When I first started creating printables, I used Photoshop Elements for the first 3 years of my printables store life. After which, I started using Illustrator. I STILL use Elements on occasion but now my go-to product is Illustrator at this point.
With that said, there are many things to consider when choosing the program that's right for YOU and it all depends on your purposes in using it. There is no right or wrong program to choose here. Again, it just depends on you. :) Let's take some time today to really talk about the differences so you can make an educated decision! <3
Elements was developed more for photogaphers/bloggers and Illustrator is more for graphic designers/printables.
How does that play out?
Well, let's say you're creating a pin, you're working with a picture (a photograph), Elements is the easiest place to do that. Whenever I'm working on my pins, my go-to program is Elements. Illustrator is a lot of clipping masks and especially if you're creating a collage pin, it's complicated (not as clean) as working in Elements.
It takes LONGER (3x-4x) for me to create a pin in Illustrator than it does for me to create a pin in Elements. Even if you're using templates, it's just faster in Elements.
Where it gets a little dicey is if you want to create a high-tech, super cool pin.
Lemme show you some examples.
In Elements, here's an example of a pin I can create quickly:
It looks pretty and does well on Pinterest. There's no issues with it. It's fast to create and I have a template for it (PSD file) so it's quick to just plug in different text/printables.
However, look at my pins that I've worked on in Illustrator...
It just LOOKS more high-end, more high technical graphic design skills. While the other one in Elements is pretty, this one looks better.
Here's one I created in Elements and outlined the text...
It just doesn't look as good as the one created in Illustrator.
Here's another one I created in Illustrator...
That one came out really pretty. I was able to create a dashed line all around the picture in Illustrator and used a clouds graphic to overlay it. The clouds were a clear background, so I put in some white circles to fill it in (you can also use a paintbrush). Filling in the clouds to make them a white background was a snap and I don't think I could have done that in Elements.
The dashed line, the clouds, it's all more advanced things and so you'll get more attention to your printables when you are showing them in the pin how awesome your design skills are.
Here's one more in Illustrator...
On this one, see the text: WORLD? It's a super high-tech fancy font. It's only able to use fonts like that IN Illustrator. You can't use them in other programs!
Again, you can just do more advanced stuff in Illustrator, however, pins take longer to create in Illustrator. So when you're creating pins, you want to ask yourself, do I want to do high-tech graphic design that's advanced and get more attention, or do I need to do things in a more fast way because I'm just starting out and just trying to get INTO the marketplace, not try to dominate it or stand out at this point?
There's no right or wrong answer here. It just depends on what your needs are for pins.
I am not a technical person. I never claim to be. Technology is something that I'm just not great at and often-times, have to have my kids help me with it to get through roadblocks. My brain just doesn't work that way.
For the person, who is like me, and not technical-savvy, starting with Elements is hands down the better choice.
Elements is so much EASIER to master and learn than Illustrator.
For example, it's eons better trying to create a clipping mask in Elements than it is in Illustrator. Illustrator's clipping masks annoy me.
Things like putting on a border around your font is easier in Illustrator, but it's more complex.
You can do dashed lines, but again, it's more complex. It takes a little while to create those things.
If you just want something basic and fast and easy, Elements is the way to go. It has most of the things Illustrator can do, but it's a lot easier to learn. If you're pressed for time, just need to get in and out quick, Elements would be the best program for you. However...
If you're in this for the long haul (and I hope you are), once you DO learn Illustrator (longer time curve to learn than Elements), it will become WAAAAYYYYYYYYY faster than Elements (except in the area of pins/photography).
There are many examples of this but my absolute favorite is the ability to create multiple printables at one time in Illustrator. Lemme show you...
Within Illustrator, you can work on as many boards at a time as you want (I find you should work on no more than 50-100 boards at a time max or you'll start freezing up and it's too much for your computer to handle).
But let's say you're creating monograms.
You can create 26 artboards (one artboard is one printable page) and then you can cut and paste the same element on every page. Then all you have to do is edit your letter A, B, C, etc. for the monogram. Then save it all as a PDF.
Check your work, go back and fix things, save it again and boom, you're done.
Whereas, with Elements, you can only work on one at a time!
Lemme show you...
As you can see, you can only work on one page at a time. So in the example of monograms, you'd have to create the template, then edit out each letter, then save. Let's say you do that 26 times for all the alphabet letters and you find a couple of mistakes. You have to go back, retype the letter and do it again, then save it again, delete your old file, and then once you have them all perfect, go into Adobe Acrobat and combine all the files into one file.
Since you are saving one page at a time, it's a huge time sucker. When you could just be using Illustrator and saving them all at once within a matter of seconds.
So once you DO learn Illustrator, it is faster to create printables in. :)
As I mentioned before, Illustrator has more capabilities and advanced options than Elements. If you're not great at technology, this can be a bad thing, but if you're good at it (or willing to really take the time to learn), this is a better option.
While there are many more things you can do in Illustrator that you can't in Elements, some of my favorites are:
1. Creating SVG's
You cannot create SVG's in Elements. So if that is something you want to do in the future, there is no current capability to do so, whereas in Illustrator, you can.
2. Using special fonts
Like I mentioned before, in Illustrator, you can use special fonts (details are in the Illustrator course). In Elements, you're stuck with just using the basic fonts and not more cooler, advanced ones.
3. Illustrator uses vectors
Vectors means you can buy graphics from more companies, which ups your amount of options for your printables. Vectors are a type of file that you can change the colors of your graphics too. Let's say you purchase graphics and you want to change the color of an element within the graphic. In Elements, you cannot do that. So if you want to do your own branding colors, you can't. You're limited. Whereas if you purchase a vector image, you can change the colors. Therefore, your printables come out better! Vectors can also be resized without pixelation. So let's say you want to make your picture super big. It can pixelate from time to time (I've seen it) and so with a vector, it won't do that.
4. Create your own hand lettering
There's a tool I have called Wacom and it's a pen and a pad that connects to your Illustrator, so that instead of using say a paintbrush on your mouse, you can use a paintbrush with a pen. Obviously, it is easier to create something like your own text writing or doodles with a pen you hold in your hand, than a mouse. Here's an example of some lettering I'm working on that my audience has asked me to turn into fonts. :)
My daughter did the L under the hello. We just got started with this tool a couple of days ago, so these are our first times doing this and they are already coming out so great. It's amazing!!! I'm not great at creating hand lettering on paper, but on Illustrator, when you make a mistake, you can go back and make the lines straighter!!! It makes them pretty straight automatically already, but you can go back and do it manually too. So it's super fun.
5. Create graphs with a click of a button
Creating graphs in Elements means you have to manually create horizontal and vertical lines. I have a lot of charts and templates in the Elements course so for the most part, you'll be okay, but if you want something special, it'll take you a while to create those charts in Elements, whereas in Illustrator, you just click a button, tell it how many lines you want and drag your cursor. It makes them and you're done. Then you can change the colors of the lines, etc. all at once too, whereas in Elements, you have to change the colors of each individual line. Lining up the lines takes forever and you often make mistakes. You have to zoom in super big and zoom out each time. It's super time consuming. If you create a lot of charts, Illustrator will be your best friend.
6. Creating graphics
Because of the limitations in Elements, it's not so great (and not advised) to create graphics in Elements. In Illustrator, you can create all you want!
Here's some examples of me creating my own graphics (I just started doing this a week ago so these are my first times). :)
I REALLY....REEEEAAAALLLLYYYYY enjoy creating graphics like this. It is SO much fun. I've been doing hand lettering and SVG's and graphics. Even fonts. It's just so much really cool stuff. I'm absolutely smitten over all these things I can create in the program and love it so much!
Pricing is a big deal for a lot of people and Illustrator is a commitment.
With Photoshop Elements, you can get the current year software on Amazon and it's a one-time cost. It usually runs $99 but you can find it on sale sometimes as low as $50! This software is updated (you'll receive automatic updates on your computer), so you don't have to purchase the software again each year. Just a one-time purchase.
Illustrator is a monthly (or pay by the year to save a little bit of money) cost.
I tend to like one time costs over monthly costs because it saves a TON of money going through a one time cost program.
If money is an issue, Elements is much cheaper in the long run. Illustrator is around $20/month (depending on when you purchase and how you purchase: monthly/yearly), so in 5 months, you have the Elements software paid for.
It's definitely something to consider what you have available in your budget and what software will work best for your needs.
I hope this comparison will really help you decide which program is right for you. :)