Many agencies wonder if Sketch or Photoshop should be their primary web design tool. Photoshop has been the industry standard, but Sketch and other UI/UX tools are challenging the old dinosaur. As a Sketch to WordPress and PSD to WordPress development company, we get to experience the stand-off from a front-row seat.

Photoshop is at its core exactly what it says it is – a tool for editing photos. So it was only a matter of time before other options would appear that leverage the specific needs of web designers.

Sketch generated a lot of buzz a few years ago as one of the first contenders. But Adobe soon countered with their own platform XD, and InVision is now also in the game as they’ve added InVision Studio to their portfolio.

Still, with all these web-design-specific software on the market, around half of the agencies that we work with still prefer Photoshop. Why is that, and why do some make the transition while others don’t?

“Around half of the agencies we work with still prefer Photoshop.“

For this article, we’ll be going through the main benefits of using Sketch for designing websites from both a designer and developer perspective.

What digital agencies like about Sketch

When digital agencies produce web designs, it’s important to have design tools that:

  1. Improve efficiency during the design process
  2. Provide for easy organization of templates and views
  3. Make it easy to showcase prototypes and get feedback
  4. Simplify the handoff to developers
  5. Allow their designers to be creative

1. Better efficiency

The most commonly mentioned decision factor when choosing to use Sketch over Photoshop is efficiency. Only Sketch has tools that are made specifically for web design, so the toolbars make it easy to access the most commonly used ones for this specific task.

Regardless of whether you’re using Sketch or Photoshop, it’s possible to work with smart objects and paragraph styles. But in Sketch and other UI/UX tools, the repeated elements are easier to use and will therefore likely be used to greater effect.

Web design tools feature the possibility to use styles also for objects to set the strokes, fills and shadows as global settings. You can change the template, and the changes will propagate to all the instances across the site. If you use extensions to share libraries also with your colleagues, the changes can update across all their related documents.

2. Organizing templates

Sketch uses artboards in a similar way as Adobe Illustrator, where you can place an object on and around them and easily create multiple artboards in the same view. But the killer feature in terms of staying organized in Sketch is that you can set up your whole site in the same file without slowing down your computer.

With Photoshop, you’re almost guaranteed to be working with separate files for each page template you’re designing, and for each responsive view. In Sketch, you have the opportunity to work with tabs (called Pages) in the document, each of which can have several artboards on them. This comes in handy if you want to group the artboards for different responsive layouts of a certain page in the same view.

3. Showcasing prototypes

The simplicity of exporting designs to different formats and using extensions for previewing designs in the browser is also a greatly appreciated feature of Sketch.

Source: invisionapp.com/craft

That being said, Craft, one of the popular extensions for pushing Sketch designs to InVision, is also available as an extension to Photoshop. Later versions of Sketch have a built-in browser preview feature where you can show your prototypes. But so far the interactivity of those prototypes is more limited than in InVision, so the experience of page transitions and animations is less like the real deal.

“One of the popular extensions for pushing Sketch designs to InVision is also available as an extension to Photoshop.”

4. Simplify handoff to development

Every time Sketch is praised for allowing easy handoff to developers, it’s been through the use of other tools that Sketch integrates with. The most common is Zeplin, where the developer can easily access the CSS of different elements, and see their positioning on the page with a simple hover.

I asked one of our development team leaders about how our own WordPress developers perceive working with Sketch versus Photoshop. The answer surprised me a bit because for us it’s basically the same.

Our developers work on PCs, which means Sketch itself isn’t available for them. So when we work from Sketch files, we need to import the designs to another tool. Usually it’s Avocode, which works very much in the same way as Zeplin.

Avocode is another great tool for handing over your design files to developers. Source: avocode.com

Incidentally, when we work with Photoshop files we have access to the same features but using an extension – developed by the team behind Avocode. So the process is the same, we just use different versions of the same tool to get the job done.

5. Allowing creativity

With all these reasons for moving to Sketch, why are some agencies staying with Photoshop? One reason could be that Photoshop offers more powerful tools for creating custom graphic elements. Some designs are just more difficult to create in Sketch and UI/UX focused tools. However, with an Apple-esque design that’s been the big trend in the latest years, the newer tools are more than enough.

One can also speculate that the new tools reinforce this trend, like the limitations of manufacturing technologies, can impact the shape of physical products.

Should you go with Sketch or Photoshop?

Most designers have their favorite tools that they’re the most experienced with. Moving to Sketch seems to be a quite easy transition, but it’s still compelling to stay in tools where you’re an expert. All features of Photoshop will definitely not be available in the newer tools, but you will probably find others that you cannot live without once you’ve got used to them.

If your designers are efficient using Photoshop, you can organize your workflow to be pretty much as effective as with newer software – as long as you use the right extensions. If you plan to hire new designers, or if your current designers don’t have a strong preference, the choice between Sketch or Photoshop will likely fall on the former. Improving your efficiency and workflow with software specifically made for web design will give you an advantage in a competitive market like that of digital agencies.

We work exclusively with professional agencies, and at the time of writing we have approximately the following distribution of file types we receive:

  • 50% Photoshop
  • 25% Sketch
  • 15% Adobe XD
  • 10% Other, like Illustrator, Figma or InDesign

However, I spoke to two agencies that made the transition to Sketch this year, and there are more to come. It will be interesting to follow how the different UI/UX tools perform in the competition amongst each other too.

The agencies that I talk to seem undecided about which software will be their preferred choice in the coming years. The big ones like Sketch, Adobe XD and InVision Studio are all contenders, so it’s not mainly a question of using Sketch or Photoshop, but rather if you should abandon Photoshop for software tailored to UI/UX design.

With animations becoming an increasingly important differentiator in web design, the tools that help designers and developers imagine and build them could have the upper hand.

Finally, I’d like to bring an outsider into the mix. Figma is a new web-based design tool that seems to be growing fast and big names from the tech giants are placing their bets on the team behind it. Figma announced on Feb 14 2019, that they had received $40M in financing, led by Sequoia Capital and including backing also by the CEO of LinkedIn and a Co-Founder of Instagram. More to come on that, I’m sure.

Do you need more developers to bring all your web designs to life? Schedule a call with us today.