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Adobe Buying Guide: Creative Cloud (CC) or CS6 – Which to Get?

When Creative Suite 6 arrived in 2012, there came with it a new way to buy Adobe software that the world had not seen before: the Creative Cloud.  Traditionally, most Adobe products had only been sold with “perpetual” licensing that doesn’t expire. The flip side is that these best-in-class tools often come with a steep price tag that is out of reach for many folks – though there have always been substantial discounts when upgrading from recent older releases, plus much lower pricing for some market segments like students and teachers

Trying to Decide Between? Read the Reviews Creative Cloud Has Been Getting from Customers

When Creative Cloud first entered the scene, there was (and still is) some uncertainty about what it meant and where it was going… But despite that skepticism, the Cloud has since gained strong adoption to become the company’s dominant product line with most customers choosing it over CS6, which Adobe still continues to sell for people who want it.  With Creative Cloud you receive the newer “CC” release that succeeds CS6 as the latest and greatest toolset, and generally gets high ratings from users.

Related: Compare Features – What’s New in Adobe CC vs. CS6?

Adobe CC is available only via a subscription model which, yes, is cloud-based in some ways – but the name has been called confusing and misconceptions abound because in fact the major applications are not online or web-based, but still run locally on your computer as before.  What’s more, the company has been clear that powerful tools like Photoshop may add some online capabilities but will never run completely in the cloud.

So at its core, this is primarily a different way of buying and using all the Adobe products you know and love (plus more). Creative Cloud membership is served as an “all-you-can-eat buffet” of the best software out there for any creative purpose, for one affordable monthly price ($29-$49/month standard in the US). The central premise is you can continue to use the same applications and services you always have – plus many more available at your disposal – with a term-based membership that includes ongoing product upgrades and new feature additions over the period.

What’s in Creative Cloud?

Creative Cloud contains new CC versions of all applications that were part of Creative Suite 6 (effectively the entire Master Collection), as well as others like Lightroom, Adobe Muse, Adobe Edge, plus a host of professional publishing services for getting your work out there.  As noted, most of these components do not run over the network – they download and install on your system desktop just like normal, and only need to be connected to the Internet once every 99 days for annual membership revalidation.

That said, however, there is an online collaborative Cloud component envelop­ing it all which allows easy web-based file storage, sharing, browsing, and syncing between computers and devices. For those who don’t have a paid subscription, there is a free level of Creative Cloud membership that provides the same commu­nity features but with 2GB of free storage instead of 20GB… The best part about this cloud storage is that your colleagues or clients do not need to have any of the actual Adobe tools installed to view or comment on the files you upload.

Special: Legally download dozens of free Adobe books for a limited time!

CC or CS6 – Which Is Right for You?

So there have been a lot of changes in recent years – and with all these developments in mind, how do you decide which one to buy?  The answer depends to a large extent on how you use the software, with these questions to ask:

  • How long will you be using the products?
  • How frequently do you usually [like to] upgrade?
  • Which Adobe programs do you want or need to use now?
  • Which tools would you like to expand to using in the future?
  • How nice is it to always have the latest releases and best features?
  • Do you own a prior product you can upgrade from, or would you buy full?
  • What will your regular annual costs be when comparing the two different options?
  • How important is it for the software that you use to be supported long into the future?

Before we get to some cost comparisons, it’s important to note that it’s not just about price. Adobe says they are supporting CS6 on the current releases of Windows and Mac OS, but do not have plans to support it on the next releases coming out from Microsoft and Apple… In other words, within less than a year it’s likely that CS6 will not be supported to run on newer operating systems. By contrast, Creative Cloud is a service as much as a product and will always be supported and updated for the latest platforms, devices, and technologies.

See Hundreds of Customer Ratings & Reviews for Adobe CC

The cost of Creative Cloud is $US49.99/month for a yearly plan, or $74.99 when purchased month-to-month with the ability to turn it on and off as needed. It’s $29.99 per month for the first year for those upgrading from a prior Creative Suite product with Adobe’s introductory offer, and $19.99/month for current students and teachers. Doing the math that’s about $600/year for regular customers, $360 for CS upgraders, and $240 for education customers… In sum it’s around $1-$2 a day. So when you look at these plans versus the tradi­tional CS6 price sheet or the cost of upgrading your current tools, which is more attractive?

Well, if you’re a solid user of Creative Suite and a happy upgrader, then the Creative Cloud could be a good deal for you. The CS6 Master suite, for example, sells for $2,600 full, or $1,050 to upgrade from CS5 – and that is for an older static version that will never evolve or improve.  So paying $1,200 spread over two years for CC (and $240 less for upgraders) could work out well considering that all upgrades and future support are included, and you can run the latest releases of all the top tools Adobe makes.

Or as Bloomberg Businessweek says, “One benefit is not having to lay out $2,500 every few years. It would take more than four years of monthly $50 subscription fees to reach the cost of an all-at-once software purchase, and the programs will always be up-to-date.”

But what if you don’t want the complete package? If you only use Photoshop (normally US$700-$1000 full, $200 upgrade) and Lightroom ($150 full, $80 upgrade) and don’t see yourself ever growing into other tools like Illustrator, Premiere Pro, Muse, or Acrobat, then there’s another choice: the new Photoshop Photography Bundle which includes both PS + LR for US$9.99 a month.  And if you need any other single standalone application (like, say, After Effects CC), then see the next section below for a final possibility.

The Creative Cloud FAQ: See Your Top 90 Burning Questions Answered

It goes without saying that the Cloud option is absolutely ideal for situa­tional and tempo­rary needs like project-based work, contract employment, freelancing, and so on – you only pay when you need it. It’s even possible to start out with a month-to-month membership if you want to see how you like it, after your 30-day free trial is up.

Single-App Membership – The Lesser-Known Option

If the complete Creative Cloud is too much, there’s an additional choice that many people aren’t aware of – Adobe also offers subscriptions for just a single tool like Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Acrobat Pro, Premiere, and others for only $14-$19/month, and that low pricing is available to everybody… The sign-up and download is all online so you can get going right away – and all upgrades are included, so you’re always running the latest version.

Any of the new CC tools are available on an annual as well as month-to-month basis (start-and-stop) in all languages for both Windows and Mac together, so pretty flexible. And if you happen to decide later that you want to upgrade to the complete Creative Cloud package to access all applications (at any time), then Adobe will credit back your account for the remaining amount due on your existing membership.

So when you compare that pricing of $19/month versus $1,000 to buy (say) After Effects CS6, it’s definitely worth considering – and you’ll find all the details here:

  » Don’t Need the Full Cloud? Get Any Adobe Product for $9-$19 a Month

Creative Cloud vs. Creative Suite 6 – Pros & Cons

For a complete side-by-side analysis, check out our detailed Adobe CC vs. CS6 Comparison Chart with all the pros and cons to consider for each option.

Do you have any further questions about the comparison or your decision?  Just ask them below and we’ll get you answers fast!


See Also

New Adobe CC 2014 Direct Download Links: All Free Trials

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  1. Elle

    @ProDesignTools

    Hi, Thank you that has really helped me. I think I will go for CC and get it on DVD as a backup (I live in a rural area and broadband is shocking).

    One final question, I have just seen that Adobe are making a major announcement about a new update to CC. Should I wait to purchase until then…are they likely to have any better offers on after the announcement?

    Many thanks once again.

    • Sure Elle, glad to help. If you like, you can go with the CC free trials for 30 days (or even 60 days), download/install/run them and then take it from there.

      And, as you probably are aware, all CC users will receive ongoing product upgrades included in membership, so there’s no issue about which versions you’ll get.

      However, as far as price goes – on offers and deals – we don’t see any benefit to waiting because the CC 2014 Release will be shipping within a month and no matter what you purchase from Adobe, you can always return it within 30 days under their Refund Policy, and get something else instead.

      So, if a better promotion happens to come out then like a price drop – and if all current Creative Cloud users don’t also get it (which is what usually happens, Adobe extends it to everyone) – then you can just return your order and exchange for that instead.

      Bottom line, there’s no risk any way you slice it.

  2. Rick

    Hi,
    Do you have any good books you can recommend for learning Adobe CC, or even CS6.
    Thanks.

  3. Parker

    No offense, but this seems slanted towards CC.
    Most professional designers that I know are, well, busy. Too busy to really spend much time experimenting with new features and in the midst of too many critical path projects to run upgrades. For this group of people, who leverage their skill set with the tool they’ve been using for X number of months or years, three years is a very typical length of time to use a suite. So, factoring in a 36 month usage model, and great success with the suite as is, what advantages remain for CC at $50/month, totaling $1800 compared to the CS6 Design Standard $1300. That’s $500 more per seat, which in a studio means a really nice backup drive, flat screen display, or even a decent SLR.

    • Well, 36 months is a very long time in today’s world of technology… For example, 36 months ago only a few people had tablets (mostly the iPad 1), and Android was barely on the scene. Adobe really had to move faster than they were doing (which used to be releases every 18 months) to keep up with the rapid pace of change and platform development. The new App Store model has accelerated everything in software – can you imagine if the apps on your smartphone were only updated once every 1-2 years?

      Regarding using and learning new features and programs, a top creative artist recently said: “We are not one-discipline designers anymore, so having many tools available is very important.”

      You say you’re busy, so what’s your time worth? If you are using software that is three years old, then you are likely losing time (= money). Recent innovations in Photoshop like Content-Aware Fill/Move/Patch and Camera Shake Reduction (deblur) can pay for themselves pretty quickly. Do you think $10/month too much to ask?

      Finally, no software is forever. Eventually it and the operating systems it runs on will become unsupported and obsolete… If you care about your work and are at all serious about your tools, you need to be maintaining and upgrading them, just like anything else important in your life.

      But if nevertheless you still prefer the old way with static tools, then that remains available to you as well – Adobe is still selling CS6 from 2012.

  4. Eirik

    Well I’m actually looking for just adobe after effects, without monthly subscription – is there a way to buy the latest version of adobe after effects without messing with creative cloud, monthly subscriptions or suites?

    • Hi Eirik, actually no, no there isn’t… The last two major versions of After Effects (CC 2014 and CC 2013) have been available by subscription only.

      However, you can still buy the last perpetual release (After Effects CS6 from 2012 for US$999) direct from Adobe if that’s what you want, as it’s still in their stores.

      Keep in mind though that CS6 is over two years old now, and Adobe is not updating it further (it’s a static version) – so it may not be supported on future operating system versions (Windows / Mac).

      For the latest release, you can get just a single app if you want like After Effects CC 2014 for $19.99 a month, with ongoing upgrades included, rather than the entire Creative Cloud.

      Hope that helps explain it.

  5. Lisa

    I use photoshop elements as a hobby, and I tend to go in spurts based on my job’s workload. For example, I may use photoshop frequently over a two-three month span, then not even open the program again for six months.

    Is there a way I can subscribe to CC for a few months, pause my subscription for a few months so that I neither open the program nor pay for my subscription during those months, then resume my subscription and usage of the program?

    • Yes Lisa – that’s an advantage of CC in that you can set it up to pay only in the months that you want to use it…

      On the sign-up page, you can choose either annual or month-to-month membership – in your case you would select the latter by specifying “Cancel at any time.” But you can just as easily restart at any time as well, whenever you want.

      Note also that Adobe will be resetting the free CC trials at least once per year (as they just did with CC 2014), granting everyone a free new month of use annually.

  6. Parker

    @ProDesignTools

    Hello ProDesign, To answer your question; It is not too hard to imagine complex apps that are only updated every 2 years if they are serving the needs of the users. I’ll admit that user needs are ever-expanding, but it is primarily competition that drives the accelerated upgrade schedules we have today. (Well, that and commerce.)

    And I don’t believe your hardware reference is fair. Tech hardware has a set standard inertia that must be maintained to satisfy “smaller, lighter, faster, better;” the so-called Moore’s Law of advancement, where as software need only satisfy the needs of a growing user base. And even we accept the hardware analogy, does that mean I should trade in my MacBook Pro, that is making me money, and set just the way I like, and keeping my clients happy, with the 12% faster MacBook Pro that was just announced as soon as it comes out? Should I spend time migrating my software, transferring over all my data and tweaking a new computer? No way. Sure it might mean that my render time is reduced by 15 to 20 minutes, but I’m not wasting that time anyway. And the setup process will take longer by a magnitude of 10. Likewise, just because I love Adobe, and my business lives on their software, doesn’t mean that what they release on December 1st is so monumentally superior to what I purchased back on January 1st, that I need to upgrade immediately. Adobe software rocks! If my January purchase was unreasonably slow and pathetic by December 1st I would not be using Adobe’s tools. More often than not, it does not begin to show signs of age until the following December. Add to that the fact that software programmers are excellent rather than perfect, I find it more efficient to make software upgrades 6 months after OS upgrades have come out, or 6-12 months after hardware upgrades (to take advantage of speed). Only when we notice a production need that is available in an update do we tend to move more right away.

    THAT ALL SAID, I am convinced that I will go to Adobe Creative Cloud. The swath of presentation tools available make it a must have, and the “production need” of HTML5-savvy tools leave me no choice. But it was fun airing out why we don’t always “jump onboard.”

  7. Phil Elms

    @ProDesignTools
    Have you got a reference for your statement saying Adobe “do not have plans to support [CS6] on the next releases coming out from Microsoft and Apple”. I can’t find any reference to this on the Adobe site.

    Thanks.

  8. Libby

    Hi,

    Can you save down to CS5 from CS6 or CC if necessary for a client?

    thanks!

  9. Drew

    I’ve been using CC for over a year now. It was first a freebie from my school and then I went ahead and snagged it on sale for $20/month. Over the last year it started good, and aside from the constant nagging reminder of typekit to sign into CC so I can access the fonts I used from them (don’t ever f**king use typekit, it’s a huge hassle trying to stay connected to Adobe 27/7 to keep access to your fonts) enjoyable for a long time, then suddenly turned into an absolute nightmare with the release of CC 2014.

    Being a cloud sub the update to a whole new platform was kind of done on autopilot and aside from a TOS acceptance I clicked past in a hurry to get back to work, there wasn’t much indication that anything was different from the rest of the updates, until I opened after effects by running it from an aep project instead of launching from the dock as-per my norm. Thats when CC quit being fun.

    All of a sudden trapcode disappeared, along with all the other plugins I use. Well I quickly found that there were additional copies of every single CC app in applications. This is kind of a problem because with a new MBP, though lightning-fast and thin as you like, hard drive upgrades aren’t exactly affordable- just over $1/ gb. So now I’ve got to remove these old CC apps to get space back, but adobe doesn’t seem to have given me a tool to do so. No, after an hour of waiting for adobe support to get me to a rep and for that rep they tell me I have to manually uninstall, dragging all the apps, files, folders, prefs etc to the trash for every app. Great, there’s a half day gone, plus I have to re-install all the plugins. But wait, it gets better. Some apps, like After Effects, only support 1 level of backwards compatibility, I found out after removing it. Yes, in order to share a file with my colleague using CS6 I have to keep 2 copies of After effects, and should a file get saved in 2014, I have to save it to CC13, then open CC 13 and save it to CS6.

    So, here, my sub is almost up, and the ONLY reason NOT to go back to CS6 is the massive amount of difficulty Adobe’s placed in my way in terms of keeping access to my own IP. But then I have to think, what about next year? What do I do when I have another year’s worth of IP tied up in the cloud and Adobe screws me over again? What do I do when Adobe decides to force more people on to CC by removing backwards compatibility from Photoshop and Illustrator?

    After 1 year, I can tell you this: Stay Away. Or, if you’ve already bought into it, get out now. the more IP you have tied up in the rent-a-program scheme, the more screwed you are when it inevitably turns on you. I’m looking at a week’s worth of work to get myself disconnected from adobe’s ham-fisted micro-management of my workflow. Maybe next year it would be 2 weeks worth, or 3, or maybe I’d just have to sacrifice a few tens of thousands of dollars worth of my own IP to get out.

    • Hey Drew, typically on our site we discourage comments that are clearly rants – but in this case it seems educational to separate some of the things you are conflating together with the subscription model that in fact have always been this way, and are entirely unrelated…

      The notion of saving back to older versions of Adobe tools – particularly those like After Effects and Premiere – has never been promised to be automatic, especially when going back more than one version. It’s always been that way, even with the old perpetual CS releases.

      In fact, a while back we wrote a guide for backwards compatibility from CS6 for all applications, and then later, another one from CC. The processes across the apps were largely the same.

      So this effort required to save down two versions is absolutely nothing new – it’s technical in nature, always has been – and has zero to do with Creative Cloud subscriptions in particular. People have been talking doing about that kind of thing with InDesign since CS5 and before.

      Likewise, in every major cycle in the past – going back through all the Creative Suite launches – Adobe has always issued new builds of their products. CS6 did not update CS5, CS4, or CS3 in place; rather it installed a new version alongside. You could run both side-by-side at the same time and some people continue to do so.

      There are many valid reasons for doing a separate installation instead of overwriting, not the least of which is being cautious about third-party plug-in compatibility between major releases.

      So it’s exactly the same with the CC 2014 release following the CC 2013 release. Again, there is nothing new with that process and you seem to be conflating this with other matters.

      If you have any constructive feedback or suggestions regarding these technical aspects of Adobe’s release provisioning, please feel free to submit them here.

      Finally, regarding the question of cost and retention of access to your IP. After Effects CS6 is a $1000 program. Upgrades (AE CS5 to CS6) cost $350. But you can get a Single-App Membership to After Effects CC – with all ongoing upgrades included – for $20/month.

      If you are serious about your work, how many years of paying the $20 would equate to that large upfront cost, while you continue to be able to use the state-of-the-art tools with the latest-and-greatest capabilities and perfor­mance – and the improved productivity that brings? And if you don’t have $20, where are you going to find many hundreds or even thousands of dollars to buy and maintain the software?

      The entire world will get at least 1-2 free months of usage every year with the new free trial editions that Adobe regularly issues. And even those folks who would like to try to run an old perpetual version indefinitely will encounter challenges as their static software or hardware likely fails or becomes unsupported over time… So, nothing is truly forever in technology.

  10. Drew

    @Libby
    Only from Photoshop and Illustrator. Indesign, only as XML. After effects is extremely limited. cc 2014 only saves back to AE CC13, and AE CC13 only saves back to cs6.

  11. Joan

    Hi – I do project publishing in Indesign that may take me say, 3 months, and then nothing for the rest of the year (except for the continued use of Photoshop).

    Is it possible to turn the Indesign CC subscription off until the next project – and only re-subscribe when the next publishing project comes onboard?

    And could I then subscribe to Photoshop only for the rest of the year?

    • Yes Joan, if you get a CC month-to-month plan (instead of an annual plan) then you can easily turn on and off your product access as desired – just specify “Monthly plan” when selecting what you want…

      So in your example, after your 3 months work is up, you could simply pause your membership (via your online account) until your next project comes along.

      The minimum amount to turn it on for is 1 month, and the maximum to turn off for is indefinitely.

  12. If I use both a desktop and laptop, can I use the monthly fee to apply to both?

  13. Vanessa

    If I subscribe to CC then cancel my subscription down the road, will I then be locked out of using my CS apps after 99 days (when it tries to reconnect to the internet to revalidate)?

    • No, not at all Vanessa – generally you can install and run the CC 2014 release together on the same computer (side-by-side) with older CS versions, like CS6, CS5, etc., without interference.

      In other words, you can have multiple versions installed at once and working on the same system.

      So regardless of if/whether you stop your CC subscription, any prior release that you have will still be available to you – they shouldn’t conflict, and one does not subsume or replace the other.

      (BTW, this goes for the CC 2014 free trial versions as well.)

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