Photoshop and Illustrator... What's the difference?

Should I learn Photoshop or Illustrator? This is a common question for business owners, bloggers, and those who are learning to advance their skill set. In fact, most questions I get about That's Pretty Ace involve these programs, so today I'm sharing what makes them different – and similar. 


Photoshop is best for editing photos. This program creates raster images which are made up of individual squares called pixels. These pixels allow images to be easily edited, but raster images cannot be resized without appearing pixelated and losing quality. On the upside, Photoshop has unique special effects and filters, and great tools for photo editing. And since websites are made up of pixels, Photoshop is commonly used by web designers, too. It's in Photoshop where you'll find the features to make designs look glassy, digitally appear letter-pressed, or have shadows. So I'd say that if you're working with photos frequently, Photoshop is worth your while.

How I use Photoshop: I work in Photoshop when I need to crop a photo or do a touch up edit. I also primarily work in Photoshop at my job, since I spend most of my time making website pages and updates. 

Illustrator is best for creating images. This program creates vector images, which uses points on it's edges to keep it sharp and crisp at any size. Illustrator allows illustrations and text to be designed and resized without sacrificing quality or resolution. It's commonly used for logos, print material, illustrations, and text, but it's tools are pretty limiting when it comes to photo editing. 

How I use Illustrator: I design every logo, illustration, print piece, and blog post graphic in Illustrator. I can also design pieces for my website and social media presence in Illustrator, if I design to the specific pixel dimensions I'm looking for. Since my designs often include flat colors and illustrations, this program is my go-to for my freelance design work.  


  • Best for editing photos
  • Raster images (made up of pixels)
  • Resolution is restricted – not scalable
  • Can add glassy filters or create realistic shadows
  • Basic illustration capabilities


  • Best for creating images
  • Vector images
  • Easily scalable – never loses quality
  • Popular for logos, text, and print materials
  • Limited tools for editing photos

It's pretty clear to see that these programs were created for different functions and they each have different capabilities – making them both great programs. Photoshop is best for photo editing, while Illustrator is best for creating graphics and illustrations. And because both programs are in Adobe Creative Suite, they're compatible with each other; they often go hand-in-hand. For example, when putting together a blog post, it's helpful to edit a photo in Photoshop and then bring it into Illustrator to add text and graphics. 

And if you subscribe to Adobe Creative Cloud, you have access to the latest versions of both of these programs (as well as the rest of Adobe Creative Suite) for a reasonable monthly price. You can learn more here. If you are a blogger or business owner (or desire to be!), I highly recommend it.

Now that you know more about each of these platforms, you might be curious how to use them. That's why I offer one-on-one classes through That's Pretty Ace! I teach a two-hour crash course that can be done in person or via Skype, and it's a great way to get started in each of these programs. Because it'll just be you and me, I tailor the course to fit your specific needs – so we might lean more into Illustrator or more into Photoshop, and you'll get to design something specific to your field. 

So, which program are you currently most familiar with? Do you work more with photos or graphics? Did you learn anything new from this post?