What Software Do Graphic Designers Use?

What Software Do Graphic Designers Use?
5 minutes read. February 19th, 2020.

Why is Adobe the Industry Standard Choice?

Adobe has dominated the creative software sector for almost three decades. Back in the 1990s, the company began to acquire a whole host of products that were considered to be in direct competition with what it had to offer. By combining multiple programs under the Adobe name (alongside the introduction of its own products), the organisation began to cement its claim as the dominant force in the digital publishing world.

Since swapping from a single-payment service to a controversial cloud-based subscription model in 2013, Adobe has enjoyed record revenue streams (almost $3bn of the company’s income in 2015 came from ‘digital media-related annual recurring revenue’.

Challengers to Adobe’s market monopoly face an almighty struggle to make their mark. That said, there are some viable alternatives to the Creative Cloud service (some of which try to tempt Adobe loyalists away by offering single, one-off payment licences). Competitors include:

  • Affinity – an award-winning suite of design apps
  • CorelDRAW – an acclaimed and affordable range of illustration and design programs
  • GIMP – a free, open source image manipulation program (great for beginners looking to brush up on design basics)

For the majority of graphic designers, however, Adobe’s Creative Cloud service is the default choice. It offers integration with Behance (used for showcasing work) and Adobe Fonts (formerly known as Typekit), an online service which provides easy access to typefaces. The ability to move documents interchangeably between applications offers designers great versatility, too.

By and large, professional graphic designers will make use of four primary programs: Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and After Effects. Designers need to be fully aware of the strengths and weaknesses of each – this is what enables them to choose the best software for the job in hand. So, without further ado: which program does what?

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Adobe’s most well-known software became so popular that the verb ‘to Photoshop’ was coined amongst some (much to Adobe’s dismay – the company explicitly states that the trademark should only be used as a product name). Created in 1988, the software is primarily used by designers for raster image editing.

Photoshop can be used to create web graphics such as page layout designs and banner advertisements. It’s also great for creating mock-ups, which place proposed designs in real-world environments (or on real-world products), helping clients to visualise how an outcome will look. Aside from basic functions like cropping and image warping, Photoshop contains a whole host of colour correction tools and has expanded over the years to incorporate more complex features such as animation and 3D editing.


Adobe Illustrator works with vector art, which can be scaled to any size without compromising image quality. Designers generally use Illustrator for – surprise, surprise – illustrations, making it perfect for logo design, infographics and technical drawings. Pixel-perfect precision results in clean lines and crisp typography, whilst easy recolouring can save shedloads of time. As the more established program, Photoshop may well take centre stage – but Illustrator is at least as vital when it comes to bringing ideas to life.


InDesign is mainly used for page layouts. Features such as page numbering and master pages (elements placed onto a master page will be seen on all pages of a document) make InDesign ideal for designing magazines and brochures. A large range of typesetting options, coupled with vector and raster compatibility, means InDesign is suitable for poster design, too. InDesign offers a range of export options – designers are able to easily format for print, web and even specific devices such as Kindles and iPads.

After Effects

The clue is in the name – After Effects is generally used by graphic designers to add visual effects to videos, as well as to create motion graphics. After Effects is a complex software which requires a powerful computer to run, especially for more intensive tasks such as 3D and VR rendering. The program possesses a huge library of complicated visual effects, whilst additional effects and plug-ins created by users and specialist companies can also be downloaded.

What Else Does a Graphic Designer Need to Know?

Further programs produced by Adobe include Dreamweaver (used for website coding), Premiere Pro (for video editing) and Adobe Xd, the company’s up-and-coming website and app layout software which focuses of user experience and interface design. These are all programs that a graphic designer will have the opportunity to learn over the course of their career. It’s crucial for designers to keep up with changes in the field, so each new piece of software represents an opportunity to develop and become more versatile.

Stepping away from the Adobe juggernaut, it’s also worth mentioning that designers should be fully up to scratch with Microsoft Office. Although not generally used for creating graphics, the likes of Word and PowerPoint are staples of the corporate world, so it’s a no-brainer that a designer must be able to produce branded outcomes within Microsoft’s package of software (think letterheads, invoices and presentation templates, to name a few).


For graphic designers, the rewards that come with attempting to master creative software are plain to see. With seemingly endless features allowing for seemingly endless possibilities, today’s designer has the potential to bring ideas to life in increasingly bolder and more memorable ways... The sky’s the limit.

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What Software Do Graphic Designers Use?

Paul Hough

Creative Director

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