Studio Time: Software

If you’ve ever read our artwork requirements and noticed that we offer a custom design service, you may have wondered exactly what software we use here to create artwork for our customers. It’s something we’ve been asked a few times, especially by those looking into designing their own banner artwork for the first time.

Adobe InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop
Adobe InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop

Careers in Beta

Across the studio, we have varying levels of experience with desktop publishing and drawing packages like CorelDRAW, Macromedia Freehand, Quark Xpress, and Inkscape. Some of these were used in early, fledging design careers, and others more recently.

All of these packages have their own advantages. Whether it be unique features, ease of use, familiarity, cost (or the glorious lack of it), they all have something to offer.

We know that many people prefer to stick with what they’re most comfortable with (who doesn’t?), but I expect most in the design industry have had to learn a new package at some point.

We come across artworks from all kinds of design packages – some made specifically for the sign industry, and some we’ve never even heard of. Unfortunately, there’s only so many file formats that we can open/edit/use, so we need to have some requirements in place.

The Market

I remember when I first used Adobe InDesign (it was InDesign 2, the one with the purple and green butterflies, if I remember correctly). Having used CorelDRAW up to that point, and being heavily into graphic design (rather than illustration) during my school years, InDesign was the logical move for me. This would have been around 2002, when Adobe was far into the throngs of snatching the desktop publishing crown from Quark.

Since then, everyone I’ve worked with in a studio has been ‘encouraged’ to use InDesign. It makes perfect sense to all be using the same package: we can all open each others’ artwork, share knowledge, tips and tricks, and it makes for a seamless operation.

The Venture Banners Process

Normally, we’ll only need to use InDesign to create most banner artwork. If we need to create vector illustrations, logos, or manipulate others’ vector files, we’ll use Adobe Illustrator. There are many overlaps between the two, but put simply, InDesign is better suited for typography and layout, while Illustrator is better for shapes and illustrations. Having said that, it needn’t be a case of ‘one or the other’ – they work together extremely well.

InDesign Workspace with linked Illustrator and Photoshop files
InDesign Workspace with linked Illustrator and Photoshop files

We’ll often use Illustrator to handle company logos, illustrations, and most things vector, then place those into our InDesign artwork. If we need to handle pixel-based images, we’ll use Photoshop, then do the same. It’s a great way to use the tools for what they’re respectively best at.

Maybe someday we’ll see them merge into one awesome desktop-publishing-vector-handling-illustration-design monster; but then, I’ve wondered that for years.

Unfamiliarity and Your Bank Balance

Of course, there’s a huge advantage to already knowing your way round a professional industry-standard design package. There’s the natural familiarity that can only be gained with experience over time. However, as with a lot of specialised industry-specific software, it comes at a cost. For instance, we bought the Adobe Creative Suite 4 package a couple of years back. It wasn’t cheap. Even so, we’d still recommend the InDesign/Illustrator/Photoshop combo as the best around.

One common stumbling block is having to learn something afresh. Fortunately for us, we’ve nearly always had someone at hand through the years to help us learn what we’ve needed to. Not everyone will be fortunate enough to have that help, so your best bet is probably to search for tutorials and guides on the internet. Failing that, there’s always the option of evening and College courses to get you started.

Open Source Graphic Design Software: Scribus, Inkscape, and GIMP
Open Source Graphic Design Software: Scribus, Inkscape, and GIMP

If you’re looking into design for the first time (and you understandably don’t have a big lump of cash waiting around to hand over to Adobe), we can point you in the direction of free and open-source equivalents. For instance, Scribus is a page layout tool, similar to InDesign; Inkscape is a vector graphics editor, just like Illustrator; and GIMP is an image manipulation program, just like Photoshop. These all run on Windows, Mac and Linux, so you’re covered on all fronts. They might not necessarily be your long-term plan, but they can certainly give a good amount of experience.

They’re definitely a good starting point, especially if you consider many software companies’ USA/UK pricing ‘inconsistencies’. Maybe we should have asked Wayne to bring Adobe CS5 back from his recent trip.