It may seem like books have fallen out compared to digital tutorials and videos. But there’s still so much to learn from the written word. That’s why authors pour everything they have into any new title they write.
If you search you’ll find plenty of books on general design but these often span a wide gamut of general advice.
For this post I’ve curated my top picks for the best books teaching the two most powerful design tools: Photoshop and Illustrator. These books specifically cover the software with a slant towards designers.
Granted there are many alternatives to Photoshop but those programs don’t work for everyone. So if you’re a big Adobe user(or hoping to become one) then this collection is sure to please.
How Do I Do That in Photoshop?
To kick off this list I wanna cover a newer book titled How Do I Do That in Photoshop?.
It was released in late 2016 and covers a lot of handy tricks used by pro designers. Once you learn the many keyboard shortcuts and menus native to the Photoshop interface you’ll never want to use anything else.
But what makes this book so valuable?
It’s not just a general photo editing book or simple intro to basic Photoshop. Instead it’s a practical user’s guide on the most common Photoshop techniques. These can range from really simple things like creating new documents up to more specific tasks like the pen tool.
Later chapters do cover a lot on photo editing which is typical for Photoshop. But the majority of this book focuses on simple PS behaviors that you can mimic and apply to your workflow.
Use this as a reference guide to your design work. It’s a fantastic desk reference so you can look up specific techniques and develop a workflow that fits with your goals.
Adobe Photoshop CC Classroom in a Book
The tome of everything Adobe has to be their “classroom in a book” series. This has been in print for every major version of Photoshop I’ve ever used dating back to Photoshop 7.
You can find these older books somewhere online, but if you’re working with the newest Photoshop then you’ll want Adobe Photoshop CC Classroom in a Book.
Adobe updates this guide every year with a revised edition for the newest CC release. As of this writing their newest update is for 2017 but the 2018 book is on the horizon.
Through project-based work you’ll learn how the Adobe PS interface functions. This includes basic features like photo editing, but also includes more specific design techniques with gradients and blend modes.
Much of this guide reads like an intro for complete beginners. It can also feel like a photo-oriented book, especially with the popularity of Adobe’s XD software meant for interface designers.
But as of right now that “classroom” series is still in pre-order so if you’d prefer Photoshop then this book is what you want.
Adobe Illustrator CC Classroom in a Book
Alternatively you might want Illustrator for more vector-based work. This can include UI/UX mockups but also covers icon design, logos, and so much more.
Adobe Illustrator CC Classroom in a Book runs parallel to the Photoshop book. With this guide you’ll learn more about the AI interface which does have some overlap compared to Photoshop. However they really are two different programs meant for two different types of work.
The thing with graphic design is that vector work & pixel work can appear in one project. This means any pro designer should add Illustrator into their workflow.
This “classroom” publication gets much more diverse by covering how the interface behaves, the types of work you can make, and how to apply it to your regular workflow. Especially if you want to create design projects with vector art & scalable graphics.
Learn Adobe Illustrator CC for Graphic Design and Illustration
Here’s a slightly more detailed book covering Illustrator put out by the Adobe press team.
Learn Adobe Illustrator CC for Graphic Design and Illustration serves the purpose of teaching you the core fundamentals of Illustrator with the goal of becoming an Adobe Certified Associate.
This cert is certainly great for a resume and it’s something you can put on your portfolio. Overall it’s not a bad thing to try and obtain since it’ll stretch your knowledge of Illustrator to go beyond just basic design work.
Throughout these pages you’ll learn about artboard setups, shape manipulation, and pen tool techniques. Overall these lessons are meant to prepare you for the rigor and depth that comes with the Adobe certification exam.
I’d specifically recommend this to designers who want to take the exam themselves. It’s pretty much the best study guide you can find.
Granted this may not apply to very many people, and the cert isn’t required to land a great gig(your portfolio helps with that). However it’s certainly worth trying if you have the tenacity and don’t mind a little hard work.
Responsive Web Design with Adobe Photoshop
If you’re specifically using Photoshop for web design then you’ve finally a book with everything you need.
Responsive Web Design with Adobe Photoshop spans almost 300 pages of pure gold with tips and guided tutorials for every web designer. You’ll learn how to craft pixel-perfect mockups and how to stretch your layouts to look great on any screen.
There are no specific “right” ways to create these types of layouts. It just takes practice and a good eye for design.
But once you learn the basics of Photoshop you’ll see how to apply these techniques into everyday work. Finding your own rhythm is the key to mastering web design in the long term.
Some designers may prefer moving into Adobe XD or Sketch. And that’s fine!
Others may wanna stick it out using Photoshop and if so this is the book on everything web related.
Beginner’s Guide to Digital Painting in Photoshop
Another semi-obscure use for Photoshop is crafting illustrations or digital paintings. These may not have as much prominence on the web, but they definitely play a big role in graphic design from print work to album covers.
For you designer+artist combos reading this be sure to grab a copy of Beginner’s Guide to Digital Painting in Photoshop. You’ll be surprised how much you can learn.
Note that you really need some background in art before diving into this book. Knowledge of Photoshop isn’t enough—in fact it’s not even a prerequisite.
This book aims to teach the Photoshop interface for painting with extreme detail. It covers a lot of the foundational bits behind the PS interface explaining how it works and how you can adapt the panels to suit your painting needs.
You may even fall in love with the process enough to add painting into your professional repertoire! Plenty of companies want designers who also have an artistic side.
Adobe Photoshop Creative Cloud Revealed
Hoping to dive a little further into Photoshop with tricks that few designers know about? Then you’ll want a copy of Adobe Photoshop Creative Cloud Revealed.
This is truly a master course to the Adobe Photoshop software and it’s one of the few hardcover books in this list. Granted it’s a couple years old as of this writing, but this thing is massive with almost 700 pages of guided projects.
You’ll work step-by-step through lessons about the history panel, creating perfect selections(and saving them) plus how to format your documents for different types of projects.
Many of these techniques are industry secrets that you typically learn “on the job”. But with this book you can pick up a lot of these pro techniques just from following handy exercises.
I wouldn’t really call this a “design” book since it’s more of an introductory guide to the software. But it’s still a massively valuable resource for anyone hoping to master Photoshop.
The Graphic Designer’s Digital Toolkit
Now this is the guide to end all guides. It’s truly the bible of digital design software for anyone hoping to get into the professional design wold.
Over 750+ pages you’ll come to love The Graphic Designer’s Digital Toolkit. It covers everything from Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign, all with unique lessons ranging from print to photography to UI design.
The actual software screens are somewhat dated since this book was written for CS4. But here’s the thing about Adobe software: for the most part is always works the same.
Unless you need crazy 3D effects or hot new photo editing features, you can technically create awesome designs even in Photoshop CS.
Ultimately this book is a give & take because it covers a huge range of topics. This means it’s a bit shallow, but also broad enough to help designers from all backgrounds. It really is meant to help new designers get up & running with all the major Adobe design tools.
Yet it’s also somewhat dated which kinda sucks. If you’re already designing websites or logos then this book may not have much to offer.
But check it out and see what you think. Have a look over the table of contents and if you see a bunch of topics you don’t know then it’s probably worth a read.
Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills
Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills is perhaps the most fun and exciting book you can work through as a professional designer.
Yes it’s a few years old, and yes it can go quick. But these exercises really will sharpen your design skills in the long run.
Author David Sherwin hand-picked 80 exercises that are meant to tickle your brain and force you to think outside the “usual” design box. Through these practice routines you’ll develop a keen eye for design and learn how to manipulate your favorite design software.
Just note this book isn’t for complete newbies with no skills. You really have to be OK trying new ideas and pushing some existing design skills to get the most from these practice exercises.
If you’re brand new I actually recommend the book right above this one, the Designer’s Digital Toolkit covering all the Adobe software. That’s much more newbie-friendly and it kinda paves the way for this book to work through these more detailed exercises.
Thinking in Icons: Designing and Creating Effective Visual Symbols
Icon design is a big part of the whole graphic design world. Doesn’t matter whether you use Photoshop for design work or Illustrator or even Sketch.
Understanding how to create icons will increase your value as a designer tenfold. And one of the best books to get started on this path is Thinking in Icons: Designing and Creating Effective Visual Symbols.
Please note this isn’t exactly an Adobe design book. However I really wanted to include this here because it goes so well with other intro books, namely the “classroom in a book” series.
Anyone who wants to do professional graphic design work should know a little icon design. Most of that comes through practice and repetition but you can pick up a lot by reading the words of these professionals.
It’s a pretty short guide with only 160 pages but it’ll pair nicely with any intro book on Illustrator or Photoshop.
Vector Basic Training
Another nice follow-up book for icon design is Vector Basic Training.
This again reads as software-agnostic but the lessons apply directly to Adobe programs.
You can learn a lot from online courses and tutorials on icon design. But the only way to truly grasp these concepts is through practice and repetition. That’s exactly what this book provides, along with a detailed intro to icons & vectors in the real world.
If you want to radically improve your design portfolio then adding some icon design work is a great first step.
I absolutely recommend this book for anyone willing to make that leap.
The Adobe Illustrator WOW! Book for CS6 and CC
Last but certainly not least is The Adobe Illustrator WOW! Book for CS6 and CC.
This thing is a few years old but still lives up to its name with a massive WOW factor. It covers many of the newest features in Illustrator CC and teaches practical lessons on how to apply them into real-world projects.
If you’ve never used Illustrator before this can be a nice follow-up beyond the “classroom in a book” series. You’ll find a lot of similar advice but you’ll also dive into more complex lessons on shape manipulation, custom selections, and mastering lesser-known tasks with Illustrator.
The format is also unique since each chapter follows a similar structure. You have an introduction, some lessons, then a gallery of work along the way to show what’s possible.
A fantastic read for anyone serious about mastering Adobe Illustrator. Even as newer versions of CC are released this title stands alone with plenty of great advice.