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I see people in Youtube tutorials all the time design business cards in Photoshop using sometimes "Branding stationery templates" which they found online on sites that offer free design templates which is the quickest way to design business cards.

Others however also use Photoshop's feature "Smart objects" with these templates, but why is this?

Should I be really designing business cards or any stationery items in Illustrator or Photoshop?

I find it very difficult to design business cards in Illustrator. I often find that I have to do too many steps and use too many features or tools to get the job done.

What am I doing wrong?

  • You shouldn't be using Photoshop. But note its really hard to comment on what you are talking about. Most of the branding templates are in fact mock-ups, yeah you would do that in Photoshop. Note that mock-ups are about selling your design. As to why you feel there more workings in illustrator seem weird. The amount of work is same in mostly any application. But hard to say your question is not answerable as it is. – joojaa May 6 '17 at 7:08
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    InDesign if you have it available, otherwise Illustrator. Photoshop can also work, but not ideal. – Lucian May 6 '17 at 8:47
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Use whatever works.

With software capabilities today, there is no empirical reason any one app is better than another.

As long as you pay attention to print specifications - proper bleeds, proper PPI, etc. It really does not matter which app you choose to use. They will all save or export to a PDF/X-1a file which is the standard for offset printing.

Now, application choice can come down to what you are designing.

If your business card is full of photos and glows and "effects", then Photoshop may be a viable choice. It would allow a user to retain all those effects on layers without the hassle of updating linked assets. But you would sacrifice some ease of editing for future cards. That may not be a concern though. (In addition, recent versions of Photoshop offer linking anyway as well as smart objects -- and not all smart objects are vector-based).

If your business card has no photos on it, then Photoshop is generally a poor choice, being raster based. Illustrator or InDesign may be a better option due to the object-oriented nature of the elements and editing. In addition, being vector-based. Indesign and Illustrator will handle things like logos better, assuming the logos are not "photographic".

If you are configuring a lot of cards for a business where names will continually filter in and new cards will constantly be needed, then InDesign may be a better choice. The robust type functionality which exists in InDesign is unmatched in Illustrator or Photoshop, and dealing with constantly changing files is a far more manageable task with InDesign.

If your card is illustrative in nature, then Illustrator may be a better application. The ability to draw intricate artwork or logos as well as transform vector elements (and keep them vector) can be beneficial at times. Updating future cards is not as problematic in Illustrator as it is in Photoshop, but then it may not be as easy as InDesign would be.

InDesign's assent management (linking and master pages) are somewhat irrelevant in my opinion. Photoshop has Smart Objects rather than master pages. Illustrator has Symbols rather than master pages. And both Photoshop and Illustrator will allow you to link to external files so autoupdates occur when those external files change. They all require different set ups, but the same thing is absolutely possible in any of the three applications.


In the end, it's the final press-ready art that is important, not which application you use to get to that art.


It shouldn't be, but if file size (kb) is a concern, InDesign Illustrator and Photoshop will each result in files of different sizes (kb). InDesign will generally be the smallest file size where Photoshop will generally be the largest. But.. for print project, file size really should not be a concern at all. Quality should be.

  • Excellent answer. I think my answer below has worth, and suggests a useful workflow, and one I've employed for more then ten years of business card design, but this is overall the better answer. – mayersdesign May 6 '17 at 8:31
  • I'm not against inDesign workflow if warranted. But, there's no mandatory reason InDesign is the "best" option - or "gold standard" as you put it. (I didn't down vote by the way). -- I've got more business cards under my belt than I could possibly count. For one user, making their own card or making 3-5 cards... InDesign may be unwarranted entirely. – Scott May 6 '17 at 8:33
  • Just to clarify I don't think its mandatory either, and I admit "gold standard" is stretching it. But it does remain Adobe's premier print solution. And business cards are printed materials. But as I said, your answer "they all work" is correct, they all do. – mayersdesign May 6 '17 at 9:17
  • @mayersdesign thats just it indesign does not really grant tools for printing itself the printer reads PDF most likely. Just management of assets on a more robust level. Its not more premiere than anything else just meant for industrial use. – joojaa May 6 '17 at 9:20
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    Clearly if you know InDesign better, that's going to be your preference. Just as the user asking the question states they know Photoshop better. So, they'd rather use that. If you know them all equally, it honestly does just come down to what you need to be able to do in terms of design. – Scott May 6 '17 at 9:46
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I urge you to consider InDesign, since InDesign is Adobe's print layout program that is best suited to producing press-ready PDF's with bleed etc in my opinion.

But of course you can easily get by with either Illustrator or Photoshop depending mostly on the general type/design of the card I suppose.

Those two programs "cross over" a fair amount, but try to keep in mind that Illustrator is a vector editor that is suited to text and vector graphics. Perhaps OK for typographic based cards, or cards with simple logos and gradients.

As soon as you need a "photo" on those cards you "have" to jump to Photoshop.

There are no hard rules, but I think a true pro might use this workflow:

  • Open Adobe InDesign and setup a document for the business card with the required bleed.
  • "Place" the clients logo (which is a vector file created in Illustrator).
  • Design and layout the text directly in InDesign (it has great tools for kerning etc).
  • The client wants his photo on the card. So open his photo in Photoshop and get rid of his wrinkles, save the file.
  • Again "place" this file into the InDesign document. (If you update either of these placed elements in future they will auto-update in InDesign)

That imaginary project is the ideal scenario in my opinion.

Incidentally "Smart objects" are (generally) vector graphics being used inside Photoshop.

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    Illustrator is fine for one two page documents like business card. Also has better tools than inDesign in terms of workflow in this case. InDesign requires you to often split work across several applications. – joojaa May 6 '17 at 7:10
  • @joojaa So is Microsoft Paint, but we might as well try and explain the best case scenarios :) – mayersdesign May 6 '17 at 7:12
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    No illustrator is the best case scenario in the case of bueiness card. Indesign is best case scenario for a bigger publication that needs hierarchical structure to get done. InDesign is OK for this though. – joojaa May 6 '17 at 7:13
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    InDesign can use master pages for company batch runs of cards as well, but in the end we'll have to agree to differ. They can both do a perfect job. By gold standard I am referring to the pedantic fact that Illustrator is "for" vector graphics, Photoshop "for" raster, and InDesign "for" print. But as we both know those lines are so blurred that in the end the program in which the designer is most proficient would likely be the best choice. – mayersdesign May 6 '17 at 7:23
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    @LaurenIpsum Window -> Variables (hamburger menu) -> Load variable library. Now once uppon a time this could load csv directly but Adobe killed the function because they wanted people to use inDesign So to import list easily you need Variable importer Altough making XML files isn't that hard but saves a bit of headache. Then just use the built in script to export each list row as separate PDF. – joojaa May 6 '17 at 13:25

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