October 11, 2007

Illustrator vs. InDesign Smackdown (oh yeah, and Photoshop too)

First, a little background is necessary here in order to set some context.

Mike McHugh, author, instructor, and host of Creative Sweet TV wrote an article entitled InDesign vs. Photoshop Smackdown: Who Will Be the Winner? where Mike focuses on some of the new strengths found in InDesign CS3. Of course, no one is suggesting that InDesign actually REPLACE Photoshop (Blasphemy! only David Blatner can make such statements), but Mike's article is a healthy experiment in understanding the myriad ways of using applications and their features. Mike chose to highlight six specific workflows in his smackdown:

1. Recolor Artwork from a Grayscale File
2. Recolor Artwork from an RGB File
3. Create Reflections
4. Play with Special Effects-a-go-go
5. Create a Vignette
6. Create an Editable Contact Sheet

There's only one problem. Where was Illustrator? During the entire smackdown, Illustrator was only mentioned once -- and that was when Mike placed an Illustrator file into InDesign and gave it a reflection.

For anyone who knows me, I consider myself somewhat of an Illustrator evangelist, and nothing gets me going more than a challenge. I wonder why Mike didn't mention anything about Illustrator in his smackdown -- could a possible reason be that Illustrator might indeed win the smackdown over Photoshop AND InDesign in these workflows? Hmmmmm... let's see.

Round 1. Recolor Artwork from a Grayscale File

We all know that you can convert any image into a Monotone in just a few steps with Photoshop. Mike also spoke of InDesign's ability to colorize any linked flattened grayscale image. How does Illustrator match up? Well, you can colorize any placed PSD grayscale file -- linked or embedded. The PSD file can even be layered. And what if your image isn't a grayscale image? You can simply select the placed image within Illustrator and choose Object > Rasterize and choose Grayscale as the Color Model. You can then apply a color to the image.

Already, Illustrator has the advantage here, but what if your artwork isn't an image? What if it's vector artwork? Or text? Hmmm.. InDesign has no way of easily colorizing those items. But Illustrator has a totally fantastic Live Color feature that makes recoloring artwork nearly instantaneous. Within seconds, you can colorize just about anything in your design with Illustrator.

Illustrator 1, InDesign 0.

Round 2. Recolor Artwork from an RGB File

In this round, Mike spoke of using the Color blend mode to turn any placed image (grayscale or otherwise) into a color. This is almost too easy, considering that Illustrator has the same blend modes too. Follow Mike's instructions to reproduce this in Illustrator. Of course, you have patterns in Illustrator which allows you to add textures. But go a step beyond and use your image as an opacity mask (which are like Photoshop Alpha Channels) and the sky is the limit.

Illustrator 2, InDesign 0

Round 3. Create Reflections

I'll be the first to admit that InDesign CS3's new gradient feather feature is quite fantastic. I use it often (too often maybe). But reflections are also quite easy in Illustrator with the use of an Opacity Mask. You can easily craete a copy of any artwork and flip it upside down like Mike describes in his article, and then adding an opacity masks to complete the effect. But what about text? In Illustrator, you can use the Appearance panel to make a reflection that can be easily edited.

Start by creating a Point text object. Then, use the Appearance panel to add a new Fill. Apply a Transform effect to flip the new fill (use the Reflect Y option) and to also move it down so the baselines match. Now use a gradient as an opacity mask so that the upside-down text fades to transparent. The key here is that you haven't made a physical copy of the text for the reflection, so simply editing the text object automatically updates the reflection. The use of an opacity mask ensures that you can place the text over any colored background or image.

Illustrator 3, InDesign 0

Round 4. Play with Special Effects-a-go-go

Everyone loves Photoshop effects, and the InDesign team did a nice job in mimicking the design of the dialog to match that of Photoshop, as well as offering some nice effects -- even Bevel & Emboss. Sadly, Illustrator doesn't have a Bevel & Emboss filter. However, Illustrator has far more effects than InDesign or Photoshop, including 3D, Warp, Transform, Pathfinder... the list goes on. Through the use of multiple fills and strokes, you can build endless complex appearances. And they can all be applied with the click of a single button with Graphic Styles.

Illustrator 4, InDesign 0

Round 5. Create a Vignette

Mike's examples of using Inner and Outer Glow are nice, but they are no match for Illustrator's Opacity Mask feature. You can draw any shape and either fill it with a gradient or apply a feather effect to it and then use that object as an opacity mask to create a vignette in Illustrator.

Illustrator 5. InDesign 0

Round 6. Create an Editable Contact Sheet

I'll admit -- at first glance, I thought Illustrator wouldn't stand a chance here. I mean, come on -- InDesign is a page layout application and Illustrator doesn't have multiple pages. But there are still plenty of times you just need to create a single contact sheet. Could Illustrator possibly compete here? Hmmmmm... InDesign doesn't really have a Contact Sheet feature per say, but Bridge has a cool script that uses InDesign to build a contact sheet using the images you've selected in Bridge. I wonder if there's a script for Illustrator? Ya think?

Open your Illustrator CS3 application folder. In your Scripting > Sample Scripts > AppleScript (Visual Basic on Windows) folder is a script called Contact Sheet. The script is a droplet -- drag any folder of images onto that droplet and Illustrator will ask you how many images you want across and down and then sit back and watch. Of course, once the contact sheet has been created, you can customize it as you would any Illustrator document. The results look prettier than you'd find in Photoshop's Contact Sheet feature and of course they are customizable.

I'd call this a draw. A final tally of the score puts Illustrator well in front. Now of course, if Mike would have chosen some other workflows (like creating interactive PDFs, long documents, master pages, etc.) the results would be quite different.

Naturally, this is all a fun experiment -- but as I do with all my students and clients, I urge you to always use the tools at hand to best do your job. For now, I'm heading back to my glass of Cabernet.

Oh, and the next time there's a smackdown, make sure Illustrator is around. Please.


David Blatner said...

Illustrator? What's Illustrator? Oh yes, I recall now: It's that fun, little InDesign plug-in that Adobe makes.


--david blatner, indesignsecrets.com

Mike McHugh said...

Oh Yes Illustrator. A tough nut to crack indeed.:-)
I was planning a Tag team cage match between Illustrator teamed with Flash and Photoshop Teamed with After Effects. Flash would probably sneak in some kind of illegal Device Central and cheat though.

I'll keep thinking....

José said...

InDesign plug-in? Oh, that's very cold! Funny, but cold.:D

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tips Mordy. John Nack published some ways to make PS work faster (http://blogs.adobe.com/jnack/2007/10/tuning_photosho.html), but the real pain for me in terms of performance(Bridge aside). Any similar tips for making AI faster?

Anonymous said...

I meant the real pain for me in terms of performance is Illustrator :P sorry!

Pablo said...

Mmm, if you have a program that has 90% of the InDesign features and 90% of Illustrator features and add some exclusive great features, you'll have Freehand MX. Now, I understand why the Adobe company decided not to upgrade Fh anymore, too good... It is more profitable for them to sell two programs instead of one. But adobe could at least leave the same names and short cuts for the same features between both programs, (e. Id, Paste into - Ai, Clipping mask), so designers trying to do the migration won' t get aditional frustrations...

Anonymous said...

I've used Illustrator quite a bit but CorelDraw has much better node editing tools. FOr this reason I find myself drawing things in CorelDraw first then importing them to Illustrator to do any final work.

Anonymous said...


laurence85 said...

illustrator? flash? InDesign? photoshop? they are friends and need to be together. They are not enermies m8. Each got own strengths and weakness. ;) Peace!

ithinkitsnice said...

Ridiculous article. Is this a joke or do you just have absolutely no idea what InDesign is for?

Anonymous said...

Obviously you have not been the poor soul who has to RIP any of these file you have created. InDesign is vastly more effective in dealing with placed/embedded raster art. How much so? I have seen post RIPed files that were 25-50 mb from InDesign end up being 1-2.5 Gb when they were created in Illustrator. That is about 4 hours of RIPing time difference.

Michael said...

Indesign and Illustrator are not the same programs so they have different strengths and weaknesses. You use them to do different things for the most part. There is some overlap but you can't compare them by using things that are obviously meant for illustrator as the criteria. Indesign is great for hundreds of uses that indesign couldn't handle (try multi-page documents). Who wrote this?