Now that the Adobe CC release has become ubiquitous with over 30 million paid customers, some folks are asking us whether the new versions of the tools in the Creative Cloud can read or save older data/document/project file formats like CS6, CS5.5, CS5, CS4 & CS3…
In fact, since Adobe’s flagship creative toolset CC 2019 is now seven major releases past CS6 from 2012 (which they no longer sell), file version compatibility can sometimes be an important decision point in moving forward.
In the past, new Adobe product versions have often brought different or expanded file formats to support significant new features – and customers want to know if their existing projects will easily carry forward with them when they upgrade, or if they will be able to save back to older formats for coworkers or clients who may still be running an earlier revision of the programs…
OK then, here’s how it works. Generally, your new CC tools will be able to open and use any and all earlier CS project and data files – including CS3, CS4, CS5, CS5.5, and CS6 files – with no problem or loss of information. In other words, all Adobe software is able to read or import file formats from previous versions of the same program – and it should happen seamlessly and automatically. The only exception to this is Premiere Pro, where it’s best to open/edit projects in the same versions that created them.
Going the other way, when wanting to use CS6 or older tools to open a file saved from a CC product, the answer is it depends… Adobe officially states, “Many of the Creative Cloud desktop applications can export files to the older Creative Suite 6 version of the same tool. Each of the following CC apps provide the ability to export to the CS6 version of the program: Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, Animate (previously called Flash Professional), and After Effects” – with the caveat that, “New features added may not be supported in the exported file or implemented by the CS6 application.” And the same would go for CS5, CS4, or CS3.
So let’s take a closer look below at the interoperability for each major CC 2019 application within the Creative Cloud, then at the bottom we’ll talk about some additional tips and best practices no matter what the circumstance.
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Historically in Photoshop, it has rarely been an issue because the .PSD format is pretty portable and compatible (forwards and backwards) between different releases. To help ensure this, make sure that Photoshop’s “Maximize PSD File Compatibility” option is turned on when you save your file.
With that in place, you should be able to save back your Photoshop CC file to be opened in CS6, or even lower versions (as this demonstration of moving from CC to CS5 shows)… You can even make changes to a CC file in an older release of Photoshop, and then later bring it back into CC with everything present, active, and intact.
In fact, many people don’t realize it but Photoshop’s common file format specification is openly published so that other tools can read, view, or save .PSD files, even third-party software (for example, free utilities like XnView or CloudConvert)… But if you ever run into any difficulties, you can always save your image as a .tif file – TIFF is a universal 16-bit format that all versions of Photoshop (and many other programs) can import, and its biggest advantage is that it will preserve layers, just as the native .PSD file can.
Since CS6, Photoshop CC streamlines your life when moving around between different computers with the Preset Migration feature. Upgrading or changing releases is also easier thanks to this new capability to share and migrate presets from older Photoshop versions going as far back as CS3.
In Illustrator it’s very straightforward – when using “Save As…”, the program will ask which version you want to save your file as. Instead of “Illustrator CC,” you can choose a “Legacy Format” like “Illustrator CS6,” CS5, CS4, CS3, etc. – but be aware that you may lose some newer features and attributes when the document is read back into the prior release. Illustrator actually has the best backsave capability of all tools as it can save down up to eleven previous formats!
There are also some other techniques available that may allow you to open files created in a newer version of Illustrator without backsaving.
Each major new release of InDesign has always made a new format that older releases cannot open. The document file format evolves and improves with each successive version.
And with InDesign, there is no automatic way to “downsave” a project like in Illustrator, and there never has been… But what you can do instead is Export your document as IDML (InDesign Markup Language). IDML files can be read into earlier versions like InDesign CS6, CS5.5, CS5, or CS4 – but again there is the potential to lose newer features that aren’t supported in legacy releases. To go back to InDesign CS3 you would need to Export to INX (InDesign Interchange format) from CS4 instead.
Seeing the need, Adobe created the Simple Saveback service, which is a free web service for Creative Cloud subscribers to do this IDML file conversion on demand. For example, if you open a document saved from CC 2018 in the InDesign CC 2015 application, then you’ll receive a dialog box with this notice:
InDesign could not open “filename.indd” because it has been created in a newer version – Adobe InDesign CC 13.0. Click “Convert” to convert and open this document.
Content created using features specific to the later version of InDesign may be modified or omitted when you open the document in a previous version.
<Convert> or <Cancel>
Alternatively, you can use external file downsaving services which will do this for you for a nominal fee – going from InDesign CC 2019 to CC 2018, CC 2017, CC 2015, CC 2014, CC 2013, CS6, CS5.5, CS5, CS4, CS3, CS2, or even CS. There’s also a file conversion plugin available that enables lower versions of the InDesign application (such as CS5 and CS5.5) to open all native .INDD documents that have been saved by newer releases like CC  or CS6.
In Dreamweaver, file compatibility with older versions is not really a problem… HTML is HTML, CSS is CSS – the output is standards-based and similar across product releases. The one part that you’d need to migrate forward or back to a different version is your Dreamweaver site settings or definitions, and those you can easily import and export.
Animate (formerly Flash Pro)
Animate CC was rearchitected for high performance on 64-bit systems and completely rewritten to incorporate native HTML5 Canvas and WebGL support, and consequently some older features were deprecated. This means when you open a file previously saved with an earlier version of Flash Pro, you may encounter a feature that is no longer supported in Animate CC 2019. The software will show a warning to this effect and automatically convert the deprecated content into a supported content type.
When going the other direction and bringing a CC file back to an lower release, Animate is pretty flexible – you can save in XFL or FLA format for CS6 or CS5.5, although you may lose some newer features which would not be understood by prior versions. Additionally, Flash Professional CS6 can save back to CS5 formats, and CS5 versions can downsave to CS4 formats.
Premiere Pro CC does not have a save-back-to-old-version option, and in fact the .prproj file format had a major change from CS6 in that it is now compressed… As a result, file sizes are a fraction of what they were before as textual XML, but Premiere Pro CS6 (and earlier) cannot read the new (binary) files – you’ll get the message, “The project appears to be damaged, it cannot be opened.” Even after decompressing a CC file (with a utility like 7-Zip), CS6 will say, “The project could not be loaded, it may be damaged or contain outdated elements.” Oddly, however, CS5.x versions of Premiere can read the file with a trick.
So then, what are your options for going back to CS6 – or to any previous CC or CS release? What if you get the error message: “This project was saved in a newer version of Adobe Premiere Pro and cannot be opened in this version”?
Well, the first thing to try are the techniques given on this Adobe Forums help thread… Essentially, you make a copy of your .prproj file, decompress it, open the resulting file in a text editor to change its internal Version number, save the file, recompress and rename it, and then try opening the modified project file in your older version of Premiere Pro. Keep in mind, of course, that some newer product features cannot be understood by older releases of the software.
If that doesn’t work, then try Plan B: Premiere Pro works somewhat like InDesign above, in that you can export to Final Cut Pro XML (eXtensible Markup Language), which is the most commonly-used technique – or export to an AAF (Advanced Authoring Format) file, which is sort of a “universal” project format that can be read by CS6, CS5, CS4, etc. So you can then import the resulting project file into not only an earlier version of Premiere Pro but also other NLEs such as Final Cut Pro, although Premiere-specific settings and details may not translate. [Note that Premiere Pro can also export OMF and MXF files/wrappers, but AAF is generally considered superior.] Finally, Exporting to EDL (Edit Decision List) format is another possible option for saving back to prior releases.
With After Effects you can save your project in a text-based XML format, or you can use the save back to prior version command in the File menu. The latest CC 2019 (AE 16) release can “Save a Copy as CC (15.x)”, and then you can take that output and hopscotch it back to the original CC 2013 (AE 12) release and then use that to “Save a Copy As CS6” – again with the caveat that new functionality in CC won’t transfer down to CS6. When going the other way, there are some tips to follow to help your older project import and work in the newer release. For more specifics on opening AE projects from prior releases and saving back to previous versions, see this post.
If you want/need a more automated way to export for legacy AE releases going all the way back to CS3, then the Open Sesame plug-in may be another option. This third-party utility converts After Effects files to a fully editable, human-readable text-based format, and can create backwards-compatible projects that open in older versions. It currently supports CC 2019, CC 2018, 2017, 2015, CC 2014, CC 2013, CS6, CS5.5, CS5, CS4 and CS3, and you can download the trial there if you want to check it out first.
For Audition, it’s a similar story – standard audio file formats like WAV, MP3, AIFF, etc. are fully compatible across applications, and it’s possible to import sessions from prior versions particularly as XML files, but saving your multitrack session file in an older format would lose some of your mix. For migrating and bringing up files from Audition 3, there’s a very helpful conversion utility.
OK Now: Best Practices
Once you open your older document in the newer product version, or vice versa, the program will want to change and convert your data to its native format. So the best thing to do after importing your project is to immediately “Save As…” and save a new copy with a different file name. This way, in case anything goes wrong or if you ever want to import it again, you will still have your original (archive) document authored in the other version, as well as your new document that you can continue to develop and make changes to.
The same would apply for when you go the other way and save back a copy to a legacy file format from a newer release – use “Save As…” to make sure you preserve your original.
If you’ve been thinking of upgrading your software to make life easier, keep in mind that Adobe does offer discounted pricing for some CC plans and customers.
Having Multiple Versions on the Same Computer
When installing the new Adobe CC release, you can choose to keep the older version(s) on your computer so that they will not be uninstalled, removed, or written over. Often folks find it helpful to continue to have access to the previous release while getting up to speed with the new one, plus as mentioned above, having those prior versions can sometimes be useful in managing older files.
In other words, you can have multiple Adobe releases installed alongside one another – they will coexist side-by-side without interference. But if you decide instead that you only want the latest software on your system, then the best way to proceed is to uninstall your older program(s) first – before installing the newer one(s), otherwise it’s possible that your file associations could get lost or crossed up (though this is fairly easily fixable).
The ability to run more than one version is also helpful if you receive a file created in a newer release that you don’t have on your computer. In that case, you can download the free trial for the file’s version and then save it back to an older format using the techniques described above.
Moving or Sharing Your Files Between Windows and macOS
Finally, customers frequently ask if they can move or share data or project files between the Windows and Mac platforms – this is increasingly common in heterogeneous environments where people have Creative Cloud applications running on both operating systems. The answer is, this is usually possible no problem – generally with most Adobe software you can transfer and use files freely between PC and Mac, and they will work and open fine on the other o/s platform…
Using the Creative Cloud to Share/View Files and Collaborate
Now comes the coolest part. With the online storage features in Creative Cloud that are free for everyone, you can easily share Adobe application-specific files with anyone else on the web… Simply upload your file(s) to the Cloud when you want to, and choose if you want to share with others or allow them to post comments or download the original file.
You and your clients and colleagues will then be able to intelligently view and manipulate the files online using only a web browser, and without needing to have any Adobe apps installed. Users can display PSD, INDD, AI, and other files natively within their browsers – plus turn on-and-off layers, view relevant metadata, step through artboards, and more – and the recipient does not have to be a member of Creative Cloud to do this. Learn more in this video:
Was this file compatibility guide helpful? What CC or “version conversion” questions can we answer for you? Just leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you promptly…
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