Plain and simple, Photoshop is for creating and editing photos and raster (pixel) based art work. The program was originally developed as a tool to enhance photographs, but over time its functionality has developed to the point where it can be used to create:
User interface designs
Editing pictures for print
Because there is so much information about Photoshop out there in the form of tutorials and guides, some people feel that it’s all you need – a one stop shop. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The problem is that there are instances when you don’t need to use Photoshop, and should in fact be using Illustrator or InDesign.
Do not create logos with Photoshop – It’s a bad idea that will do nothing but cost you time and money. Again, Photoshop is pixel, or raster based. If you create a logo with it, the files that it creates can not be enlarged or manipulated in the same manner that an Illustrator-based logo can. Do not set type in Photoshop for print projects – For type to print at its clearest, it needs to be vector based; Photoshop exports type as pixels. Now, you can save your Photoshop files in as an .EPS file which allows you to export type as vectors, but still this is not a best practice, so just don’t do it.
There are a lot of tutorials on Adobe Photoshop. As a matter of fact, there are so many tutorials that focuses on Photoshop that many people contact me or comment on this site stating that there are not enough tutorials on Illustrator or Indesign. (One factual tidbit: My Illustrator tutorial section is the most popular page in the tutorials section according to Google Analytics. To be even more honest, it is the most popular page in the whole domain.) It is a good thing that there are a lot of tutorials on Photoshop, but there are some negative side effects within widely vast available information. These tutorials help you become an expert on this software, and to my honesty, that is how I learned most majority of the techniques with Photoshop. The problem: The vast information network on Photoshop tutorials also causes people to become “too comfortable” with Photoshop and tend to “try” to do everything with Photoshop alone.
What is Photoshop?
The most important thing to know about Photoshop is that it is a pixel based program. Photoshop was primarily created in the beginning as a photograph enhancing tool and not so much anything else like it is used today. Adobe has recognized that many users were starting to use Photoshop to create elaborate UI designs, web page graphics, banner ADs, text effects and more. Adobe then started rolling out features that help designers create images for print, web, motion graphics and so on. However, again, the problem is that there are certain times when Photoshop is not needed (gasp!) to create certain projects.
Photoshop is generally used for:
Photo enhancement/Photo color correction
Software/Web/Mobile UI design
One common misconception is the idea that it is good to use Photoshop to create stationary systems and logo’s. For the sake of yourself, please take this idea outside the window. Let’s talk about business cards as an example. There is an alarming number of tutorials online that shows you how to create business cards in Photoshop. These are what I call “bad tutorials” that teaches you the wrong way of creating a business card. Despite the result and outcome of these tutorials being amazing, or perhaps you can even get it printed and it will look fine, it is a bad practice to get into an habit. Just because the result looks fine don’t mean the practice is the best way.
First off Illustrator type is by far superior in print output than Photoshop is. Yes Photoshop can output type, and even in vector “paths”. Yes Photoshop can bring in vector objects as “smart objects”. Yes Photoshop can draw paths using the pen tool. But the most important thing out of all this is that IN THE END, it is outputted as pixel data. Yes I am aware that it also depends on the file output. For instance, .TIFF does not output vector data but does output layer information and transparency. But .EPS does support vector output, yet it still doesn’t mean this is the best practice to do so. So should you never use Photoshop to create business cards? There are times you actually want to use Photoshop to create business cards.
When it is justified to use Photoshop for business cards and other print projects
If your business cards contain any textures, photography, special effects, blurs (not that I am encouraging this), or any type of pixel based design, Photoshop is obviously the best way to go. However, remember to output ANY pixel based art work in 300 ppi resolution with CMYK color mode. Do not output it RGB. If you have Photoshop filters in your artwork, changing your work to CMYK mode, or even applying certain filters in CMYK mode seem to look desaturated or not look too good.
The work around to this: Create all your special effects, filter effects, etc in RGB mode. Flatten the work (merge layers) after you feel that your work in Photoshop is complete, and change the color mode to CMYK. Again, you will regret not switching color modes to CMYK after you send it off to the printer. Your result will look significantly different than you hoped for.
When you should never use Photoshop for print projects
For the love of all things that you love, do not use Photoshop to set type in your print projects. It is important to note that I am not saying you should never use the type tool in Photoshop. I am stating that it is not a good idea to use it in print projects.
Never use Photoshop to create logo’s. The obvious reason is because pixel data cannot be enlarged without distortion. If you create the logo in vector format, your logo will be scalable to any size forever.