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Welcome to my blog! I write, and take photos, and use Photoshop every day. I love learning and surprises and my sweet family and being a transplanted southerner.

Photoshop Elements vs. Photoshop CC: Which One Is Right For You?

It's getting close to Christmas, and if you're a geeky girl who has been dying to try Photoshop, you might have this on your wish list. I get asked a lot what the differences are between Photoshop Elements (Retail: $99) and the full version of Photoshop, which is now called Photoshop CC (Subscription starts at $9.99/mo).

For me, the answer has been simple: 

I've always thought of Elements as a consumer-level version (basics and quite a lot of advanced functionality) and Photoshop CC as a professional version (deep functionality necessary in a professional environment).

So my recommendation has always been: start with Photoshop Elements, and if you decide a couple years from now that you've outgrown it, spring for the expensive one. 

There's the summary. Now for the backstory?

However, that's not necessarily the case anymore, given the pricing structure Adobe has rolled out within the past year. 

Photoshop Elements: A Nice Car

For Beginners, Hobbyists, and Pro-sumers

I've never made it any big secret that I really like Photoshop Elements. I think Adobe has done a great job of making almost all of the really necessary features available in straightforward way.

There are fewer menus, fewer palettes, more automation for basic functions, less initial setup, and of course, less overwhelm in general because of the cleaner interface. Photoshop Elements is the program I recommend for every beginner, in fact.

Functionality

Elements includes features designed for photographers who use cell phones, mini digital cameras, or even digital SLR cameras. It's also awesome for families, dabblers, bloggers, hobbyists, or pro-sumers in areas like: 

  • photo editing (open, edit, save, close, with some basic automation)
  • photo collage (combine photos into one document, i.e. for printing)
  • digital scrapbooking (install brushes, combine files, and type)
  • poster-making (add vector shapes or layerable graphics)
  • card or invitation making (create new files in just the size you need)
  • digital art or collage (lots of layers, brushwork, shapes, photos, type, etc)

With the exception of my most advanced class, I teach everything in Photoshop Elements as well as the full version of Photoshop, because almost all of what "regular people" want to do with graphics or type or design is available to you.

Think of Photoshop Elements as, say, a Nissan Murano. Any Nissan. Or whatever your favorite car is. A very decent car, even a really nice car. A new one, that smells good. If you're driving to and from work, or taking a road trip with the fam, this is so perfect for you. Just add snacks and drinks and your GPS and go.

Price & Ownership

Photoshop Elements is license-based, so you purchase it once and own forever. The retail cost is roughly $100, but you can usually find deals or coupons that bring it down into the $70-80 range, and if you ever want a new version, you'll have to spring for it. 

Photoshop CC: A Commercial Plane

Great for Serious Hobbyists, Pro-sumers, and Professionals

It goes without saying that anything you can do in Elements, you can do in CC. BUT. When you first install Photoshop CC, you're dropped into a stark, dark grey interface without much warning, and then pretty much expected to do whatever it is you're going to do because the software doesn't care. This is both a huge benefit (if you already know how to do what you're going to do, and you just want the program to get out of the way), or a huge limitation (if you have no idea how to do what you want to do, and you're completely at sea). 

I can't count the number of people who've told me they installed Photoshop, opened it, noodled for 15 minutes, and then closed it and walked away. That's partly because in general, Photoshop CC caters to the professional audience.

The functionality is deep, like so:

  • At least 20 extra functions for the Brush tool (PSE allows install, creation, and stamping)
  • Create vector paths (type on a curve or in a circle, too!) and shapes (PSE allows only opening)
  • Ability to automatically open photos into Camera Raw (PSE allows open, but only one photo at a time)
  • Support for 16-bit photos (PSE is only 8), as well as access to individual color channels
  • More advanced typography, including access to alternates, as well as letter spacing, sub/superscript, and type smoothing
  • Grouping of layers, with filtering and adjustments available on entire groups
  • Record your own actions, (one-key access to a pre-recorded series of steps, such as a filter or a save at a specific size) - (PSE allows only a few actions to even install)
  • Better sharpening through the Smart Sharpen tool
  • Support for fringe stuff like 3D and basic animation (i.e. blinkies and animated .gifs)
  • Automation for things like adding watermarks, batch file sizing, saving, and conversion
  • Ability to completely customize the quick-keys for various functions (i.e. keyboard mapping)
  • Smart Objects - layers that retain their original function (such as vectors), so they can be opened and edited in Illustrator, but can also be filtered and adjusted in Photoshop

And the list kind of keeps going. Remember the car analogy? Using Photoshop CC is like flying a commercial plane. There is the basic "I want to get from here to there" mentality, and the cockpit of a plane roughly resembles the driver's seat of a car. You can turn, and brake and so forth. But wow, the thing gets really complex. But after you figure out what all the dials do, not only can you get where you want to go a lot faster, but you can navigate in 3D space AND say the phrase, "this is your captain speaking".

Awesome. 

Purchasing & (Non-)Ownership

Photoshop CC is now subscription-based, and requires you to sign a year-long contract, connect to the internet at least once a month to stay current, and pay for the program on either a monthly or a yearly basis. Oh, and it starts at $9.99/month. In previous versions, Photoshop was packaged with a license just like Elements, and was priced in the $500-$600 range. So the big pro here is that the entry-level fee is incredibly low, just $10 a month in a package with Lightroom, which is Adobe's professional photo editor.

Summary

Photoshop Elements is still the main contender in the casual, hobbyist, and pro-sumer market.

Pros: Photoshop Elements is a little easier to learn, because of the simpler interface and tools. Plus, you own the software forever. Adobe usually offers upgrade pricing when you're ready to move to the next version. Elements is still an inexpensive option, and includes all the options I teach except for the most advanced (see list above)

Cons: Obviously the big one here is that since Adobe has been releasing a new version of Photoshop Elements for 13 years (that's right, 2014 is lucky 13!), you'll have less than a year before a new version is released. Sometimes the version updates are small. And sometimes they are huge (i.e. Photoshop Elements 11).  

Photoshop CC is hands-down THE industry-standard graphics program. Adobe made it available to a whole bunch more people by creating a pay-as-you-go usage model, kind of like a gym membership.

Pros: The subscription to this awesome beast is so cheap (a plane in every driveway!). Ten bucks a month for the best graphics program in the world. Also, because you're using a subscription, Adobe can roll out updates much faster, AND you're guaranteed to always have the latest version and functionality. Super great, especially if you're someone who depends on the latest features and updates. 

Cons: You pay a monthly price, but you are locked in for an entire year at a time (unused plane sitting in your driveway? Not their problem). If you DO decide not to renew next year, though, you'll still have all your files (.psd format, which of course you can't open if you don't have Photoshop...). Photoshop CC is still really hard to learn - the learning curve is a lot higher because of the massive flexibility and the depth of the features. The subscription also bothers a lot of people: in a year, you'll have paid about the same as you would have to buy Photoshop Elements, but you won't own the software itself.

My Recommendation

If you're a beginner, I still recommend that you get Photoshop Elements. It's a lot simpler to learn, and because of the year-long contract with CC, you'll end up paying the same price anyway. 

Ask your Santa to put it under your digital tree this year, or go get the 30-day free trial of Photoshop Elements. And then register for my beginner level digital scrapbooking class, or photo editing class to get the most out of it. 

If you've already made your decision, did you choose (or will you choose) Photoshop Elements or Photoshop CC? Why?

-J

 

 

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