Adobe Basics


Adobe Basics

The Adobe Basics tutorial is designed to help iSchool students get familiar with the very basics of three popular Adobe programs Illustrator, InDesign, Photoshop:

  • Choosing a Program
  • How to Get Help
  • Creating new documents
  • Vector and Raster based images
  • Learning the Workspace
  • Common Tools
  • Exporting images

Adobe Creative Suite

Get to know Adobe: These programs are a part of the Creative Suite of products released by Adobe. The iTlab PC and Mac workstations have CS3 installed. The programs were released as a suite because they were intended to be used together. It is common use two or more programs while working on a complex project. Don't worry we'll learn about this work flow. Note on CS4 Tutorials: The iSchool currently offers CS3 on both PC and Mac computers. With the new release many of the CS3 tutorials on the Internet are taken down and replaced with CS4 information. Go ahead and watch the videos, if they don’t explicitly say the technique is only for CS4, the information will likely be applicable to CS3.

caption=from left to right the program icons represent Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Flash, Dreamweaver, Fireworks, Contribute, Aftereffects, Premier Pro, Soundbooth, Encore, Bridge, OnLocation

Which Program to Use


Illustrator is a versatile program for drawing vector-based graphics. These could be illustrations, diagrams, and other forms of artwork. This program has become increasing sophisticated since its introduction in 1986.You should choose to use Illustrator when you want to work primarily with vector drawing. This program offers the most robust set of drawing tools as well as layer manipulation, and color palettes. Heavy photo editing this is better done in Photoshop. Commercial artists often illustrator is used to create logos and identity art that can be applied to a numerous objects of various sizes like: product packaging, business cards, letterhead, signage and web graphics.[1]


InDesign is the successor of PageMaker acquired by Adobe in 1992, it was designed to compete with QuarkXPress. InDesign is a desktop publishing program generally used for creating print projects like flyers, posters, magazines, letters and signage. InDesign offers the most robust text and text formatting tools in the Creative Suite. Work with InDesign when you want to layout or design print documents or if you have a special text issue with a digital project. Using InDesign will give you more control than any Microsoft product for the artistic styling of text.[2]


This program is by far the most well known product in the Creative Suite it is used for numerous kinds of photo manipulation projects including portrait airbrushing, in landscape photo enhancements. Photoshop is a raster-based graphics editor. It is used most often to manipulate digital photographs composed of pixels. Photoshop can work with any pixel-based graphic, but you can’t edit vector-based graphics in their native format. The vector graphic would be converted to bitmap first. It is popular to use Photoshop to remove or add details to a photo to augment the image captured. Digital facsimiles of film photography techniques dodging and burning are popular. Photoshop delivers results in cloning information e.g. removing blemishes by covering them with clear skin or adding more clouds to the sky. As with all Adobe products mastery of layer manipulation is key to doing work efficient and effectively in Photoshop.[3]

How to Get Help

There are many ways to get help but part of learning Adobe products is using them. Use the Adobe documentation. The cost is free and the writing is clear.

  • Method 1: Open any Adobe program; in the welcome screen click ‘Getting Started’ and the Adobe documentation opens.
  • Method 2: Use the Adobe website version of the help documentation. If you need help with CS3 get to the livedocs and choose the program a program. The website version allow you to easily switch between programs without launching the application. The documentation and arrangement is identical to one another so follow the instructions about which topics to review.

Livedoc homepages for Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign
What to Read - If you’re just getting started then fully review the Getting Started, and Workspace topics. Within ‘Workspace’ read the Toolbox topic for an overview of what each tool does and how to use them.

Illustrator Photoshop InDesign
Getting Started Getting Started Getting Started
Workspace Workspace Workspace
Toolbox Tools Toolbox

Setting Up a New Document

  • Method 1: Open any Adobe program; in the welcome screen click one of the document profiles.
  • Method 2: Open any Adobe program, and close the welcome screen if it opens. In the workspace PC ‘File’ menu, Mac Application menu, then ‘New.’

To avoid heartache suggest following this rule of thumb:

  • Use the Print Document Profile for projects intended to be printed, which will have default sizing and units of measure in points.
  • Use the Web Document Profile for projects intended to be put online, this will also have default document sizing and units of measure in pixels.

Why? Print documents have a default CMYk color profile that corresponds to how colors are printed. or make a custom sizing and the CMYK color profile. RGB color profile for projects intended for the web. Web documents have a default RGB color profile. Learn more below.

Example of an InDesign New Document window.

Document Profiles & Color Models

These are more important than you might expect especially when printing your project.

Document Profiles
a document combines commonly used parameters such as the artboard size (size of a page), orientation (portrait or landscape), and color model and provide templates that give you a consistent basis to work from. You can choose from prebuilt presets for different kinds of projects like mobile, print, web, and video, or create and save your own custom presets.
Warning document profiles changed with the release of CS4
Color Models
Adobe uses color models to describe the colors of digital graphics. Each color model represents a different method for describing and classifying color. Learn more in Adobe LiveDocs Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign
An additive color model of red, green and blue which is most often used in photography and web graphics.[1]
A subtractive process color model.[2]

Units of Measure

Adobe programs give many choices of units of measure. - Adobe Livedocs

The default unit of measure for Illustrator documents, a point equals .3528 mm.
In digital imaging, a pixel (or picture element) is the smallest item of information in an image. Pixels are normally arranged in a 2-dimensional grid, and are often represented using dots, squares, or rectangles.[3]
A pica is a typesetting unit of measurement commonly used for measuring lines of type. One pica equals 12 points. There are 6 picas to an inch. Also used to describe a typewriter type that prints 10 characters per inch (cpi).[4]

Native Adobe Files

  • Photoshop creates .psd files
  • Illustrator creates .ai files
  • InDesign creates .indd files

Vector and Raster Graphics

Vector graphics
is the use of points, lines, curves, and shapes or polygon(s), whose locations are all based upon mathematical equations, to represent images in computer graphics.[5]
Raster graphics
(or bitmap) is a data structure representing a generally rectangular grid of pixels, or points of color, viewable via a monitor, or paper.[6]

Vector Paths, Strokes and Fills

Examples of open paths on left, and closed paths on right
The basic appearance as it appears in the toolbar

Vector artwork is composed of paths. Paths can be open or closed. A stroke is the outline of a path. The fill is the contents of a closed path. You will find there is a huge selection on how to edit and customize the path and stroke. First it is important to understand what they are.

  • The open paths are on the left. The path is made visible by a black stroke or outline.
  • The closed path is on the right. The path is visible by a black stroke and a white fill. This is what adobe calls the “basic appearance” for a vector graphic.

By default Illustrator colors paths and shapes with the basic appearance. The color selection appears in the toolbar. Clicking the arrow will invert the stroke and fill colors. In this case the stroke will become white and the fill black.

Note the transparency grid is turned on to demonstrate that only closed paths have a fill. To turn on transparency grid navigate to ‘View> Show Transparency Grid’. PC: Control D Mac: Apple D

Working with the Workspace

Workspace Vocabulary

is the area in which you create your projects. All of the Adobe programs have the same general layout. For a video on understanding the workspace.
This is an annotated screen shot of the default InDesign workspace
The toolbar is on the left of your screen. Double click the uppermost part of the toolbar to toggle between a one row and two row layouts. Adobe has great documentation on the tool bar. The tool bar feature is consistent between all or almost all of the Adobe products.
Control Panel
(or Property inspector) many Adobe programs have a control panel. This is a permanent aspect of the workspace. In the control panel you can change aspects of a selected item; if no item is selected then ‘No Selection’ will appear in the top left corner of the property inspector. Using the blue down arrows will expand the respective panels and expose hidden values. Clicking the blue underlined text will open the panel for more choices.
This is a screen shot of the Control panel in Illustrator.
At the top of any Adobe program are menus. The PC and Mac menus differ slightly. Preferences on a PC can be found in the ‘Edit’ menu; on a Mac it is in the Application Menu.
(or Panels) are where Adobe put a seemingly infinite number of choices for styling your project. When you open any Adobe program default set panels are displayed. Both Mac and PC users go to the ‘Window’ menu to open panel not displayed.
Panels are expanded on the left of the workspace.

Workspace Skills

Enter a Value in a Panel

You enter values the same way in all the Adobe panels and inspectors. Use these methods to enter a value: Type a value in the box, and press Enter or Return.

  • Drag the slider.
  • Drag the dial.
  • Click the arrow buttons in the panel to increase or decrease the value. Click in the box and then use the Up Arrow key and Down Arrow key on the keyboard to increase or decrease the value. Hold down Shift and click an arrow key to magnify the increase rate or decrease rate.
  • Select a value from the menu associated with the box.

Understanding Layers

Working in layers is the key to using any Adobe product well. They can make your projects flexible and well organized. Layer management is a difficult skill to master. Layers are there to help you work with your project and maintain the integrity of the graphics by treating them separately. To learn how to use layers, start by using tutorials and following best practices. Remember you can also export or flatten layers when your project is complete to save on file size. Visit Layers magazine for extensive documentation.

Customize the Workspace

You can choose how your panels appear; there are expansion and contraction tools to organize your workspace. To save a certain configuration of panels follow these steps. Go to the ‘Window’ menu, choose ‘Workspace’ and ‘Save Workspace,’ next name your workspace. To open a saved workspace: return ‘Window’ menu, choose ‘Workspace,’ and ‘Saved Workspace.’