Image Editing

Aug 05, 2021

Photoshop vs Illustrator

Sometimes known as “illustration’s power couple”, Photoshop and Illustrator are two of Adobe’s most popular image manipulation programs. The new user might think they are quite similar, but this is not the case. The powerful packages were separately designed for specific types of graphics and are useful to different types of artists. 

Read on and discover that Photoshop vs Illustrator isn’t so much a question of which is best as which is best for your task.

Raster vs vectors

The chief difference between Illustrator and Photoshop is how graphics are rendered. Illustrator works with vectorized images and Photoshop uses rasterized or bitmap images.

We have written about this difference before when discussing how to remove image backgrounds in Illustrator. But, to summarize, a vector consists of perfect shapes created by mathematical formulas. Rasterized images, on the other hand, are created from pixels mapped onto a grid. What’s the difference and why does it matter?

Well, vectors are useful for creating logos and other graphics that designers might need to scale up. Vectors can be enlarged and altered without a loss of quality and no jagged edges. Think of a fractal: you can zoom in to it as much as you like and the computer will just generate more graphics. So Illustrator is better for that purpose and creating text which prints more smoothly. But you can’t fix, say, red-eye in it.

Rasters, on the other hand, are useful when you are doing fine detail work on a photo or image such as fixing blemishes on photos, increasing or reducing contrast, or changing tones. Photoshop has endless tools for messing about with and changing groups of different pixels. However, if you add a type or a shape in Photoshop and then try to zoom in, it will get fuzzy or jagged at the edges.


This program was originally created specifically for editing photos – the clue is in the name. These days, however, artists use it to originate and edit many other art forms as well, including animation, marketing collateral and video graphics, and countless more.

Working in Photoshop tends to produce more organic-looking images. It’s a highly sophisticated piece of software but it’s also easy to use for a beginner so you can make simple yet total transformations of any image you care to import.

The basic selection tool in Photoshop is by area although you can obviously select in a number of other ways such as by color or algorithmically.

In Photoshop, layers only contain one object meaning you can manipulate each individually with ease.

And, if you try to drag items outside the workspace in Photoshop, you will discover you cannot work on them.

The app has great editing tools but is time-consuming to create new things in, though plenty of experts do it.


This program was designed to create artwork. It’s perfect for when graphic specialists are making something from scratch, say a design, cartoon, or logo. Again, you would expect that something named Illustrator would be great for…illustrators! The end result is clean and cartoon-like. 

You probably wouldn’t edit something already created in Illustrator because the tools aren’t designed for that. 

Illustrator lets you create artboards and work on multiple documents at the same time – such as you would need for a multi-page publication. 

Selection in Illustrator is done by object so you can move your vector elements around easily. 

Within Layers in Illustrator, you can select multiple objects. 

Illustrator allows you to drag items outside the workspace and work on them due to the artboards concept. 

File formats

There is an interesting difference between the different types of files these vectorized and rasterized programs use. 

The most common file types to save in Photoshop are JPEG, GIF, and PNG. Of course, you can also save files as PSD files if you want to keep working on them. But, if you want to send an image for printing or upload it to the web, you can’t use PSD files. Saving as a JPEG, for example, flattens the layers and you can’t undo anything.

On the other hand, files in Illustrator are saved in AI or SVG format. The same files you work on are the ones you send to the printer. Additionally, the layers and text can be altered by anyone who opens the file, unlike a JPEG.

Using Photoshop and Illustrator together 

Many graphic artists have access to both tools (through Adobe Creative Cloud). And for those that do, there are situations where they might want to use both programs one after another! 

For instance, they might want to edit a photo in Photoshop and then add text or a watermark in Illustrator since these artifacts are better handled in the program and print better from vector files. 

Bear in mind, though, that a vectorized version of a JPEG will be made up of shapes, not pixels, and will look different. 

Which should you use?

As stated, the battle of Photoshop vs Illustrator isn’t much of a battle. Each package is great for its own reasons. You could well choose to have a subscription to both if you perform a variety of image-editing tasks. 

If you do any image editing at all, especially photographs, then you would certainly want to use Photoshop. If creating original designs, especially designs that might be used in a variety of sizes, you should use Illustrator.

Photoshop vs Illustrator

Photoshop Illustrator
Originally created for editing photos. Built for making original illustrations.
Chiefly works with rasterized images. Manipulates with vectorized images.
Good for working with preexisting images. Great for quickly creating original images.
Better for complex images. Superior for shape-based items like logos.
Creates organic results. Produces cartoon-like images.
One object per layer. Can have multiple objects per layer.
Basic selection is done via area. Selection is done by object.
Can only edit objects within the work area. Can drag and work on objects outside the art board.
File types for sharing are JPEG, GIF, PNG. Work in PSD to retain layers. Can work in AI or SVG files as well as sending those same files to a printer or other publisher.

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