Do You Need Illustrator if You Have Photoshop?

If you’re reading this, you’re probably an artist or designer who owns Photoshop and is looking for ways to expand your creative horizons. Illustrator is another popular graphics editor created by Adobe, but despite their overarching similarity of working with graphics, each software has its own distinct features and capabilities that leaves people wondering if they really need both or if they can get by solely using Photoshop.

Whether you “need” Adobe Illustrator in addition to owning Adobe Photoshop is entirely dependent on your graphic design needs and editing preferences. Photoshop is a raster graphics editor that excels in photo manipulation and enhancement whereas Illustrator is a vector graphics editor that excels at free-drawing tasks.

In this article, we will compare Adobe Illustrator to Adobe Photoshop regarding which tasks each program excels over the other, what unique features they offer, how their graphics types differ, and more. By the end, you’ll be able to determine whether purchasing Illustrator in addition to Photoshop would be beneficial for you as dictated by your aspirations.

Adobe Photoshop Versus Adobe Illustrator: When to Use Each

Both Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator are industry-leading software programs used by graphic designers, artists, and photographers all around the world. These two are often seen as companion products that, when combined, provide professionals and passionate people of the arts with nearly every tool and feature they need to be successful.

That being said, there is a chance you won’t need Illustrator in addition to Photoshop, depending on your ambitions.

Essentially, if you require a graphics editor solely for the purposes of enhancing or manipulating photos, you’ll be content sticking to the extensive toolset that Photoshop provides and won’t need to acquire Illustrator as well.

However, if you need a graphics editor that permits free-drawing for clean and crips graphical illustrations/animations and logos then you’ll want to add Illustrator to your software arsenal.

Neither software is inherently better than the other, they are simply designed to perform different tasks efficiently. Therefore, the answer to whether you need it in addition to Photoshop all comes down to what tasks, graphic designs, and/or works of art you’re trying to create. To help with this decision, we’re going to break down each software and describe the features and advantages of each in more detail.

When To Use Adobe Photoshop

We’ve already stated several times that the overarching times when you’ll want to use Adobe Photoshop over Illustrator is for any level of photo editing from small touch ups to highly detailed and elaborate photo art. But that isn’t all that Photoshop has to offer.

In addition to photo editing, many artists and graphic designers use Photoshop for:

  • Animations
  • Creating image compositions
  • Creating website mockups
  • Digital drawings and paintings

While Illustrator arguably excels at some of these over Photoshop, with enough practice and the right tools and techniques, these are the purposes you can fulfill with Photoshop without needing Illustrator

Why is Photoshop Best for Photo Manipulation?

Let’s cover the biggest difference between Photoshop and Illustrator regarding their graphics. Photoshop is a raster graphics editor, which means it uses a pixel-based format for displaying images. While you can import and create vector images, if necessary, raster graphics is where the program excels, allowing it to display sharp, high-resolution photos that vector graphics can’t normally match.

Because Photoshop uses raster files, its resolution is referred to in DPI (dots per inch) or PPI (pixels per inch), which means as you zoom in or expand the size of an image, you’ll start to see the individual pixels. This will become important later when we discuss Illustrator, but the biggest disadvantage to note here is that it is more challenging to alter raster images without affecting resolution and losing crips, clear edges.

However, nearly every photograph or piece of digital photo art is a raster file making it more compatible with Photoshop, as this graphic type is best for non-line art due to their inclusion of chromatic gradation increasing your photo editing capabilities.

When to Use Adobe Illustrator

While Photoshop has the upper hand with photo editing and manipulation, Illustrator is arguably the more versatile software, as it’s vector-based graphics increases your freedom to free-draw art without sacrificing resolution.

If you need to perform tasks relating to any of the following interests or professions, then acquiring Illustrator will be highly beneficial, if not completely necessary.

  • Logo/icon/symbol creation
  • Text-heavy projects
  • Single-page publications (ex. business cards, posters, infographics)
  • Illustrations
  • Animations

Essentially, if you ever want to create an image from scratch, incorporate text, and prioritize having the freedom to alter it however you please without worrying that alterations in size will ruin the image, then Illustrator is for you.

Why is Illustrator Best for Line Art?

Compared to Photoshop as a raster graphics editor, Illustrator is vector-based software, which means it uses mathematical algorithms to create images rather than relying on individual pixels.

Vector files are resolution-independent, meaning they can be enlarged or reduced in size without any loss in quality. This is why Illustrator is the ideal choice for any type of line art, especially if you know that you will need to alter that image’s size during or after it’s created.

If you were to alter a raster graphic’s size, odds are you will witness some degree of pixelation as you compress or enlarge the pixels to match the new dimensions you’ve set for the image.

However, one downside of using vector graphics is that their mathematical formula is best-suited to flay, uniform colors rather than gradients. As a result, Illustrator will struggle to import, display, and create highly complex images contain substantial gradations of color. This doesn’t mean you can’t blend colors in Illustrator, but you will be slightly more limited in this regard than in Photoshop where you can theoretically alter every individual pixel’s color.  

Final Thoughts

Now that you know how Photoshop and Illustrator differ and what each software has to offer, will you be acquiring Illustrator or sticking to Photoshop for all your needs? Personally, we recommend having both. Unless you are strictly a photographer or photo artists, you’ll likely notice that Illustrator increases your artistic possibilities significantly and both software can be used effectively in tandem.