I was debating with my students this week about which software to submit their files in for my package design class. A few advantages of InDesign I see are as follow:

  • The capability of creating mixed swatches with Pantones.
  • The ability to customize the links panels so I can see right away which files and in what color mode and resolution, etc.
  • Better type management, and in many languages.
  • Getting a warning if I have overset text.
  • Possibility of lowering the display performance if the file is heavy

After checking opinions on a few forums, it seems Illustrator is the preferred choice for package design. I've also freelanced in an agency specialized in package design and all their stuff was in Illustrator but after discussing, this seems to have been due to habit and the investment it would have required to switch everything to InDesign...

Am I missing something that makes the industry prefer Illustrator over InDesign? What would be the pros and cons of using Illustrator vs. InDesign for package design?

  • 1
    I produced packaging for Northern Foods (Foxes, Elkes, Paynes etc) and they insisted on Illustrator. They required the ability to go in at repro and tweak elements - especially important for transparent film work where full colour, shadows, vignettes are tricky to print. Generally I aimed for solid colours to avoid these issues although you can still get creative - example: goo.gl/dikwQQ and the vector base pattern goo.gl/wYo9eb . Illustrator is harder to learn / use BUT its a required skill so worth the investment. Feb 23, 2018 at 10:32
  • I would use Illustrator for individual elements and then InDesign to bring it all together Feb 23, 2018 at 15:52

5 Answers 5


Some printers require files to be submitted in Illustrator format, so ultimately it will come down to vendor requirements. However, I think of Illustrator and Photoshop as tools to generate layout resources, and InDesign as the best way to efficiently assemble those resources. Illustrator is great for creating the die cut and score template as well as all of the vector-based assets, but it is weak in areas where InDesign excels. Unless your vendor states otherwise, there is no reason not to get the most out of both platforms.


As someone who's worked for and with multiple print shops,

From my personal experience everything is done in Illustrator and Photoshop.

Mostly Illustrator with Photoshop elements inside of it, as it is the most popular format to prepare for print. Illustrator and Photoshop are the program you want to use to create things in because they have the highest amount of support for pre-press.

Esko, which is the most popular pre-press software, creates it's plugins for Illustrator and Photoshop, not InDesign. If you're printing in bulk you're probably not using digital printing. If you're not using digital printing you're probably using Esko software. If you're using Esko software you need to use Illustrator and Photoshop for the Esko plugins to make sure you have proper trapping, color layering, color separation etc...

Also as joojaa pointed out

PDF generated by InDesign is fine but since the press does not exactly create pages as such but individual sheets many of the features of indesign are counter productive for the prepress work

You will find most shops will ask for an EPS, PDF, or AI file.

Side Note: Most artwork is sent in PDF format. (Because everyone and their grandma can look at it without special software)

Extremely rarely does anything come in as InDesign. (When that happens everyone hates it and I haven't seen any in that format in years.)

InDesign is great for books and pamphlets but not print or packaging.

  • Can you elaborate on what features Illustrator has for pre-press that InDesign doesn't?
    – curious
    Feb 23, 2018 at 16:05
  • @Emilie I'd added some more info on Esko for you. Feb 23, 2018 at 16:17
  • Ok, you might point out that a PDF generated by InDesign is fine but since the press does not exactly create pages as such but individual sheets many of the features of indesign are counter productive for the prepress work.
    – joojaa
    Feb 23, 2018 at 21:01
  • @joojaa very good point I'll add that in later Feb 23, 2018 at 21:12

I've worked at as an in-house designer for a publisher with it's own very large press, as well as a designer and art director for larger agencies, creating work for international clients (coke, mcdonalds, lipton), and I think you are spot on in your assessment of the programs & their use.

  • Illustrator is excellent for vectors, which is what printers are all about, but sucks at handling raster images.
  • Photoshop isn't ideal for print stuff, but people accomodate it due to it's widespread use as the #1 design program.
  • Indesign isn't a great creation tool, but does a great job at consolidating color profiles, keeping working vectors & laying out images. It's especially great for packaging because it's masters allow the creation of templates for consistency across product labels.
    • I've actually experienced situations where printers prefer illustrator exclusively because of the preflight plugins for it. Realistically, its more laziness because they can just as easily make any prepress adjustments off an appropriately exported PDF.

My name is Gil, Designer and a print production guy for the last 25 year I will sum it like that: Illustrator is printers choice because you have plugins and apps like ESKO or ORIGAMI or ENGView or IC3D (which works with Indesign as well)that handles the trapping and the proof process of a package. Illustrator has a cloud of fans because no one has been there before them.

Although there is no built-in preflight, no info about images and no way to find overset text without looking, the industry got used to it and "ESKO" is the Adobe of the Packaging industry. That said, Indesign produces PDFs just as weel, it plays better in the global market has it can be localised using Cat tools (translators can work with indesign files easily), it has all the preflight you can think of, it has better text tools and can easily generate data based packaging.

Why everyone is using photoshop? Illustrator or Indesign? Adobe is kind of a monopoly, especially in Israel where type is written from right to left - not all companies invest in supporting hebrew or arabic (hebrew is 8-15 million people, while arabic is almost a billion world wide) There for, for now, ESKO rules, Illustrator rules but Indesign is smarter, better tool. As a printer, you should get a print ready file. But because not every designer can supply a package ready for real printing, there are bunch of people that work in a package PrintHouse that "fixes" all the client mistakes. If a plugin like "ESKO" or IC3d which does work with Indesign, will grab more market share, I am sure that Indesign will become the main tool for Handling Package variation (not design). The designers will do what ever they need to do in order to create stunning design and then they will create the full package in Indesign including Localisation or data based design, and tools like IC3d will create samples and mockups and trapping and folding and all the stuff needed not to make mistakes in this packaging industry!


My family owns a very large wholesale printing company. They print offset, digital, die cut, UV coat, you think it, they do it. I'm pretty sure my blood smells like ink and is CMYK Positive. That is the question they get the most. And I have heard the same response over and over again. PDF, 300 dpi. Now, if you need help, the print shop will help you at an hourly fee. And they will probably work with any file since they know them all and will end up converting it to a PDF in the end anyway. Lastly, you may want to tell your students it's very important to run their designs through some sort of spelling check thing since my favorite game while running around the shop was "Find the typo's in this flyer". It happens soooo often. The prepress person checks the file but they don't check for spelling. When younger my brother was a world renowned graphic designer but he stopped designing because running the printing company required him 24/7 and made him more money. He uses Illustrator.

  • How does this address the "Illustrator or Indesign" question? Maybe I'm missing it.
    – Scott
    Apr 3, 2023 at 18:52

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