Design & UX
By Tara Hornor

How to Transition from Photoshop to InDesign

By Tara Hornor

I recently had to break out of my box and start working in a design tool with which I have very little experience. Short of opening up InDesign and thinking, “Okay. This looks cool. See ya!”, I hadn’t really messed with it much. 99% of my work is web-based, and InDesign is all about the physical printing.

In case you decided to switch from Adobe Photoshop to Adobe InDesign, you may feel a bit intimidated like I did. It’s a new piece of software, and that usually implies some (usually steep) learning curve. Guess what? You got it all wrong. It was easy, painless, and for the most part I was able to transition seamlessly. Here’s why.


Why Switch at All?

First thing’s first, why do you feel the need to switch over to InDesign in the first place? In most cases, you’ve been handed a project by a client that is in the .indd file format. Or, maybe you’re latest project is a multi-page publication.

InDesign allows you to define a layout and then gives writers the ability to change up the content on the fly without destroying your well-designed layout. Sure, you can try to design a 12-page publication in Photoshop, but you can be sure of one thing — the editors are going to come in at the last minute and want a bunch of new content added or cut out. This can completely change your layout and which text flows from one page to the next.

InDesign is going to be your best bet if you want to have quick control of the global document without having to mess with multiple documents in Photoshop.

Easy to Switch

Photoshop and InDesign are produced by Adobe, and over the last few years they’ve done a good job of making the two systems talk to each other. Adobe has gone out of their way to make the interface between Photoshop and InDesign as similar as possible. In short, you can generally open up InDesign and know what you’re dealing with pretty quickly. There are some software-specific tools, but nothing you can’t figure out by clicking around or doing a quick search for.

So, what I’m trying to say is that if you’re a Photoshop guru (or something along the lines), it won’t be cumbersome for you to transition to InDesign. That’s because you’ll have a very similar workflow and tools (with a few peculiar ones). Other than that, you can arrange your work environment as you see fit because you can easily set up your keyboard shortcuts so that they work exactly the way you are used to.

Well-Known Features and Tools

You’ll be able to work with such familiar features as copying layer styles, nesting items in folders, hiding and unhiding objects, smart objects, and so on and so forth. So, you’ll feel almost like you’re at your Photoshop home. And, my favorite feature is that you can just import layers with your .PSD file. This allows you to use pre-designed layers instead of creating brand new ones from scratch within your InDesign document.

This feature alone is a life-saver for me, not to mention a huge time-saver. If I have a particular visual concept, I can do it in Photoshop and then quickly drop the PSD file into InDesign. Just use the “File” > “Place” feature to drop the Photoshop file wherever you want it.

InDesign Specific Features

Although Adobe InDesign and Photoshop are extremely similar, there are a bunch of specific features that make InDesign inevitable for magazine and publication creation. To provide a general idea, I’ll point out a few of the neat tools that make you feel like you can make a magazine in a matter of minutes.

As you know, InDesign is primarily used for easy magazine creation. And most of the features streamline that exact process. For starters, you can automatically distribute your text layer across several columns (as they usually do it in magazines). Secondly, if there’s enough text for two columns but your textual content is in one, you can easily split your text with just a few clicks of the mouse. These features are found in the Layout menu.

The Mini Bridge tool allows you to load linked content (images) from a separate InDesign document (.indd). That’s very useful, because you can just drag the images that you need instead of hunting for them. Plus, you can just auto fit them so that they look like they truly belong there. Other than that, you can use the new gap tool that enables you to re-size images in a certain frame with the gaps between the images in mind. That proves to be of great use if you just want to bring more attention to one image by enlarging it.

There are lots of other features unique to InDesign, but the main point I’m trying to make is that they’re generally going to be text-layout-based. InDesign is awesome for multi-page projects where you have a lot of text content. It gives you near infinite control of the layout and typography. Photoshop will cover all your graphic elements, but InDesign is what you’ll want to use for text and general layout.


And last but not least, with the invention of the iPad, people tend to use digital magazines. And that’s exactly why InDesign allows you to create interactive magazines as well. You can animate images and text, add music, and even videos.

Since you can create animation, you also have the option to export your animated content as .swf or even .fla files so that you can work on them with the help of Flash. Again, that proves that Adobe does its best to integrate all of their products.


You can switch quite easily from Photoshop mastery to Adobe Indesign expertise. There’s a small learning curve, but if you’ve lived most of your design life in Photoshop, you’ll be amazed to see how familiar the overall interface is. If your job involves creating magazines, booklets, or even brochures, you need to immediately invest a day or two in learning InDesign, because it’ll save you a whole lot of time that would otherwise be spent meddling in the wrong Adobe software for the job.

Did you start with Photoshop and master InDesign later? How did you make the transition? Do you use both applications together for certain projects and purposes?

  • Caren Lipkin

    Editors–what were you thinking by even publishing this post?? Photoshop and InDesign are in no way the same tool. Photoshop is a photo manipulation and illustration tool. InDesign, while it has some illustration capabilities, is a page layout and assembly tool. Yes, the interface is similar between the two because both software packages have been built and created by Adobe, but they have been designed for very different and specific uses. Photoshop was NEVER meant to be a page layout tool. Anyone who “transitions” to using InDesign from Photoshop for page layout is doing themselves (as well as their clients and vendors) a great disservice and needs to go back to square one and learn about the capabilities and features of the software and what it is really meant to do.

  • Mary

    I don’t know why anyone would switch and not use both programs and who would try to do a brochure in Photoshop anyway?

  • I learned on the job. When people brag about the ease of Photoshop and InDesign, I tell them that I used the former before it had layers and the latter when it was still Pagemaker. I was lucky that Adobe made great tutorials because I had to produce a 52-page layout without ever having touched InDesign. I was well versed in Photoshop, but having worked as a student journalist I knew they both had different purposes. Every time we get new publications staff I encourage them to learn both, but generally they will learn one or the other for whatever reason.

    • Tara Hornor

      Wow! That’s incredible that you learned on the fly…nothing like a looming project and deadline for learning a program from top to bottom. :)

  • Amy

    Great article on how to use Photoshop and InDesign together. I just thought I’d point out that they should never be used as a replacement for one another. Photoshop is for photos. InDesign is for page layout.

    Example: You wouldn’t ever want to layout your type in Photoshop. That is not what it is made for. It is clunky, RAM intensive and you aren’t given the full library of fonts via Photoshop. It is however, perfect for photos! Stick to Photoshop to create your layout graphics/photos/backgrounds in and then place them into InDesign, they will be linked and if they need updating, you can do so in their native program and update your links via InDesign after you make your changes. Then to do all your typography/text layout (magazines/brochures, etc) inside of InDesign.

    On a side note, you could also incorporate Adobe Illustrator into the mix as well. I do alot of my headlines/Titles with Illustrator as it handles them the best, especially if working with warps and bezier curves! These three programs are a trio of gold when doing a multi page layout design.

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