Tools of the Trade

January 12, 2010 | by BatesMeron

An acquaintance recently asked me if I prefer working in Photoshop or Illustrator. This is a fair question I suppose, but it’s really about as fair as asking a carpenter if he prefers hammers or saws. A better question for a carpenter might be “Do you prefer hammering or cutting?”

Unfortunately I don’t have as simple a question to ask a graphic designer to complete this analogy. The difference between these two applications is much more complicated than the obvious difference between the woodworking tools, but I’ll do my best.

The biggest difference between Illustrator and Photoshop is that Illustrator is predominantly used for creating vector images while Photoshop is predominantly used for raster images. (If you’re curious what that means, check out the wiki-design section our newsletter from April 2009.)

Another difference—and this is where it gets a little more subjective—is the style you are trying to achieve. Had Piet Mondrian been using the Adobe Creative Suite for his geometric compositions, he’d most likely have used Illustrator, while Jackson Pollock might have leaned toward Photoshop. I know there are Illustrator zealots out there who would say “I’d use Illustrator for both styles and just use the right brushes and filters,” while Photoshop fanatics would say, “I’d use Photoshop for both styles, turning ‘snap to guides’ to make the Mondrian.”

Every graphic designer I’ve ever worked with was probably a little better in one application over the other, but why some get so fired up about one as to suggest the other inferior I will never understand. I don’t think you’d ever see a carpenter so loyal to his saw that he’d use it to drive nails or another so attached to his hammer that he’d use it to bisect lumber.

So my answer to which of the two applications I prefer to work with is “it depends on the task at hand.” While I may be impressed (or at least amused) by a carpenter whose mastery of hammer wielding enabled him to crack 2x4s in half with a hammer, I’ll always have more respect for the carpenter who knows enough about each tool to pick the right one for the job in the first place.

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