InDesign vs. Illustrator for print ads


When it comes to design programs, Adobe’s Creative Suite is obviously the top choice. But between InDesign and Illustrator, which is the best to use for print advertising design?

There’s no definitive answer. You have to look at what’s best for you and your organization’s workflow.

At my paper, we primarily use InDesign CS3 with Illustrator CS5 and Photoshop CS5 as supplements when needed or appropriate. Most of the time, we are creating single-page documents for the ads, created at whatever size the ad is, wether it’s a one-column help wanted classified display ad or a broadsheet full page or double-truck.

My two co-workers and I were asked to each do a holiday house ad last year. I did this for Thanksgiving in Illustrator.
My two co-workers and I were asked to each do a holiday house ad last year. I did this for Thanksgiving in Illustrator.

Really, I think now, after being in the creative services department for almost two years, I’d prefer to use Illustrator to create the majority of our ads — and once in awhile, when I get the chance to be creative and design something from scratch, I do. But I moved here from the newsroom, where InDesign rules for pagination, and that’s what I knew. It functions perfectly well for what we do, but now that I’ve been able to take the time to learn more about Illustrator’s tools and capabilities, I really like it. Before, I was a little intimidated.

But, for practical reasons, InDesign is the best way for us to go. Many of our ads are PDFs sent by clients or agencies. With those, we place the PDF in an InDesign document, size it if needed and export it under a code number as PDF that is then pulled into the page dummies through a database (that’s about as technical as I can get about that process). Many of the ads we do create are classified displays (mostly text, maybe a logo), an update of a previously run ad, or some clip art or a photo supplied by the client, text and a logo. For that kind of work, InDesign works fine.

Also, InDesign is used by anyone who designs at our newspaper. So if, for example, the news or sports editor who is working on a Saturday for the Sunday edition (we publish Sunday-Friday) finds a typo in an ad, we could actually talk them through over the phone where to find the InDesign file to make the correction and re-export it, instead of a creative services staffer coming in and doing it. It gets fixed right away, no delay.

So really, as far as small newspapers go, if you’re wondering if Illustrator is worth an investment, it might not be. If you have a great designer(s) and they have the opportunity at least once in a while to do something creative and complex, then go for it. But if you’re a very small publication on a budget, and your ad designer is also the salesperson who helps with pagination, then going with InDesign will probably work for you. (Any small papers tried Adobe’s Creative Cloud yet? I’d love to hear your thoughts.)

And you can do some interesting things with InDesign, too.

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