

What InDesign has that will help you is:

  • perfect tools to handle text and typography;
  • linking files from other software is managed perfectly;
  • automation tools.

To summarize, for the best results you should:

  • edit raster images in Photoshop;
  • create or edit vector images in Illustrator;
  • place images or vector files in InDesign (just drag and drop);
  • type, insert and format the text in InDesign.

InDesign vs Illustrator: For single page publications (business cards, flyers, etc.)?

If you are proficient in using InDesign, and you only need to create a single or a couple of 1-page document (1 or 2 business cards, 1 flyer, etc.) I wouldn't bother too much and I would probably use Illustrator.

However, I would still suggest that you consider learning InDesign because it makes everything simpler.

Because especially if you need to create several variants of a similar document, InDesign comes extremely handy. For example, check here how you can make several business cards in seconds by taking advantage of the InDesign Data Merge feature.

If you are proficient with InDesign instead, you already know how fast it is to set up the correct formatting for your text and create beautiful layouts, and you probably won't have any questions about whether you should use InDesign or Illustrator (however if you are a beginner, reading this InDesign beginner's guide will be quite helpful).

In this case, you can also use InDesign templates to speed up your process or get some creative help.

Bring your workflow to the next level

If you have several documents to produce, let's take as an example 10/20 business cards, then you should use InDesign because:

  • By using InDesign paragraph styles, you can change the formatting of the text for all 10/20 business cards with only a couple of clicks.
  • By using InDesign master pages, you can design a "template" of the business card in the master page, create all the versions of the business card in the InDesign document (each page a business card), and by editing only the master page, you can instantly change all the different business cards you created. For example, you could move the names in all business cards slightly to the left simply by editing the template on the master page.
  • Using InDesign data merge you can have an Excel document with all the names, surnames, telephone numbers, email addresses, etc., and have InDesign create business cards for them automatically in a few seconds.

InDesign vs Illustrator: For multipage publications (catalogs, brochures, magazines, etc.)?

For multipage publications, there is no question as to whether to use InDesign or Illustrator.

InDesign is so good, that there is not even a single competitor on the market that is more appropriate for this task!

Since it's so widely used, you can find an incredible amount of assets and tools that can help you with creating your documents like newsletter templates, cookbook templates, brochure templates, catalog templates, or any other kind of InDesign templates. There are also scripts and plugins for InDesign that you can save you hours of work.

However, if you have doubts about InDesign or want to learn more about the alternatives, I recently wrote a list of the best desktop publishing in 2020 with PROs and CONs for each solution.

Conclusion: InDesign vs Illustrator in a table

InDesign Illustrator
Vector graphics, Icons, Logos Not suggested Highly recommended
Text with effects Often not possible Highly recommended
Single-page documents (Flyer, business cards, posters, etc.) few variants Suggested (graphics and vectors linked in the document) Possible
Single-page documents (Flyer, business cards, posters, etc.) many variants Suggested Not recommended
Multipage documents (Catalogs, brochures, magazines, etc.) Highly recommended Wrong tool

Until next time,

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