What program do you design in?

I am just starting out in designing and letterpressing and I wanted to know the best program to design in. I am assuming illustrator for more original handwritings and illustrations and indesign for everything else? What does everyone use? Thanks!

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Illustrator CS5. I generally don’t set more than a line or two of text, and it’s mostly artwork.
I recently designed a book (mostly text), I of course, did that in InDesign, it wouldn’t be possible in Illustrator.

What can you do in InDesign that you can’t do in Illustrator?

Indesign helps with pagination, and it supports text boxes that flow onto the next page.

Also it is really useful for the data merge function. You can print variable labels and things with it with much greater control over the layout and typography than MS Office.


Interesting, I have actually moved away from digital composition in favor of handsetting everything. I have spent enough time working on computers that I do not wish to use them for printing as well.

Does it limit me? Certainly it does but so does refusing to deep impression :)

This does not mean I do no use Illustrator for other work. I do use it to color sep designs if I am considering using pronto plates or if I am doing a large design that I am then going to do with handset type, cuts and relief block.

I use QuarkXpress to assist with hand setting. I have a number of faces in common in digital and type metal, so it’s a quick way to figure out layout and line lengths, etc. Since digital and type metal don’t always match up, it’s a bit imprecise, but it does get me thinking.

Personally, I do most things in InDesign. Beyond it’s multipage capabilities and it’s ability to flow text through multiple text boxes, it’s type handling is gorgeous. It has something like 10 different widths of spaces from hairline to em quad, supports Opentype features like on-the-fly ligatures, swash capitals and discretionary character alternates, supports Unicode fonts very well and gives you extremely fine control of things like letterspacing and kerning as well as the more usual leading and tracking controls. With a little tweaking, it produces better-looking full justification text than any other application I’ve ever used. Drop caps and other types of formatting are also dead simple. Once you learn to use it properly, there are few applications that can rival it’s compositional abilities.

Throw in the fact that it has vector drawing capabilities built in and you can do quite a lot in just the one program. You certainly have more vector tools in Illustrator, but for most letterpress work, the bezier tools in InDesign are perfectly capable.

Finally, it has the ability to use either modern Postscript point measures or traditional printers point measures, making layout for letterpress easier. Yes, your pica stick will match the measures on screen!

There are times when dedicated vector or raster editing programs would do a better job, but there are open-source and lower cost alternatives to Illustrator and Photoshop (Inkscape, The GIMP, etc). Of the three kinds of program (layout, vector and raster editors), I’d say buy InDesign. Go for the lower-cost or free alternatives for the others.