When to Use Adobe Illustrator vs. Photoshop vs. InDesign

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Adobe Illustrator is a software primarily used for creating vector graphics. It was developed as a companion to Adobe Photoshop and works seamlessly with other Adobe Inc Creative Cloud apps such as InDesign and Premier Pro.

Adobe Illustrator makes it easy to incorporate typography into an image and because the software is vector-based, it scales so that text can look crisp and focused on both a phone screen and a billboard. The easy manipulation of graphics and fonts makes this app ideal for business marketing, particularly in the creation of logos, advertisements and website design.

Logos and advertisements are a large part of a business’s brand identity, with companies such as Nike, McDonalds, Starbucks and Apple being recognised immediately by the image that reflects their company. The use of a logo on products sells, as it is selling the brand itself. For example, a Chanel belt is recognisable by the belt buckle, which is the logo itself.

From 222,494 reviews, clients rate our Adobe Illustrator Experts 4.87 out of 5 stars.

How to Open Adobe Illustrator Files (In-Depth Tutorial)

If you’re new to Adobe Illustrator or want to work with vector-based graphics or vector images, in this in-depth tutorial, we will explore a common question: how to open Adobe Illustrator files.

We will run through how we can preview them or by exporting an adobe illustrator artwork file to different file types, with or without the Illustrator app.

What is Adobe Illustrator?

Adobe Illustrator is a vector-based drawing program for creating images, graphics in vector format, logos, and signs. It can also be used for a variety of other tasks, like drawing cartoons or working with images.

It is a vector graphics program that’s one of the most popular programs within the Adobe systems. It’s a common type of vector image tool among graphic designers because it has a lot of features and is also very easy to use.

As a vector file design application, it can be used to create large-format designs for print, web graphics, software interfaces, save as another graphics file format and more.

The .ai is a proprietary file format, hence, although AI is a popular vector image format within the design industry, not all software can be used to open this type of file format.

Note: AI file does not stand for Artificial Intelligence file. It stands for “Adobe Illustrator”.

How to Open Adobe Illustrator Files

You may be someone managing marketing activities in your company and not a designer, you may or may not have invested in the Adobe application.

Since it’s essential that graphic design is an ongoing task in marketing, you find yourself having to view Illustrator files coming from vendors, partners and designers.

You can open Adobe Illustrator files in two ways: via Adobe application, another application that supports opening Illustrator files, or a file of a different format.

How to open Adobe Illustrator files with Illustrator

Method 1:

To open the original format of an Adobe Illustrator file that has the .ai format, first, double click on your Adobe Illustrator app. With the app opened, go to the top menu, and click File. Then, click on the Open button. A file browser window opens for you to select files. Select the graphic file you want to open that has the .ai file extension with the file name, for example, “myartwork.ai“.

Method 2:

Click on your file with the AI file extension, without letting go of your cursor, drag the file to the Adobe Illustrator application. Once it hovers above the Illustrator app icon, let go of your cursor to drop the file onto the app icon and your file opens right away.

Method 3:

Right-click on your file with the AI file extension, go to Open With, and in the dropdown bar, click Adobe Illustrator.

Any of the above three methods can help you open your AI format file with the Adobe Illustrator app.

How to open Adobe Illustrator files without Illustrator

What if you don’t have Adobe Illustrator app? And you need to not only preview what is in the files but also need to edit the artwork. There are several options for this.

One way is to purchase Illustrator via the Adobe Creative Cloud software packages.

Another way is to sign up for a free trial with Creative Cloud App to use a free version of adobe illustrator for a limited time. The Adobe Illustrator free trial goes on for seven days, after that it’s converted to a paid Creative Cloud membership at US$20.99/mo.

What if you don’t wish to use the Adobe Illustrator app? You can use a free illustrator alternative, like an open-source vector graphics editor or online tool that can be used via a web browser or downloaded to your hard drive.

Some of the Illustrator alternatives include Affinity Designer, Coreldraw Graphics Suite and Open-Source Inkscape. These tools can be used to open an AI format file if you have them.

Otherwise, you will still need the Illustrator app to convert or export your AI file to a different file format first before opening it in another app.

How to open Adobe Illustrator files without Illustrator to preview only

If you don’t need to edit your artwork and only need to open the file to see what’s inside, you can use a file viewer to do that.

For Windows or PC users, AI Viewer the best way you can use to open and preview an ai file artwork for free and purely online. There’s no need to download any software like SageThumbs and GhostScript. Just drag your file to the online tool with any internet browser like Google Chrome OS, Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox.

For Apple Mac OS users, if you double click on your ai file, the system will prompt any closest compatible app to open the file. I’m using macOS Monterey Version 12.0.1 at the point of writing.

If you don’t have any graphic app installed, Mac has an inbuilt Apple Preview app that is made such that you can help you with a wide range of file format previews.

Just click on Finder, go to the top menu and click View. Then select either Icon, Column or Gallery view. Next, browse for your ai file and click on it once. You will see a quick preview of your artwork that is inside the Illustrator file.

Apple Mac OS Preview

Another way is to go to your file icon, right-click and scroll down the menu and click on Quick Look. A preview opens where you can see what is inside the Illustrator file.

Quick Look on Apple Mac OS

You can also go to the file, click once and hit the spacebar on your keyboard, a preview pops up for you to see what the artwork is like.

How to open Adobe Illustrator files in Adobe Photoshop with layers flattened

Sometimes, you want to open your ai files to preview or do more, like cropping an image or adding more designs to them with Photoshop. For some reason, you don’t need the artwork elements to be in separate layers. In this case, you can flatten them as you open them in Photoshop. Here are basic ways to do that.

3 Ways to open Illustrator files with AI format in Photoshop

Method 1:

To open the original format of an Adobe Illustrator file that has the AI file format, first, double click on your Adobe Photoshop app. With the app opened, go to the top menu, and click File. Then, click on Open. A window opens for you to browse and select files. Select the file you want to open that has the .AI file extension with the file name, for example, “myartwork.ai“.

Method 2:

Click on your file with the AI file extension, without letting go of your cursor, drag the file to the Adobe Photoshop application. Once it hovers above the Photoshop app icon, let go of your cursor to drop the file onto the app icon.

Drag and drop onto Photoshop

Method 3:

Right-click on your file with the AI file extension, go to Open With, and in the dropdown bar, click Adobe Photoshop.

Once you’ve done any of the steps above, a window that says “Import PDF” opens up.

In the left column, Pages will be selected by default. Select the pages or artboards you’d like Photoshop to open. In this example, you will only see a single page because there’s only one artboard in the Illustrator file.

The Thumbnail Size section on the bottom left corner of the window doesn’t affect your file. You can toggle it to change the preview size of your artwork.

Next, you can change your image size and resolution or DPI value on the right column.

Once done, click the OK button and your file opens up.

Now, open up your Layers Panel by going to the top menu, clicking Window, and scrolling down the dropdown to click Layers. You will see that your Layers Panel has only a single layer.

Open AI file flattened in Photoshop without layers

This means, there’s no way you can edit your artwork in Photoshop like how you do so in Illustrator.

In Illustrator, you can adjust every layer and they are separated from each other. You can see it here:

Separate layers in Adobe Illustrator

But when you open the AI file in Photoshop with the above methods, all separate layers are flattened together or combined into one layer. Like this:

Flatten layer in Photoshop

This works for you if you want all layers to be flattened. If you wish to open an AI file in Photoshop with layers so that you can edit and make changes to each layer. Here’s how:

How to open Adobe Illustrator files in Photoshop with layers

This is assuming you already have artwork that has several layers that can be edited in Illustrator. Below are the steps on how to open the Adobe Illustrator file in Photoshop with layers that are rasterised and vectorised.

3 Steps to open Illustrator files in Photoshop rasterised layers

For this to work, you will need to have the Adobe Illustrator app to prepare the file to be opened with separate layers in Photoshop.

Open rasterized layers in Photoshop

Step 1: Make sure all text is editable

If you have text in your artwork and want to edit it in Photoshop, make sure they are not pathed or outlined, or converted to vector format. Otherwise, there’s no way you can have editable text when you open the Illustrator file in Photoshop.

Check that they are editable by typing or deleting each letter with the Type Tool.

If they are not editable, recreate them with the Type Tool.

Step 2: Open the Layers Panel

With your file opened in Illustrator, go to the top menu, and click Window. Then scroll down the dropdown menu and click Layers.

A Layers Panel will open showing you all the items that are included in your artwork.

Step 3: Make sure all items are in separate layers

Check that each layer is not nested or grouped with other layers.

Then, select the main layer.

Go to the three horizontal lines on the top right-hand corner of the Layers Panel.

Options for Layers Panel in Adobe Illustrator

Then, scroll down the dropdown menu and click Release to Layers (Sequence).

Release to Layers in Layers Panel of Adobe Illustrator

You will see all layers seemingly having a duplicated layer each.

Step 4: Export as PSD

Next, to open the file in Photoshop with layers, the Illustrator file has to be converted to a Photoshop file.

Go to the top menu and click File. Then, scroll down the dropdown menu and click Export. Then click Export As in the sub-menu.

When an Export window opens, go down to the section where it says Format, and select Photoshop (PSD).

Export Adobe Illustrator file as Photoshop format

Then click the Export button.

A Photoshop Export Options window opens up, select your Color Model and Resolution then check the following:

Preserve text and layer editability

Write Layers Preserve Text Editability and Maximum Editability

Then, click the OK button.

Step 5: Open the PSD file in Photoshop

Open the PSD file by dragging the file that you’ve just exported to the Photoshop app.

Open the Photoshop Layers Panel by clicking Window on the top menu, then scroll down the dropdown menu and click on Layers.

You will see each item in each layer in the same way as you’ve done it in Illustrator. All editable text remains as type where you can delete, change font and change words.

Although by using this method, each layer is on its own and editable, it’s not a vector. All vector layers have been rasterised and changed to pixels or image files during the conversion process.

If you want to maintain them as editable vectors but open them in Photoshop, see the next method.

How to open Adobe Illustrator files in Photoshop without rasterizing vectors

In this case, you want to open an adobe illustrator file in photoshop but edit this AI format artwork using Illustrator because Illustrator has functions that are not available in Photoshop. Or you don’t want any vector artwork to convert into a raster image.

You can do this by importing the Illustrator file into Photoshop by converting it into a smart object.

How to convert Adobe Illustrator files into Smart Object

Convert to Smart Object in Photoshop

First, open Photoshop.

Then, go to File on the top menu, scroll down and click Open as Smart Object…

Open as Smart Object in Photoshop

A window opens for you to browse your files. Select the AI file that you’ve created before.

Then, click open.

Another window opens up. Make sure in the Format section, that the option selected is Photoshop PDF.

Open Adobe Illustrator file as Photoshop PDF format

Once your file opens up, you can go to the Layers Panel (Window > Layers) to find the layer of your artwork.

You will see that there’s a tiny document icon on the layer. This means your artwork layer is a smart object.

Edit Adobe Illustrator file from Photoshop

Double click the icon and a window pop up to say “This document has been modified outside of Adobe Illustrator. How do you want to proceed?” Select “Discard changes, preserving illustrator editing capabilities” and click the OK button.

Make all changes in Adobe Illustrator

Your artwork opens up in Illustrator.

You can make your changes using Illustrator, and save the file as per usual.

Then go back to your Photoshop file of the same artwork and you will see it updated to the same changes you’ve made in the Illustrator app.

How to open Adobe Illustrator file with Adobe Reader

First, download Adobe Reader from here.

To open the AI file, drag the AI file to the Adobe Reader app and let go of your cursor to drop the file onto the app icon. The file opens up immediately.

It’s great to use Adobe Reader because both software is part of the Adobe Application. Hence there’s PDF compatibility between Illustrator and Adobe Reader.

There’s no need for you to save your Illustrator file as a PDF file. You can open your AI file directly with Adobe Reader.

Wrapping up: From Weak to Stable Program

All in all, Illustrator is a great program for creating vector graphics. It has a lot of features, is easy to use, and is very user-friendly.

However, as with all software, it does have its problems. The good news is, that Adobe continually works hard to update it, fix bugs and add new features.

With that in mind, you can now open/import Adobe Illustrator files in a number of ways. You know the ins and outs of using the tool, and you’re ready to take your mark-making skills to the next level.

When to Use Adobe Illustrator vs. Photoshop vs. InDesign


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One of the things that can be frustrating to creative professionals is receiving files that have been put together using the wrong piece of design software. It could be anything from using Adobe Illustrator instead of InDesign for layout or a logo that has been put together using Photoshop.

While it’s expected that pros should know this information, someone who’s cracking open the software for the first time might not even be aware that there are instances where you should be using one over the other. Just like a plumber would use the right wrench for the job, each program has a specific area that it excels at. So what I’ll be doing in this post is breaking down the three pieces of design software from Adobe – InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop and explaining when to use them.

By examining them in this way, you can see what your specific needs are, this should help you to decide what program you’ll start learning. You’ll want to focus your attention on the piece of software that is most relevant to what your goals, and then apply that knowledge to the other two.

When to use Adobe InDesign

There should be no confusion about when to use InDesign – its specific purpose is for laying out printed materials; that’s what it is designed to do. This could be brochures, newsletters, ads, business cards or books. Virtually anything that is made up of a combination of blocks of text, photos or other artwork. Its purpose is to take the elements that you create in Illustrator and Photoshop and put them together in one place.

InDesign excels at projects that require multi-page layouts or master layouts where one theme reoccurs on multiple pages. Its text wrap functionality (where you can literally wrap text around images or objects) is much simpler and easier to use than it is in Illustrator.

People can, and do, put together layouts with Photoshop or Illustrator. However, in doing so, they often create files that are needlessly huge or put together in ways that are not optimal for commercial printers to use. InDesign, however, packages everything for you – all of your fonts and images. It does this so that you can hand off these materials to your printer and they can make your layout work in the exact manner that you intended.

While InDesign is a powerful tool, it does have its limitations. For one, it doesn’t have any photo editing capabilities. InDesign does give you the ability to draw vector graphics, like those you might find in a logo, but it doesn’t hold a candle to what you can do with Illustrator. Which brings us to…

When to use Adobe Illustrator

Illustrator, as its name suggests, is for creating and editing vector based illustrations such as logos and brand marks or other design elements. Vector graphics are scalable images that can be sized as small or as large as you need them to be, and still maintain their resolution and clarity.

While it is possible to create multi-page documents with Illustrator for items like brochures or annual reports, there are a few drawbacks to using the program in this way:

Illustrator doesn’t have a way to setup master pages the way that InDesign does. This is a necessary tool when you’re building documents that use templates. Illustrator doesn’t allow you to automate page numbers. This is another feature InDesign supports, which can be especially useful when dealing with larger documents.

When to use Adobe Photoshop

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

Web pages

Banner ads

Video graphics

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.


Hopefully this article has helped to clear up some of the confusion that surrounds these pieces of software and when to use them. While I’ve only scratched the surface as far as the capabilities of Adobe InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop, these are some of their most fundamental applications. Thinking about what you need to do with these programs will help you to organize your workflow better and ultimately create more professional looking documents.

Posted in Design Tutorials, Illustrator Tips & Tutorials, InDesign Tips & Tutorials, Photoshop Tips & Tutorials, Print Design

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