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  • Mikelle Drew

Photoshop or Illustrator for Fashion Design: Which Should I Learn?

Updated: Jul 28, 2022

“Should I learn Illustrator or Photoshop if I’m a fashion designer?” I get this question regularly, at least once per month, sometimes more. And it’s an important question to consider when you’re pressed for time, money and resources. Many students need to get their skills up-to-date in a hurry and need to understand which software makes the most sense for their day-to-day tasks. They also don’t want to spend money learning a program that they don’t need.

The answer for most fashion designers is pretty straightforward: learn Illustrator. Except, there is a “but”. It also depends on your job description or title and your level of seniority. Here’s how a typical conversation might go.

Student: Mikelle, I need to learn Adobe for Fashion Design, but I’m not really sure which class to take. Do I learn Illustrator or Photoshop? Which is more important? Do I need to learn both?

Me: For most apparel people, particularly if you’re in ready-to-wear, the majority of us will spend a large portion of our day using Illustrator. From drawing to making tech packs to creating line sheets, Illustrator is the ‘go to’ program for all of this. You can flat sketch, fill the sketches with color and pattern, add text, create layouts, and save files as single or multi page PDF documents. Assistants, associates and even senior level designers all use the program regularly.

Student: So it sounds like the answer is clear. I just need to learn Illustrator, right?

Me: Well, . . . here’s where your seniority level comes into play. When you’ve moved past Senior Designer and into the role of Creative or Design Director, you might decide that Photoshop is the better option for you.

As a Director, you’re setting the tone for the brand, the season and/or a division. A lot of time goes into researching trends, shopping the market, watching the runway and pulling together visuals of what all of these resources mean for your team and how they work to tell your story. Here is where Photoshop becomes a wonderful asset. You can crop pictures, add interesting filters, tweak colors, remove backgrounds from photos, correct flaws or inconsistencies, lighten or darken pictures, and layout your photos on a board. In addition, if you’re someone who likes to add fashion illustrations to your presentations to give an overall look or feeling, Photoshop can be a great tool to add some quick color.

Student: So, I learn Illustrator until I move into a director position. Got it!

Me: It’s still not that cut and dry. Take lingerie designers, for instance. They work with laces day in and day out. You can scan a lace and try to use it as is with Illustrator, but you’ll have a lot more options and much more flexibility if you learn a few Photoshop tricks to help you edit or recolor it.

Footwear and accessory designers also use scanned fabrics to show more realism and texture in their drawings. Again, Photoshop tools like Adjustment Layers, Healing brushes, Content Aware, Dodge and Burn tools all can play a role in creating seamless textures and a more dimensional appearance.