The Raster Versus Vector Debate: Illustrator, Photoshop and Why You Should Use Both

We’re taking a bit of a break from the trade show content to go graphic – as in graphic design. When it comes to getting your banners or other items printed in the run-up to a trade show, many companies offer specialized design suites that take the need for years of graphic design experience out of the equation. However, some companies prefer the freedom that dedicated graphic design programs – like Adobe Photoshop® and Adobe Illustrator® – allow them. Today we’re going to take a look at those two programs, what the differences between them are (especially difference when it comes to raster vs vector images) and why you should use them as part of your graphic design toolkit.

Why should I use Adobe Photoshop®?

Photoshop is one of the most powerful graphic design applications around. Because of its ubiquity in the image-editing field, “Photoshop” has even become verbal shorthand for image manipulation, though Adobe frowns on the use of the name this way.

Ever since it was first launched in 1990, Photoshop has gained a multitude of new features, both as a result of additions by the Adobe team and through plug-ins that are created by independent users. Many of these features have even been rolled into programs like Illustrator and InDesign as Adobe develops the Creative Cloud into a group of overlapping applications. At the same time, tools from applications like Illustrator have migrated over to Photoshop – meaning it can do much more than just edit photos.

So what can you do with Adobe Photoshop®?

Photo editing and manipulation

Photo editing and manipulation was what Photoshop was designed for. With the tools Photoshop provides, you can modify pretty much any aspect of the image that you want. Some of the many types of photo editing that Photoshop supports include:

  • The basics: color enhancement, adding contrast, cropping and other image size edits
  • Full-on magazine-style retouching: retouching skin, removing wrinkles, editing clothing colors, etc
  • Colorization: take old photos and make them look like they were printed yesterday. There’s even a whole community on Reddit dedicated to doing exactly that: /r/Colorization.
  • Crazy photo manipulations, like making it look like you’re about to get attacked by a crazy killer doll.

Digital painting

There’s been a steadily-growing trend of doing more and more paintings, book covers, cartoons and comics online, using a painting tool and a mouse or drawing tablet in place of the traditional canvas and palette. Digital painting allows artists to replicate the looks and effects of everything from a #2 brush to a can of spray paint, all while keeping within Photoshop – or getting their hands dirty. Some brave soul has even recreated an episode of Bob Ross’s “The Joy of Painting” using the image-manipulation program GIMP. The same techniques could just as easily be employed using Photoshop®: in fact, they’re probably easier.

Graphic design

Even though the Adobe Creative Suite offers much more fully-featured graphic design applications in Illustrator and InDesign, many of the tools that exist in those two applications also exist in Photoshop — especially the Pen tool, which has become a staple of the Adobe application suite.

While Photoshop® loses out to dedicated graphic design and layout software, it’s still an entirely valid option for things like mocking up a quick logo proof or designing the family Christmas card.

If you’re interested in learning more about what Photoshop® can do, check out Harry Guinness’s article “What Can You Actually Do With Adobe Photoshop?” over on MakeUseOf.

Why should I use Adobe Illustrator®?

Above, we took a look at Adobe Photoshop and the many things you can do with it. As part of that, we mentioned Photoshop’s use as a basic graphic design tool. So you might be wondering “if I have Adobe Photoshop®, what do I need Illustrator for?” At the highest level, the major reason for using Illustrator over Photoshop is one of image formatting – that is, vector vs raster images. Illustrator is built to make vector images, while Photoshop outputs raster images. But what’s the difference?

Raster versus vector images: what’s the difference?

The main difference when it comes to raster vs vector is one of composition. Raster images are made of pixels, while vector images are made of a series of straight or curved lines called paths. Using pixels means that raster images are much harder to scale up or scale down while maintaining the initial image quality: pixels are little blocks of color, and they get blockier and blockier as the image increases or decreases in size.

Since vector images are made of lines, they don’t have this problem. Instead, the data file of a vector image contains the points where the paths start and end, how much the paths curve and the colors that either border or fill the paths. The start and end paths of the lines can simply be increased and decreased as need be so that images can be increased and decreased in size without fear of losing quality.

Thus, the main difference when it comes to the whole vector vs raster design debate is what you intend to use your images for: if you need to do images for print, go vector and use Illustrator; if you need to make images that work on the web, go raster and use Photoshop.

Why you should use Illustrator for print design

When it comes to design, print requires a much higher resolution than web does because print images are often larger (a billboard is bigger than a computer screen). Since you can save images in the vector format with Illustrator, scaling them up to meet your print design needs is much easier than it would be on Photoshop.

Illustrator® also has settings to automatically include bleeds as part of your project: the bleed is the extra room on the sides of your graphic that gets cut off when it is printed to ensure that no white space remains. Photoshop does not allow bleeds at all – if you want to have a bleed in your Photoshop® project, you’ll have to MacGyver one in yourself.

Avoid the raster vs vector debate: use Photoshop and Illustrator together

If you can’t make up your mind on which program to use, or need to use bitmap effects on your vector art project, it’s entirely possible to use Photoshop and Illustrator together, thanks to the fit between all of the Adobe Creative Suite applications. For an example of how to use Adobe Photoshop to enhance an Illustrator project, check out this tutorial by Orchard View Color.

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