Illustrator vs. InDesign – What is the difference?

Have you ever wondered what the difference between Illustrator and InDesign is?

Do you believe that they are interchangeable, and that it is not worthwhile to invest time and money in both?

If you answered yes to either of these questions, please read below:

As often happens when working in this industry, there are times when we find ourselves having to modify files and artwork which we did not originally create. This always poses a challenge even when one is lucky enough to have access to the source file, as it is rarely structured just as you expect.

This week, however, we stumbled upon a real gem. A brochure created entirely in a one-layer Illustrator file weighing well over 1,5 GB!!

Besides the time it takes to open such a monstrosity, why oh why, we ask, could anyone dream of creating a complex layout in Illustrator. The only explanations I can think of are A) the creator of the file in question did not have access to InDesign or similar, or B) they do not understand the difference between Illustrator and InDesign.

Assuming the correct answer is B, I am posting this brief explanation of the difference in use between the programs, in the hopes that it may help others to choose wisely, saving everyone much time and grief.

Illustrator is a vector artwork illustration program. It is great for creating and managing logos, graphic images, simple layouts that do not require numerous color-spaces. It has a variety of nifty tools that give you great control over paths and strokes, as well as  perspective grids to help you create depth-perception for more complex artwork.  Yes, it does allow you to manipulate text and link to external artwork, but these are not its primary functions, and they should not be abused. Nor is it wise to work on multiple-page layouts in Illustrator. It is simply not built for that.

InDesign, however, is. InDesign offers a way to take all that great artwork you created with Illustrator, together with any other images you may have (psd, jpeg, png etc.), and use them to compose your page layout. It allows you to link text frames and import text directly from your text editor file. Images can also be linked externally, so that any changes made to their individual source files will automatically update in your layout. InDesign also allows you to use Xml tags to automate functions, thus making life easier, especially when dealing with particularly complex multi-page text files. The programs’ view options alone (are an example of a fundamentally simplistic, yet effective way of making image-heavy files faster and easier to work with.

So, as you can see, there is a distinct difference between Illustrator and InDesign. They are not interchangeable, and YES! invest in the time to learn both.

Stay tuned, for more on these tools of the trade.

Did you find this helpful?


  1. If you have to work with multiple files that you need to link to your main document, InDesign is your best option. It has better memory capabilities and its view options allow you to choose a higher or lower resolution according to the size of your file, making working with particularly heavy files quicker and easier.
    If you often encounter problems reading photoshop files, try uninstalling and reinstalling the software. This is how e solved a similar problem a while back on one of our Macs.
    I hope this is of some help. If you have any more questions, we’re happy to help you out.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Recently i have been using Indesign a lot, and become a bit “overly” fond of it because i can do things with images the way i cant in Illustrator. However i wonder if i should be using Indesign to do a poster or standee (real print size 2m * 0.8m); or should i switch back to Illustrator? Thank you.

    • I would stick with InDesign. Illustrator is just not meant to handle complex images, such as high-resolution photographs or multi-page layouts wit lots of different elements. Really, unless you are working on a vector image such as a logo or simple illustration, or simple packaging InDesign is the way to go. It is also more appropriate when you know you will likely be updating the file a lot, as you can simply update the linked elements, or style format so that repeated elements automatically update without having to scour the document for them.

      Just to let you know, we are in the process of migrating to a new blog. Please follow us at

  3. @ Anonymous
    InDesign works great for flyers and posters. If your flyer / poster is easier to make in InDesign than it is in Illustrator you should definitely do so. InDesign is an industry standard so you can’t go wrong.

  4. Just to let you know, we are in the process of migrating to a new blog. Please follow us at

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