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Photoshop vs. InDesign: Which Is Better For Album Design?

By Emily Cariaga on August 26th 2013

Photoshop or InDesign – which one to use for wedding album designs? This is an age-old question that has been debated by photographers on various forums for years. Photoshop addicts claim that anything can be done in Photoshop, while InDesign lovers remind us that InDesign was built groundup as a layout tool.

In this article by Modern Album Designs, we will discuss the pros and cons of both software in respect to their use for designing wedding albums. (And don’t forget to enter their Free Album Giveaway here!)

[REWIND: Check out 5 Keys to a Modern Album Design]


Pros of Photoshop:

Most photographers already own a copy and know how to use it:
Most photographers already own (and know how to use) Photoshop. This is a big “pro”, because there is no need to invest more time and money into something new. This is also probably why many album companies offer their album templates in a PSD format.

With Photoshop, editing and retouching images can be done directly:
During the album design process, chances are you might need to adjust some of your images. These adjustments can be as simple as brightness or color adjustments, or as complex as swapping people’s heads. If you design using Photoshop, all the image enhancement tools are right there for you to use. Furthermore, your design style might require you to create complex cross-gradient fades and other special effects…..again, you can do it all without interrupting your design workflow.

Advanced JPEG and RGB capabilities:
Digital images are bitmaps, and Photoshop is a software built to handle bitmaps. Most album companies and labs require you to submit JPEG files for printing, and Photoshop has scores of options in generating JPEG images. InDesign, on the other hand, has a history of limitations (and difficulties) in generating JPEGs….so much so that most advanced users chose to export to PDF first before sending the PDF document into Photoshop to do a final JPEG conversion. Even with the latest InDesign CS5, users are not able to select image interpolation methods for their JPEG exports.

Cons of Photoshop:

Layout capabilities limited since it was not built as a layout software:
As mentioned above, Photoshop is a software built to handle bitmaps – it was not built to specialize in layouts. Thus, many useful tools that one would expect to use during the design process are either missing or hard to use within Photoshop (e.g. alignment tools, text wrapping, etc.)

Once images are sized down, you can’t (shouldn’t) size it up again:
Size an image down within Photoshop and the software will remove actual pixel information….thus, if you made a boo-boo and downsized an image during layout, you would need to drag in the original image again. (We hope you already know why you should not size an image up once you sized it down….).

Images are embedded into the files:
When you place an image into a Photoshop canvas, it will actually place all the image data into that document. There are two side-effects to this: 1) The document size will be very large after you place a few images in. 2) If you decide to use another software (or another person/company) to modify the images, you would need to manually replace the old images with the new modified images. (more on this when we discuss InDesign below)

Each file can store a single page:
Each Photoshop PSD document stores only a single page (spread) for your layout. Thus, if you have 50 spreads, you will end up with 50 files. To re-arrange your layout, you would need to rename multiple files.


Pros of InDesign:

InDesign is designed as a layout tool:
A simple statement, yet it has powerful undertones. With a layout tool, you get access to many features that Photoshop users would die for. Ever tried to populate a grid of 16 photos in Photoshop? Wrap a paragraph of text around an image? These are child’s play for InDesign.

Images are “linked” and not stored:
When you place an image into InDesign, the software only places a low-res version of that image into the document, and then stores the path to the original image. This has several implications. First, the file sizes are dramatically smaller – thus, allowing you to manipulate the layout faster. Second, feel free to size the image up and down, and back up again…it doesn’t matter since InDesign is not utilizing the original high-res image until you export. Lastly, and perhaps most useful, you can use another software (or person/company) to modify the album images and have InDesign automatically “re-link” the modified images into your layout.

A single file can contain multiple page layouts:
A single InDesign file can hold multiple pages. Thus, your entire album layout is contained in a single file. Want to re-arrange the position of the pages? Simply drag them into the right order….no need to rename multiple files.

Easy to generate PDFs:
Just as Photoshop is very comfortable with JPEGs, InDesign is very comfortable with PDFs. Many press book companies work with PDFs directly (think Blurb) and have strict requirements for PDF output. Again, a piece of cake for InDesign.

Cons of InDesign:

Most photographers don’t know (or own) InDesign:
If you don’t own InDesign, you would need to spend money to purchase the software, and you would need to spend time in learning how to use it. You might not have the money or time budget for either.

Limited image enhancement capabilities:
InDesign has limited capabilities to modify/enhance images, but beyond that, you would need to use another software (most likely Photoshop) to further process the image. This means that you would need to interrupt your design workflow, open up Photoshop, do the necessary adjustments, save the image as a different file, and re-import it into InDesign.

Limited JPEG output options:
As mentioned earlier, InDesign has had a troubled history with JPEG exports. The latest InDesign CS5 hopes to solve most of that, but the verdict is still out as to whether JPEG exports are reliable or not.

The Final Verdict:

As with most things in life, there is no clear winner to this battle. Both Photoshop and InDesign are powerful tools and they each serve a purpose in album design. If you own Photoshop and do not own InDesign, and you’re too busy to learn it, stick with Photoshop. But if you already own InDesign and you happen to have some spare time, then by all means, play around with the software. Try it out on your next album design and see if you like it. Lastly, don’t forget that Modern Album Designs supports both Photoshop and InDesign for our album designs.

Other Options?

But wait! What about specialized album design software such as Photojunction, FotoFusion, JAD, and other various template-based tools?? While those are not within the scope of this article, if you do own copies of those, you should certainly use the above comparison points to see how it stacks up against Photoshop and InDesign.


Click here to join our giveaway for a Free Album by Modern Album Designs. Don’t wait, it ends August 31st, 2013!

This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, however, this does not impact accuracy or integrity of our content.

Emily is a Lead Photographer at Lin and Jirsa Photography in Orange County, CA. She loves kittens, camping and sleeping in.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Veeramani Masilamani

    I think Photoshop is better , i have created my wedding photo album with Albumkart Chennai , They are good experienced People, i am very happy with their services

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  2. kesztió

    Highly recommend Photoshop for thesis typing as well. As Photoshop has text editing capabilities (though somewhat limited ones, LOL), this idea is just a little bit more stupid than the original one about using it for album layout design…

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  3. patchas

    I have used all, and I mean all, the scrapbooking programs, and the BEST by far is Fotofusion by Lumapix. It is powerful but easy to use, and very flexible. It is not a photo editor like Photoshop, but you can do everything you need to produce a professional looking photo album. There are several versions to choose from and the price is reasonable. I love it and would never use anything else.

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  4. Ether

    Hi Ms. Cariaga, I appreciate your effort in writing up this comparison, but as commenter Dov stated, I believe you are comparing apples & oranges.

    Others can chime in, but just a quick run down of the problem I have with this list of pros & cons and which one I find invalid:

    Photoshop Pro #1: most photographers have a copy
    – Who doesn’t want to save money? But the fact that photographers have been using Photoshop as a workaround in creating albums doesn’t mean it’s the best way to go. As someone who designs & layouts a 40+ page monthly publication for a living, I can attest to the amount of time saving you’ll get with InDesign than just using Photoshop alone, and it doesn’t require a top-of-the-line computer.

    Photoshop Pro #2: editing & retouching directly; no workflow interruption
    – As a purely layout program, InDesign has no bitmap editing or retouching features. But if that can be count against InDesign, I guess you can say the same thing about Bridge or even Lightroom then. Switching back & forth between Photoshop/Illustrator & Bridge/InDesign/Lightroom (take your pick) is actually part of the publication layout design workflow.

    Photoshop Pro #3: Advanced JPEG and RGB capabilities
    I can be wrong here, but in InDesign, when you export JPGs, you have the following options: Quality, FOrmat Method, Resolution, Color Space, Color Profile Embedding, Anti-alias, etc. What others are required? (I really don’t know, since all album places I’ve dealt with will take my JPGs + InDesign file or a PDF.)

    Photoshop Con #2: Once images are sized down, you can’t (shouldn’t) size it up again
    I think by converting to a Smart Object from the beginning can solve this problem.

    Photoshop Con #4: Each file can store a single page
    It’s an image-manipulation program, not a layout program!

    InDesign Con #1: Most photographers don’t know (or own) InDesign
    Yeah, but when Lightroom (or even Photoshop) first came out, no one use that as a con against it. If you say it has a steep learning curve, then I may go along.

    InDesign Con #2: Limited image enhancement capabilities
    How about change it to “NO image enhancement capabilities whatsoever”? It’s a layout program.

    InDesign Con #3: Limited JPEG output options
    See “Photoshop Pro #3” above.

    The way I see it is, Photoshop is where the magic happens for each individual photo, and InDesign is where you take those photos and organize them for publishing. Putting an album together using Photoshop alone has been a workaround for most photographers, since most photographers are not familiar with InDesign or other layout programs.

    An article comparing various layout programs or a workflow tutorial on using a layout program may be more relevant here.

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  5. Chris

    Actually, the way links work in InDesign means that you don’t have to re-import an adjusted image. A change to the photo file you used to place into your design can be synced, updating your InDesign layout.

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  6. Iain Munro

    Hi There

    Just thought I would chime in with a couple of comments.

    Why not compare Microsoft Word with Photoshop ?

    Not sure why you would even think about comparing Photoshop with InDesign – there are completely different pieces of software, but work together very well.

    Like Photoshop, InDesign is a Powerhouse when it comes to document layout, management etc.

    When it comes to images, you can directly place a PSD file into an InDesign document by linking to it – as the Image changes, your document updates – that is a cool feature.

    I am currently working on an iPad Magazine for Apple’s Newsstand called iPad Photography & Lightroom Editing – guess what I am using to layout out the magazine ? let me say it is not Photoshop.


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  7. Jeni

    When you want to edit an image you have placed in InDesign, you have the option of right-clicking and editing with Photoshop. Once you save the change, it’s in your InDesign file. It’s not as hard as it sounds in your article. It’s not necessarily an ‘interruption’ as stated here, more like a one click step in your workflow…
    The biggest thing to remember is to not be afraid to play with the programs! Learn them. Watch tutorials, read books.

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  8. Dov

    Wow im sorry but this is just stupid your comparing apples to oranges and justifying it because photographers probably don’t know indesign.

    Photoshop is a program for editing images its not designed to do page layout its text options and are limited as is its ability to use structured objects. Yes you can do a CD/DVD cover or a page but do a whole book would be a pain.

    Indesign is a page layout program its not supposed to improve your images you fix those problems in Photoshop or some other editor just as you create structured objects like logos in Illustrator. You put all that together in indesign because its a page layout program thats what it does best. as for learning it just do a google search for tutorials indesign and your set its really not hard to learn and use at all.

    Being a good photographer or being good at book design are not mutually the same thing. Your results may vary.

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    • L. A.

      In your comment you’re actually repeating exactly what (at least part of it) Emily said in her article: photoshop is a bitmap (hear photo) editing program and Indesign is a page layout program. This comparison is perfectly valid, not because of the actual merit of photoshop as a page layout tool but because in the photography world it is actually used to design album spreads and because (many if not most) photo/print labs actually require you to upload your spreads as JPEGs.

      It’s like you’ve never heard of a tool being repurposed for something it wasn’t originally designed for. That’s what creativity and the power of human imagination is all about, and photographers have done an amazing job creating amazing albums to the satisfaction of their clients with photoshop (which in the end is the most important)…

      But just a bit of etiquette: you either like the article or you don’t. you either agree with what she said or you don’t. And if you don’t, it’s your right to express your opinion and add your voice to the conversation. However respect and politeness are not optional. Maybe you’re an “Indesign Purist” but imagine someone calling you stupid (or any other name) just because you don’t know the proper usage of “your” vs “you’re”, and “it’s” vs “its”.

      And just for the record I own and I do know how to use both programs, and I do prefer Indesign for page layout: it makes on the fly adjustments of your layouts much easier (that’s its purpose after all). However I don’t ignore that some photographers have been in the game for a while and they have their own photoshop workflow set with a ton of predesigned templates where they can just drop their pictures into clipping mask and be done building an album in no time.

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