Using InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop Together: Getting the Most From the Interface


When Adobe first created the concept of a “Creative Suite,” they wanted to make all the applications work and look as much alike as possible. But as Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” It’s just not possible for the three applications in “InDe-Illu-Shop” to work exactly the same, despite the best intentions of the Adobe software designers.

However, that's not to say that the applications don't have their similarities. You just have to know what’s similar and what's not.

50 Shades of Interface

There are two types of InDe-Illu-Shop users: those who love the dark interface and those who can’t see anything in the dark. I’m one of the latter, which is surprising since I live in New York City, where everyone wears black.

When switching back and forth between the three programs, it is sometimes a little confusing to tell which program you've jumped into. Yes, there are plenty of clues, especially in the tools, to tell you which program is which, but Adobe has done such a good job of standardizing the icons for various panels, that it isn't always immediately obvious.

Before I could set a custom interface color theme, I used to play with the Tools panel to let me know which program I was working on. I put InDesign's tools on the left; Photoshop's tools on the right, and I set Illustrator's tools in two columns.

But now I simply set the color theme for each program to a different shade. InDesign gets the lightest shade because I use it the most; Illustrator gets the next lightest; and Photoshop gets the darkest. You can set the interface to whatever shade you want for your favorite program.

You would think that all three programs would use exactly the same controls to set the interface appearance. But each engineering team has its own ideas of what makes the best controls.

InDesign’s Appearance settings

To set the interface theme in InDesign, choose Preferences > Interface and then set the color theme. You can choose one of the four pre-set colors or use the slider to set a specific level of brightness.


Illustrator’s Brightness controls

To set the interface theme in Illustrator, choose Preferences > User Interface. You can then choose one of the four Brightness settings or use the slider to set a custom shade. This is exactly the same functionality as InDesign’s controls. However, the slider in Illustrator has little tick marks to indicate the amounts shown in the menu. But don’t let those tick marks fool you. You can set the slider anywhere along the path.


Photoshop’s Color Theme

Finally, in Photoshop, choose Preferences > Interface. Then click on one of the four interface color swatches. You only have the interface swatches as controls; there isn’t any slider.


With each application using a different color theme, it’s easier for me to recognize where I am. As you can see, Illustrator’s Medium Light is a quite similar to InDesign’s Light. So I still use a double column Tools panel in Illustrator to help differentiate the two programs. Meanwhile, Photoshop’s black hole of an interface makes it instantly obvious where I am.


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