Should You Learn Illustrator or InDesign First?

Illustrator and InDesign are two of Adobe’s most popular graphics editor and design programs, in addition to the well-renowned Photoshop. However, each has their own distinct features that render one the optimal choice for certain artistic and design tasks over others. A common issue people face is determining whether Adobe Illustrator or InDesign is best for them and should be the first program they purchase and learn.

Choosing whether to learn Adobe Illustrator or InDesign first will depend on your goals. Business owners who want to create brochures, flyers, and other marketing tools to print and present should prioritize InDesign. Comparatively, artists/graphics designers intent on creating free drawn images and logos should opt for Illustrator.

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In this article, we will compare Adobe Illustrator to Adobe InDesign and discuss which tasks each program excels, what unique features they offer, how their setups differ, and more. By the end, you’ll be able to determine which program is the ideal choice for you to learn first as dictated by your aspirations and needs.  

When Should You Prioritize Adobe Illustrator?

The best way to determine whether you should learn Adobe Illustrator or Adobe InDesign first is to have a clear idea of what you intend to use these programs for and then choose which is most appropriate and beneficial for achieving those goals.

Adobe Illustrator is ideal for vector illustrations, logos, icons, and typography. If you want to focus on graphic design and digital art, then Adobe Illustrator is the better choice to learn first. With its wide variety of brushes and tools, as well as its ability to create custom shapes and paths, Illustrator gives you more control over your designs than InDesign does.

Let’s discuss some of the key features, benefits, and drawbacks of Adobe Illustrator so you have a better idea of what to expect from this program.

Vector-Based Graphics for Art

One of the key benefits of Illustrator that we briefly touched upon is that it’s specifically designed for vector illustrations.

Vector illustrations are created by drawing shapes and lines that are defined by mathematical equations rather than pixels. This makes them infinitely scalable without any loss in quality, which is why they’re perfect for logos, icons, and other graphics that need to be displayed in different sizes.

Vector-based programs also tend to be more precise and customizable than raster-based programs, as well as being more efficient when it comes to file size, so your illustrations will take up less storage space and will load faster onscreen.

However, for all the artists out there intent on using Adobe Illustrator, keep in mind that vector-based graphics perform best with solid colors versus complex color blends where raster graphics have the upper hand.

Drawing Software Features

Probably the easiest question to ask when debating whether to learn Illustrator or InDesign first is “Are you an artist?” If the answer is yes, then Illustrator is your answer.

Of the two, Illustrator is far superior at providing tools and features that artists can use to create exceptional digital art, animations, graphic designs, and more.

Users can draw freehand in the program using a standard mouse or a stylus pen for additional freedom, precision, and convenience while having access to digital brushes, pencils, and pens as well as advanced color and layering features for highly detailed work.

Ultimately, the more difficult debate here for artists would be whether they should learn Illustrator or Photoshop first because InDesign can’t compete in this particular category.

Single Page Projects

Something you should be aware of with Adobe Illustrator is that it is best suited for single page documents and projects, especially if you intend to print them. Some examples would be:

  • business cards
  • posters
  • logo products (ex. stickers)
  • infographics
  • packaging labels
  • single page newsletter

Any multi-page projects you intend to do that will require several documents should be left to InDesign.

When Should You Prioritize Adobe InDesign?

After reading all of the exceptional features that Illustrator has to offer, you might think you already have the right program for you. And maybe, if you’re more artistically inclined, you do. However, there are some features the InDesign excels at over Illustrator that even the professional artist would enjoy.

Adobe InDesign is great for longer projects that involve multiple pages and documents. It’s perfect for magazines, books, and other types of publications. Because of this, it is a favored choice amongst marketing, publication, and business-oriented individuals rather than artists, animators, and graphic designers.

Again, we’re going to delve into the program’s features, advantages, and disadvantages for the sake of comparison and diligence.

Vector-Based Graphics for Multiple Page Capabilities

We’re going to essentially combine two of the sections we discussed in Illustrator’s section regarding the relationship between vector-based graphics and page capabilities.

Just like Illustrator, InDesign is also a vector-based program, and so, it shares many of the features and benefits we discussed previously in comparison to raster graphics.

However, one of the most significant advantages of using InDesign over Illustrator is that, as a vector-based program, it uses its power to enhance and excel in the multiple page capabilities versus Illustrator which is more limited to one page but uses that extra power to provide more photo editing features.

As a result of this programming design, InDesign is, at its core, a page layout program that allows for the creation of multiple types of documents within a single project, making it ideal for the creation of:

  • magazines
  • books
  • catalogues
  • pamphlets
  • brochures
  • websites

That being said, the program can still provide exceptional single-page projects, such as posters, flyers, and PDFs, and might be the ideal choice for these over Illustrator if your goal is to upload images and text rather than create unique artwork within the program.

Layout-Oriented Interface

InDesign’s roots as a publishing program are clear, not only in its multipage capabilities, but its overall layout and user interface.

The program’s menus and toolbar are set up to make creating and editing complex page layouts easy regardless of the user’s level of experience (although some training is always helpful for taking full advantage of the program’s features). If you’re more comfortable with traditional desktop publishing tools like rulers and guides, InDesign will feel very familiar.

The debatable downside of this setup is that InDesign doesn’t permit the same level of control and customization as Illustrator. For some, this makes the program feel incredibly restrictive whereas for others, it makes it simpler to understand and use.

Final Thoughts

To summarize, both Adobe Illustrator and Adobe InDesign are powerful vector-based graphics editors and design programs. When it comes to determining which of these two programs to learn first, the deciding factors should be your design and printing needs.

In essence, artistically inclined individuals creating single page projects who want as much artistic control as possible should learn Illustrator, and publishing/business individuals creating multipage projects that blend images and text in clean layouts should use InDesign.