For 35 years, Adobe has been behind the must-have software for visual creatives. Each program offers a wide slate of options and tutorials, catering to skill levels from beginners to longtime pros. The Adobe Suite makes digital design possible for everyone, from marketing professionals to three-dimensional artists. Each program brings your mental images to life, with intuitive tools that enable the ideas to take shape more quickly than ever before. And Adobe’s offerings are always updating, ready to provide you with the most cutting-edge capabilities in each field of design.

Image from Jing Wei's Skillshare Original, Digital Illustration: Streamlining with Adobe Tools
Image from Jing Wei’s Skillshare Original, Digital Illustration: Streamlining with Adobe Tools

Which Adobe Program Suits Your Needs?

Photoshop is easily Adobe’s best-known application. This powerful program is where many creatives start when learning online image production in general. In some cases, it will serve as the prime program in your project; in others, you may combine Photoshop with Illustrator or Lightroom. This work can include 2D and 3D designs and character modeling.

Figuring out which program is best for a project can be confusing for a beginner. Let’s take a brief look at the most popular programs and databases currently offered in the Adobe catalog.

  • Adobe Acrobat: You’ve likely used some version of Acrobat to read, manipulate, and send PDF documents. The software, which has multiple free and paid versions, is enormously popular, even among those outside of creative industries.
  • Adobe Photoshop: When you want to manipulate photos—especially beyond standard photo corrections—Adobe Photoshop is your best bet. You can do just about anything in Photoshop, from adding drop shadows to creating geometric designs to literally turning frowns upside down. (Seriously—try the liquify tool.)
  • Adobe Lightroom: Photographers love this program for its easy-to-sort file management, and most minor touch-ups occur in Lightroom before moving over to Photoshop for intricate edits. The program offers both mobile and desktop apps, and is great for quick photo edits on the go.
  • Adobe Illustrator: Great for creating logos, many types of designers work with Illustrator. Where Photoshop uses pixels to create images, Illustrator uses vector images—ones that can scale up or down in size without losing resolution or looking blurry. With Illustrator, you can learn digital painting or design garment flats, too. It’s a versatile program and can be a valuable part of any designer’s digital toolbox.
  • Adobe InDesign: Publishers of print and online publications use InDesign to create page layouts. The program allows designers to manage their page’s presentation and typography better than any other Adobe program.
  • Adobe XD: This vector-based design program, used primarily by user experience and user interface design professionals, helps lay out projects from mobile apps to websites. In XD, the creation process is an all-in-one experience.
  • Adobe Premiere Pro: Upgrades in recent years have made Adobe Premiere, a video editing software, one of the top programs of its kind. Its timeline-based workflow and multitude of options is especially well-suited for basic editing and standard video projects.
  • Adobe After Effects: Where Premiere leaves off with standard clip-style video editing, After Effects offers more creative options for video and filmmaking. This program creates stunning visuals and effects that you can’t generate anywhere else, with tools for animation or motion graphics.
  • Adobe Dimension: Dimension allows graphic designers to produce stunning 3D visuals that look just like photos. Product designers also love Dimension for its ability to bring campaigns, layouts, and visual concepts into view.
  • Adobe Dreamweaver: Website creators have used Dreamweaver for years now. They love its ability to quickly take a project from designing to coding to publishing.
  • Adobe Stock: Looking for high-grade images to work with? Consider Adobe Stock—not a program, but a database—as a viable alternative to Getty and Shutterstock. Adobe Stock’s photo options are far superior to the limited images found for free online.

Adobe also offers other programs as part of its Creative Cloud program, which includes online applications meant for audio recording, graphic animation, character animation, and much more. Adobe’s applications often feature add-ons that can be installed to help give the program an advantage over many others, and several of Adobe’s tools and programs for creatives have become industry changers. Whether you know it or not, Photoshop, Illustrator, and Lightroom have all changed the way we look at graphics, art, and photography. In fact, publications like Entrepreneur have stated that no matter what tech industry you’re going into, Adobe Photoshop is a must-have skill for success.

Premiere’s rapid rise in popularity is changing video editing, too, and skilled editors are in high demand.  As video continues to dominate online, Premiere video editing has become one of the most sought-after skills in the creative marketplace. The same can be said for many other skills that come from the Adobe Creative Suite, from graphic design to photo editing.

The key is to identify which market demands align with your interests and strengths. Just grab your laptop and get started. Once you begin, there’s a good chance you’ll find more programs you’ll want to master. For now, let’s explore learning Adobe from a broader perspective.

From Elizabeth Weinberg’s Skillshare Original, “Photo Editing: Cinematic Styles in Adobe Camera Raw”
From Elizabeth Weinberg’s Skillshare Original, “Photo Editing: Cinematic Styles in Adobe Camera Raw”

Learning to Use Adobe Programs

Whether you’re pursuing mastery of Adobe programs for career advancement or a passion project, think about what factors motivate you. Your “why” will help you push through the eventual pain points that come with learning complex programs and tools. Even with the vast number of resources out there, getting comfortable with the Creative Suite will take time and a good deal of practice—a fact that has kept many people from even attempting to learn Photoshop and other excellent programs. 

It’s understandable to be intimidated by a complex program, but the only way you’ll regret learning to use Adobe programs is if you give up along the way. Push past any short-term headaches and keep in mind the gains you will make from continuing on. Learning any program, Adobe or otherwise, requires motivation. Some choose to learn for their careers, whether to expand their skills in a current role or help change industries altogether. Others decide to learn simply for the thrill of creating. Regardless of your goals, you’ll flourish as long as you remain dedicated. In no time, you can have a portfolio that lands you work in the freelance or full-time digital marketspace.

Try starting with Adobe classes directed at beginners to learn fundamentals that you’ll be able to build on later.  Aspiring logo designers will love Illustrator tutorials for beginners, while those interested in photo retouching will benefit immensely from the many classes that spell out the fundamentals of Adobe Lightroom. (Even the greenest retoucher can learn the lingo, settings, and tools of the trade.) During your first few weeks, think about learning keyboard shortcuts to keep you working on the image instead of clicking. From there, work on nondestructive editing techniques. Soon enough, your small morsels of knowledge will come together in the form of full-fledged program mastery. 

Image from Lisk Feng’s Skillshare Original, “Creative Digital Illustration: Learn to Use Adobe Fresco”
Image from Lisk Feng’s Skillshare Original, “Creative Digital Illustration: Learn to Use Adobe Fresco”

Still, students of any Adobe program will eventually encounter some kind of difficulty. Some students may struggle with the most basic Photoshop tutorials at first, while others trip up on more advanced techniques like color correction and three-dimensional design. If you can push through these small frustrations, the skills you learn will only make your completed creative designs that much more impressive, so focus on incremental gains. Just keep practicing and making designs until each lesson begins to feel like second nature. Once you’ve had time to learn and apply a program’s basic functions, you’ll be much better equipped to explore its deeper capabilities, from creating intricate 3D designs to photo retouching like a pro. 

The best instructors understand the importance of teaching the basics while piquing your interest with more elaborate tips like layers, complex tools, and more. After just a few courses, you may even find yourself wondering how to create advanced vector art with Illustrator, or feeling empowered to capture the exact surrealist scenario for your video’s big climax. Once you get going with Adobe, the options and tutorials are virtually endless. 

The bonus? Adobe’s features are constantly evolving to meet user needs, so you’ll never have to worry about your experience growing outdated as design evolves further into new mediums. Tasks that once took a great deal of time and attention in Adobe programs now take mere moments, and the Adobe Suite continues to improve with every update. Start with the fundamentals, and you’ll continue to build on them for the rest of your career.

Adobe for Artists

Illustrator is an incredible tool for creating your digital art, and is the preferred program for many Adobe users. Outside of editing photos, it serves as an incredible multi-use tool for artists. Like Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator makes all sorts of designs become reality.

Whether it’s abstract designs, digital painting, or even logo concepts, Illustrator has the capabilities to bring your imagination to life. Logo designers love the program just as much as comic artists do. As you learn to use Adobe for your art—whether you begin with Illustrator, Photoshop, Lightroom, or elsewhere—it’s key to remember several important points.

  • Color setting is key. Your color choices will change depending on your medium. What works best on the web may not be the same as a print campaign’s top colors. On a screen, each user’s experience will vary depending on their system preferences and browser. When designing for the web, be sure to always use RGB (Red, Green, Blue) color settings. For print work, CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) is still the preferred choice—despite printers now being capable of printing in either color setting.
  • Pay attention to image size and quality. High-definition images require more pixels (color dots) per inch. This creates a larger file—one that can hinder a user’s web experience if it gets too big. Large files take time to load and are harder to store, so it’s key that you find a balance that maintains an image’s quality without making it an oversized file. If you feel like you may be venturing into this territory, convert your 16-bit images to 8-bit automatically by using the “Save for Web & Devices” option.
  • Your file format matters. Each image needs an appropriate file format. Without it, changes in image quality, file sizes, and even functionality can become an issue. In Photoshop, for example, a PSD saves your project for later editing. With 16-bit images, you have more choices, such as JPEG, PDF, RAW, PNG, and TIFF. With larger 32-bit images, you have fewer options capable of supporting the file—you’ll likely work with TIFF, PSB, or other options—and in some cases, your file will need to be compressed. When doing so, choose a technique and format to preserve your image quality. JPEG and ZIP are two of the more common techniques that may be familiar to novices, though there are others that also provide better quality preservation, depending on your needs.

Adobe’s art capabilities are immense and provide you with countless options. With an understanding of each program’s fundamentals, mastering more intricate projects will become much easier. With time, you will be creating art on any of the Adobe programs you prefer.

Use Adobe Illustrator for Digital Art

Join John Burgerman for his Skillshare Original, Digital Illustration: Doodles to Design.

Adobe for Designers

Some creatives tend to overlook Photoshop, Illustrator, and Lightroom as tools to create complex designs. But many graphic designers and other creative professionals actually heavily rely on these programs for some of their most intricate work. 

Photoshop is excellent for making mind-bending images, and Lightroom can make a typical photo look otherworldly. The same can be said for Illustrator, where vector images allow creatives to create patterns that appeal to fellow art lovers. Meanwhile, Premiere Pro and After Effects can combine to make progressive video clips that rival Salvador Dalí, and Dimension can build a bridge between the real world and your digitally rendered one. In some cases, logo designers will take their nearly completed works into Lightroom for a final touch-up and that extra something special. At other times, they may take their work into Camera Raw or even Premiere for a particular desired effect.

Each program’s myriad of options afford you many creative avenues, and Adobe’s versatility ensures that while you may need to learn a new program from time to time, you can typically opt not to and still achieve your intended outcome. Still, if you truly want the tools to execute any design vision, it’s highly suggested that you know the big three: Photoshop, Lightroom, and Illustrator.  Designing characters is an excellent example of a situation where a user can work with either Illustrator or Photoshop, but most of the best choices involve combining the two. Bringing both options into your workflow allows you to use each program’s best abilities for your project, helping your creative process grow more efficient and elevating your characters to a digital and print caliber that will catch viewers’ attention. 

You may be able to achieve this outcome without all of the three programs, but in the long run, you’ll limit yourself and your potential as an artist. Whether you aim to become a professional or are just looking to make cool designs for fun, all three will help you contribute to your goal—just make a plan and start learning.

Explore Graphic Design

Learn about color theory and expand your digital palette with Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop tips from designer Dominick Flask.

Adobe for Photographers 

Photographers use Adobe products just as much as any other creative, if not more. Separately, Adobe offers two excellent tools—Photoshop and Lightroom—for differing types of color correction and photo processing and editing. When combined, the programs create a dynamic duo that can make a good photo into a great one.Both programs work at bringing any subject to life in vivid ways. While many beginners think retouching work will involve mostly people and portraits, that’s just the beginning. Pretty much any photo that requires touch-ups can be used in Lightroom and Photoshop, and today, you can do it from your phone or on your desktop with both programs. 

“Lightroom is such an incredible, intense program,” says photographer Tabitha Park, whose tutorial on Lightroom is perfect for beginners. “There are so many things that you can do with it to really take your photos to the next level.” Lightroom can help you catalog your images for a lengthy project, culling the best ones from a day on set and applying basic edits along the way. Applying standard changes in Lightroom can also help you decide which images merit heavier edits and more attention, which is often where Photoshop comes in. 

Photoshop does more of the heavy lifting with photo edits—a lifesaver when the work needed exceeds the more basic capabilities of Lightroom, whether you’re salvaging a disaster photo shoot or restoring severely damaged old photographs. Photoshop’s ability to correct color, contrast, and other images nondestructively has made photographers’ lives easier for decades now. In fact, color correction is so prevalent that there are many tutorials available on just that.

A common photo edit in Photoshop is noise reduction, and Photoshop offers several methods from which to choose. You may prefer evaluating and adjusting your RGB channels. Or, you might opt for the Lab Color Mode option. And in some cases, you could even add more noise to negate the original noise. Once you understand widely usable concepts like noise reduction, or fundamentals like white balance, you should have minimal problems with more intricate edits. Photoshop allows you to edit out wayward hair strands, whiten teeth, and even remove bags under a person’s eyes with simple healing brush strokes and the content-aware tool. From there, you’ll be able to take your work to the next level by learning even more advanced concepts, such as frequency separation retouching.

Eventually, you’ll gain the know-how to efficiently make a cityscape pop in Lightroom or retouch a portrait in Photoshop. Regardless of the program you’re using, you should have a basic understanding of colors and how they work together. When it comes to more advanced topics like color correction, it’s best to understand more than just correcting your image’s colors. Instead, try to understand color grading as a whole.

Over time, the terms ‘color correction’ and ‘color grading’ have started to seem interchangeable, but color grading actually encompasses color correction as well as other artistic effects. Color grading can happen with film, video, images, and other imagery types, extending beyond Adobe’s digital reach and into earlier eras of image manipulation that a dwindling number of professionals still use. 

When editing your colors, try to avoid extremes. Going too far to the right or left on the histogram is usually a sign that your image is going to look over- or under-lit. Once you learn these tools, you can create stylish art that features these sorts of looks on purpose, but when studying beginner tutorials for Photoshop or Lightroom, avoid those outcomes until you understand the fundamentals.

Photo editing with Adobe is especially valuable when outside factors prevent a photo from reaching its full potential—an especially common problem in landscape photography. Scenery can be problematic even with the right lights, reflectors, and other equipment to combat the elements, and often the results will lack the original intention. However, these lackluster photos can still be elevated to high quality with the right editing maneuvers. Many advanced Lightroom tutorials can get you to a skill level where you can save almost any image.

Learning how to retouch your photos in Adobe is a lifesaver for many photographers. It’s also a cash saver. In recent years, the company has shifted its pay model to a monthly bill. New learners can explore Adobe programs like Photoshop, Lightroom CC, and many others for a small monthly fee. When you feel ready to expand your studies to more programs, they offer bundle packages for just a few dollars more.

With a little time and a modest monetary investment, you can quickly master the art of Photoshop and edit like a professional photographer. From there, continue to expand your knowledge and comprehension. Delve into the specifics you find especially compelling. Do the same for the problems that you find coming up often. Master the common techniques of basic and advanced editing. Soon enough, your photos can go beyond emulating other professional works: Instead, they’ll become your own personal style and brand. All it takes to get there is a desire to learn and a bit of persistence.

Get Started with Adobe Lightroom

Follow along as photographer Tabitha Park offers help with the most basic techniques for viewing and editing your images.

Why the Adobe Suite Is Essential for Creatives

By now it should be clear that learning Adobe programs is an essential part of success for most creative professionals. Over the years, Adobe has listened to its users and competitors on how to make the most appealing, efficient creative products out there today, and if you aren’t working with Adobe, you may not be reaching your full digital potential.

The first few lessons may leave your head spinning. That’s normal. Adobe’s steep learning curve certainly can be overwhelming, but staying motivated and persistent will eventually pay off. Push through difficult lessons and never be afraid to watch a tutorial multiple times over—especially when learning the fundamentals of any program. 

Continue studying and applying your newfound knowledge. Don’t be afraid to interact with other classmates and communities. Pick their brains, ask for tips, and learn from everything around you. Doing so will cement your comprehension of the fundamentals needed to succeed in all forms of digital design.

There has never been a better time to learn about the Adobe Creative Suite. Freelancers and full-time creatives alike can benefit from learning about these key products in their industries. With the demand for skills like video editing and photo manipulation at an all-time high, now is the time to learn. You never know where it could take you in a relatively short amount of time.

Start studying today, and before long you could land that new creative role you’ve been dreaming of for years. These skills have expanded beyond the narrow job market they covered a few years ago. From advertising to retouching to document processing, virtually every professional can benefit from a tutorial in Adobe. 

Start with an easy Photoshop class that introduces you to the Adobe Creative Suite. Or, jump into the most applicable program to your interests. From there, amass your sources of information, and refer to them regularly. Make Adobe tutorials an everyday part of your process. As you become more advanced, revisit your lessons whenever you need a refresher. In time, you might even find yourself teaching a class to aspiring designers.

Regardless of your reason, now is the time to learn an Adobe program. With the vast expanse of options in front of you, the path to becoming an expert creative is within your reach. Start with your choice of fundamental online courses today.

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