Ben Barnhart

Ben Barnhart

June 18, 2021
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June 18, 2021
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Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop are two of the most popular Adobe graphic design platforms. They can be used for similar things to some degree since they have a lot in common.  

However, if you look at each graphics program in detail and find out each one's particular competencies, you will realize that they have many differences. 

In this article, we have compiled some of the main differences between Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop to get a clearer view of which tool will be the best one for you, and whether you can replace any of these tools with other tools that you can use for free. 

But first, let’s find out what Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop are.

What is Adobe Illustrator?

Video courtesy of Dansky on YouTube

Illustrator is an advanced vector graphics editor and design program. Adobe Inc started developing this vector-based editing software for Apple Macintosh back in 1985. The 1.0 version had Picasso as a code name. This tool is mainly used to create logos, cartoons, graphics, and fonts. 

What is Adobe Photoshop?

Video courtesy of Dansky on YouTube

Adobe Photoshop is a raster graphics editor and one of the most popular Adobe programs from the Adobe Family of Software. Unlike Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop was not created by Adobe but by two brothers in 1987 - Thomas and John Knoll. 

The name Photoshop was also created by the Knoll brothers even though Thomas planned to call it ImagePro at first. However, since the name ImagePro was already taken at the time, Thomas decided to rename the program Photoshop. 

In 1988, the Knoll brothers sold the distribution license to Adobe Systems Incorporated. In March 1995, Adobe purchased the Photoshop rights for $34.5 million. 

At first, Photoshop was only available on Macintosh, but it became available on Microsoft Windows in 1993. Adobe Photoshop is mainly used to edit photos or modify already-created images or graphics. 

Illustrator vs. Photoshop

When comparing Adobe Illustrator with Adobe Photoshop, we first need to compare raster graphics with vector graphics. 

As we saw earlier, Adobe Illustrator is a vector-based editing software, while Adobe Photoshop is a raster-based editing software.

What is the Difference Between Vector and Raster?

Raster Graphics

Raster-based editing programs such as Adobe Photoshop use pixels to create images. What does this mean? It means that Adobe Photoshop uses millions of tiny squares of different colors to make up each image.

If you zoom in on an image on Adobe Photoshop, you will see how different individual pixels are combined to create that specific image, especially if you look at the edges of the image. These pixels are not visible when you look at it from afar but are visible once you zoom in to the necessary level.

Vector Graphics

Vector-based editing programs such as Adobe Illustrator use mathematical constructs to create beautiful vector graphics. For example, each vector in Adobe Illustrator is not a line composed of pixels but is created by two dots connected via a computer algorithm. Each of these lines is also called a vector path, and together they make up a vector object. 

If you zoom in on the same image on Adobe Illustrator, it doesn’t matter how much you zoom in. You will never see pixels in it. The image edges will remain smooth and crisp no matter how far you zoom in or out. 

That is why Adobe Illustrator is a powerful tool for creating logos, images for print, or anything else that needs to be printed or displayed in different sizes. For example, if you create a logo for a client, it is crucial to make sure it is a vector image, so it won’t lose its quality whether it is used for business cards or big posters. 

File Formats

Now that you know the main differences between raster graphics versus vector graphics, it’s time to compare the different file formats. 

As expected, raster and vector graphics come with their own file formats. 

Adobe Photoshop

The standard file formats for Adobe Photoshop are JPEG, TIFF, or PNG. JPG and PNG are the typical raster file extensions. 

However, with Adobe Photoshop, you have the option to save any project that is in progress as a PSD. Anyone else with Adobe Photoshop can open the PSD file that you send them and continue working on that file right where you left off.

They can even undo some of the changes that you have made, which can be very helpful at times. For example, if you work in a team and share Adobe Photoshop file exports daily, you can easily share the PSD file with them.

However, once the file is saved as a JPG or PNG, all the layers will be merged, and you cannot undo any changes. The JPG or PNG are some of the file formats you get when you want to get the final form of the raster image you were working on. 

Adobe Illustrator 

When it comes to Adobe Illustrator, AI, EPS, and SVG are among the common vector file extensions. 

Unlike Adobe Photoshop, AI or SVG files are both the Adobe Illustrator project file and the final product. The vector file will contain all the separate layers of any shapes or text you have included in your project. If you want to share the file with someone else, they can simply open the file and continue where you left off.

They can also edit the vectors, which makes it perfect for working in teams as well. Especially if you need to share projects every day or if several people need to work on the same file. 

Another thing you can do with this vector drawing program is export the project as a JPG or PNG. Once you do that, everything will be merged into a raster image. 

Adobe Illustrator vs. Adobe Photoshop Pros And Cons

Adobe Illustrator 

Image Source: Adobe Illustrator

Pros

  • It offers a better print output than Adobe Photoshop
  • A vector graphic never loses quality no matter the display size
  • It is not resolution-dependent
  • Perfect for creating logos and drawings 
  • Great for creating basic vector artworks and graphical illustrations

Cons 

  • It can be hard to edit or modify raw images or already created graphics 
  • Has a limited number of filters and image editing and adjustment tools available

Adobe Photoshop 

Image Source: Adobe Photoshop

Pros 

  • Perfect for editing regular images and raw photos
  • Adobe Photoshop projects stay at a fixed size
  • Plenty of image editing tools available 
  • Offers complete control of your projects (you can edit your graphic pixel-by-pixel)
  • Great for adding special effects

Cons 

  • Not the best tool to create logos or for drawing
  • Raster graphics will lose their quality if scaled up or down 

Which Tool Should You Use?

Before we go into more details, let’s look at their pricing and what each software includes in their respective packages.

Illustrator vs. Photoshop Pricing

Adobe Photoshop

Price: $9.99 per month (annual plan)

Free Trial: Yes

Includes: 

  • Photoshop
  • Lightroom
  • Lightroom Classic

Adobe Illustrator

Price: $20.99 per month (annual plan)

Free Trial: Yes

Includes:

  • Adobe Illustrator on desktop and iPad
  • 100GB of cloud storage
  • Adobe Portfolio
  • Adobe Fonts
  • Adobe Spark

Note: Keep in mind that the prices will vary based on the country you are located in and the currency exchange. Nevertheless, Adobe Illustrator is more expensive than Adobe Photoshop. Therefore, if you need to pick among the two, you can purchase Adobe Photoshop and find a free alternative to Adobe Illustrator or vice versa. 

Choosing Between Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator 

If you know that you will not need to edit images and if most of your projects focus on drawing and creating logos, then Adobe Illustrator is the right tool for you. In this case, you will not need to buy Adobe Photoshop. 

But if you know that your projects will consist mainly of editing and modifying regular images and raw photos, and you will not create logos or drawing from scratch, then Adobe Photoshop is the obvious answer, and you will not need to buy Adobe Illustrator. 

When to Use Each Tool?

Use Adobe Illustrator when: 

  • You need to create images and design elements from scratch 
  • You need to work on any vector-based projects 
  • You want to have smooth edges
  • You are working on a print project 
  • You need more flexibility
  • You need to create a logo 
  • You need to be innovative with some text
  • You need to work on any other vector-based projects 
  • Your work will have to be shown at different display sizes
  • You need to create scalable images that never lose their quality if scaled up or down 
  • You need to create brochures, magazine layouts, digital publications, digital designs, annual reports, and so on

Use Adobe Photoshop when: 

  • You need to edit images and raw photos
  • You need to modify or make image adjustments
  • You need to work on pixel-based images or raster-based graphics
  • Your project will not contain fixed sizes
  • You need complete control of your projects 
  • You need to edit your graphic pixel by pixel
  • You don’t have to work with text
  • You  don’t want to have smooth edges
  • You need to edit photos that will be displayed in Magazines, digital publications, digital designs, Books, Websites, and so on

Using Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator Together

As you may know already, each graphic designer or illustrator has a set of tools they use for each of their projects. Therefore, it is common for designers to start their project in one tool, transfer it to another tool, and switch between different tools until they are happy with the final product. 

Ideally, you would use both tools for different projects. However, considering that Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop complement each other and that each tool is better at different things, many graphic designers and illustrators decide to use both tools to get the maximum benefits for any of their projects. 

While it may seem a waste of money to buy both these tools with many similarities, you will save money, time, and energy in the long run. 

If you purchase Adobe Photoshop, for instance, but you also need to create logos, you will waste a lot of your time and energy trying to make any logo with Adobe Photoshop. The same goes if you purchase Adobe Illustrator, but you also need to edit and modify images from time to time. That is why it is recommended to use both these products if you have the chance to do so.

What if You Can Afford Only One Product? 

If you can only afford to buy one or the other, our suggestion would be to use a similar tool offered for free but gets the job done. 

For instance, if you want to buy Adobe Photoshop but also think you will need some of the features offered by Adobe Illustrator, you can use Vectornator as a free alternative to Adobe Illustrator. 

What is Vectornator? 

Video courtesy of Will Paterson on YouTube

Vectornator is an intuitive vector graphics and illustration software. Launched in 2017, Vectornator is the perfect alternative to Adobe Illustrator since it is also a vector-based software and is offered for free. 

Not only will you save money, but you will also save up to 30% of your working time compared to other alternatives when creating projects with this tool. Vectornator’s Auto Trace technology, in particular, will save you hours of tracing images by hand since you can transform a raster image into vector shapes with just a press of a button.

Vectornator is the perfect graphic design software for creating logos, beautiful typography, layout mockups, and stunning types of artwork.

Pros

  • Offers video tutorials covering all the basics
  • Its creative cloud library allows users to design on their iPad and desktop and easily switch between their devices
  • It offers a high-resolution digital canvas for artists

Cons

  • So far, the app is only available on macOS, iPadOS13, and iOS13, using a common codebase.
  • The workspace isn’t as customizable as Illustrator and Photoshop

Vectornator works well with raster graphics editor apps as well. For instance, some of our users start sketching and creating on Procreate, a raster graphics editor app for digital painting, and then transfer their work or project to Vectornator to take advantage of all the vector-based qualities Vectornator offers. 

Final Thoughts 

Both Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop are similar, but they have been created to serve different purposes. 

The most significant difference is that Adobe Photoshop is a raster graphics software while Adobe Illustrator is a vector graphics software. As such, the file formats used for each tool are also different. 

JPG and PNG are the typical raster file extensions, while SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) is the most used file format for vector-based graphic software. 

We also saw a big difference in terms of pricing since Adobe Illustrator costs double the price of Adobe Photoshop. However, keep in mind that these prices may change for different countries. 

As mentioned earlier, graphic designers and illustrators usually use both of these products to take advantage of the best capabilities that Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop offer. 

For anyone who has not used either product before and is not familiar with Adobe Creative Suite products, it might be too expensive to buy both these products and figure out which one they prefer. 

Want to decide before purchasing an annual or monthly plan?

There are three ways to approach this problem:

  • One way is to take advantage of the free trial offered by both products. You can use the free trial during the same month for both products, or use one product for free for one month and use the other product for another month. 
  • Another way is to read as much as you can about both products and analyze your situation accordingly. For example, if you feel that you will primarily use one of the products more than the other, you can pick one and not buy the other. 
  • Lastly, the smartest thing to do is to purchase the product that you are sure you will use the most. Then, use a free alternative for either Adobe Illustrator or Adobe Photoshop whenever you need some features that the tool you selected does not offer. 

If you purchase Adobe Photoshop and use Vectornator as a perfect alternative to Adobe Illustrator, you will save money and take full advantage of all the features offered by vector-based graphics software such as Vectornator. 

Vectornator is also used for photo editing, so you can also give it a try before deciding to buy either Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator. Check out Vectornator today!

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