A Design Workflow Comparison: Photoshop vs Illustrator vs Sketch

The ever-expanding world of design can be tough to comprehend as a newcomer. With so many tools and techniques available it’s hard to know where to start.

Three of the most widely used design programs are Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and the newer Sketch by Bohemian Coding.

In this guide I want to compare these three titans of industry to see how they stack up for common design tasks. All three programs are incredible, but they each have their own strengths and weaknesses for certain creative tasks. One you know which tool best fits the task at hand you’ll have a much easier time learning and mastering digital design work.
UI Design

Interface design usually relates to websites and mobile apps, but can also include game UIs or any digital screen that takes user interaction.

For years Photoshop was the #1 choice for UI design. In PS you can build vector icons and textured backgrounds to mix into one common layout. But Photoshop was always intended to be a photo editing suite, and while Fireworks was better it has since been discontinued by Adobe.

This is where Sketch comes into play. The very first release of Sketch App was in late 2010. It has since grown massively with a large community fostering learning materials and entire websites dedicated to free Sketch resources.

When it comes to UI design Sketch is currently the king. This program’s purpose was to be a UI design suite for web & mobile. Patterns, textures, and vectors all intermingle with each other much easier than in Photoshop.

The only downside is that Windows users cannot run Sketch because it’s OS X exclusive.

There are some people who prefer to use Illustrator for UI work, but to me it’s far too tedious. Illustrator wasn’t made to be a pixel-perfect design program and that’s exactly what’s needed for crafting interfaces.

Sketch actually blends vector and pixel work together into one interface. Shapes & vectors are easier to customize and layers can be manipulated much easier.

If you’re looking for the best UI design program Sketch is currently the best choice hands down. But if you’re on a Windows machine you won’t have this option, so Photoshop will be your best choice. It works just as well but the workflow in Sketch is much smoother for UI work.

Photoshop users thinking of switching should read this piece written by Sagi Shrieber explaining why he made the switch and what he likes most about Sketch. And if you want to get started practicing Sketch UI work you can grab the free trial and follow a few of these tutorials.

How to Create a Website Header Design Using Bohemian Coding Sketch
Sketch for Beginners: Design a Login Form Interface
Sketch for Beginners: Design a Bold Email Newsletter

Icon Design

The vast majority of icon work revolves around vectors. Many designers will sketch their ideas on paper first and import them into a design program for tracing. My experience always leads me towards Illustrator because the AI pen tool is so much more intuitive.

I’ve used Photoshop’s pen tool many times and I am comfortable with it. This is great for tracing basic icons or even mapping a sketch if you paint in Photoshop. But vectors made in PS aren’t easy to edit in Illustrator and vice-versa.

But between the two I’ve always found the workflow easier moving from Illustrator into Photoshop. Icons can be carefully manipulated in Illustrator and the layers are so much easier to use than Photoshop’s paths palette.

Sketch also offers great tools for icon design. It actually mimics Illustrator and with enough patience you can learn the basics through online tutorials.