Should I design business cards in InDesign, Illustrator or Photoshop?


Basically what the question says, what are the pro's and cons to using InDesign, Illustrator, or Photoshop for business cards?

Or is there something else you prefer to use?

7/10/2014 6:16:00 AM

Accepted Answer

Nice question!

In theory, any of those (plus others you haven't mentioned, like the open source alternatives Gimp and Inkscape) let you design a business card. If you are particularly proficient with one of them, you might want to consider going for that one to save time. While the three Adobe products have some similarities of use, they all require some learning time. If you have the time, I'd definitely recommend you pick one (spoilers: It's Illustrator).

InDesign's specific purpose is laying out printed materials. That's its strength, you can see it as a way of joining Photoshop and Illustrator elements into a new 'thing'. However, where it shines is with multiple pages (tools like text wrap are extremely powerful). The good thing is: It packages fonts and images all in one file, but the file size will generally also tend to be bigger, so in your case, it might be a bit of an overkill. Yes, you could use InDesign, but you will be missing drawing features.

Photoshop is best for creating and editing photos or raster images. Its main 'power' comes with its image manipulation possibilities. It is not made for printing. Think of it more as a way to edit pictures you want to then add into printing materials. So, you could use Photoshop, but then you'd have issues preparing the files for the printer.

Illustrator is used for illustrations, logos, and scalable graphics in general. It's also widely used in printing, but not for multipage documents like InDesign, as it has no support for master pages and it doesn't let you automate page numbers. Illustrator's drawing capabilities are closer to Photoshop, but 'better' for non-raster illustrations. You can do anything you can in Photoshop - illustration-wise - and you will be able to get everything ready for production in no time.

So, in short, I'd say most cards get designed in Illustrator. As Confused mentions, all printers will be happy with Illustrator files, there are plenty of examples you can follow and the result will just be, overall, better.

Some related posts you might find useful:

6/22/2018 1:29:00 AM

Lots of great answers but I'm surprised none of them have talked about batch production of business cards with data merge templates. Even if you're designing for a 2-person startup, with any luck a year or two down the line they'll be coming back to you for business cards for their 8 newly hired employees, then coming back a few years later with a much bigger budget as they open their Asia office...

Okay, maybe not at that scale... but happy recurring clients coming back for bigger variants on work they liked (delighted by your super-fast turnaround times) can really help keep the wolf from the door.

So a very strong case can be made for the following super-efficient workflow:

  • Layout and text in InDesign using data merge placeholders. You also benefit from InDesign-only text features, like:
    • excellent paragraph style/character style management
    • vertical alignment (so long text doesn't leave awkward uneven whitespace on that one card where the names are shorter than usual so it doesn't reach the end of the line)
    • inline objects, such as images (sometimes useful enter image description here)
    • GREP rules to auto-format things like titles/credentials, e.g. á´°á´¿ John Smith ᴾᴴᴰ
  • Any illustrative elements beyond simple lines and boxes in Illustrator then placed into the InDesign layout, since Illustrator's the best tool for that job. Icons, swooshes, decorations... Don't forget that InDesign's data merge can swap between image files including illustrator files based on a column in the source sheet if, say, you want different icons or logo variants for different departments.
  • Any photographs or other necessary raster images prepared in Photoshop then placed into the InDesign layout, since Photoshop's the best tool for that job. Again these can be swapped around if needed by data merge.
  • Variable text (names, job titles, email addresses) in a spreadsheet in the client's favourite spreadsheet package (usually Excel), which they update. This way, the person closest to that content is in charge of that content, it can be updated in the most efficient way by the person best placed to do the updating, and you can't be held liable for any typos in email addresses.

    • Very important: from Excel, export the sheet as a UTF-16 text file (.txt) before feeding it to Data Merge. Don't use any of Excel's CSV options - they do awful things to non-ASCII characters (e.g. accents), and Łukasz MÄ…czyÅ„ski won't be impressed to get a business card where several letters in his name are replaced by junk.
    • And be very careful if Arabic, Hebrew or any other right-to-left language is involved... This goes for anything involving Adobe software: Adobe simply isn't an internationally-minded company. It'll be fine in the UTF-16 text file, but Adobe might ruin it if the file isn't specially set up, and if you don't know the language, you might not notice, with terrible/hilarious results.

Sounds complicated? Not at all, it actually makes many things simpler:

  • You can change any illustration or photo in 1000s of business cards instantly. New logo means new cards for everyone in a 1000-strong company? No problem!
  • You're never trying to muddle through using a tool that's not the best tool for the job. Put down that InDesign pen tool, Illustrator paragraph styles panel and Photoshop text tool!
  • The only complication is going File > Place a couple of times per template.
  • You can produce perfect business cards for 1000s of people in minutes, and InDesign will tell you if any of the text for any individual doesn't fit.
  • You don't need to touch the content if you don't want to, so there's almost no risk of typos that are your fault. Just make sure that it's written into the contract that you're not responsible for any typos in the content they send you! If they do want proof-reading, make sure it's in the contract and the bill.