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Are Adobe CS6 Files Compatible with CS5, CS4 & CS3 - and Back?

[UPDATE – Confirmed: Adobe’s new tools in the current CC release are able to export or backsave to older CS6 file formats.]

How Backwards Compatible Are Older Versions with Adobe CS6?

This is one of the top questions we get.  Especially now that Adobe is releasing a new version of Creative Suite once per year – with each edition potentially bringing a different or expanded file format – 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 clients or colleagues who are still running an earlier version of the tools…

OK then, here’s how it works. Generally, your new CS6 tools (including those in the Creative Cloud) will be able to open and use any and all earlier project and data files no problem (including CS3, CS4, CS5 and CS5.5 files), without any 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 automati­cally.

Going the other way, when wanting to use CS5 or older tools to open a file saved from a CS6 product, the answer is it depends…  Let’s take a look at the inter­operability for each application within the Creative Suite, then at the bottom we’ll talk about some additional tips and best practices no matter what your situation.

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Historically in Photoshop, it has rarely been an issue as the .PSD format is pretty backwards compatible. To help ensure this, make sure that the “Maximize PSD File Compatibility” option is set when you save your file. Now with all the new features in Photoshop CS6 which prior releases don’t have, there will be some functions whose use will make your file less backwards-compatible.

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… But if you ever run into any difficulties, you can always save your image as a .tif file – TIFF is a standard format that all versions of Photoshop can import, and its biggest advantage is that it will preserve layers, just as the native .PSD file can.

New in Photoshop CS6 now, there’s one feature that makes your life particularly easy when upgrading or changing releases – it’s the ability to migrate and share presets from Photoshop versions going as far back as CS3.


In Illustrator, when you save a file it asks you which version you want to save it as. Instead of CS6, you can choose a “Legacy Format” like Illustrator CS5, CS4, CS3, etc. – but be aware that you may lose some newer features and attributes when the document is read back in to the prior release. Illustrator actually has the best backwards compatibility of all programs as it can save down up to ten previous formats!


With InDesign, there is no automatic way to “downsave” a project like in Illustrator. However you can Export your document as IDML (InDesign Markup Language). IDML files can be read into earlier versions like InDesign CS5.5, CS5, or CS4 – but again there is the potential to lose newer features that aren’t supported in older releases. To go back to InDesign CS3 you would need to Export to INX (InDesign Interchange format) from CS4 instead.

Alternatively, you can use external file downsaving services which will do this for you for a nominal fee – going from InDesign CS6 to CS5.5, CS5, CS4, CS3, CS2, or even CS[1].


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 need to migrate forward or back to a different version is your Dreamweaver site settings or definitions.

Flash Professional

In Flash Pro, you can save in XFL or FLA format for CS5.5 or CS5, although you may lose some newer features which would not be understood by prior versions.  Creative Suite 5 versions of Flash Professional can save back to CS4 formats.

Premiere Pro

In Premiere Pro there is not an official save-back-to-old-version option (and it’s technically not supported) but some customers report fairly good success doing so anyway…  Just keep these tips in mind to help it succeed.

Premiere Pro also works like InDesign – you can export to an AAF (Advanced Authoring Format) file which is sort of a “universal” project format that can be read by CS5, CS4, etc. Exporting to EDL (edit decision list) format is another option for saving back to earlier releases.

After Effects

With After Effects you can save your project in a text-based XML format or Save a Copy As CS5.5, again with the caveat that new functionality in CS6 won’t transfer down. Going the other way, there are some tricks 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 a more automated way to export for older AE releases going back to CS3, the third-party Open Sesame plug-in may be another option.


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 older 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.


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 rename it to a new file. This way, in case anything goes wrong or if you ever want to import it again, you will still have your original 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 is still offering a worldwide discount of 40% off upgrades to the Creative Cloud to existing owners of any Creative Suite product from CS3, CS4, CS5, CS5.5, or CS6.

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Having Multiple Versions on the Same Computer

How to Fix Adobe CS6 File Associations

When installing any new Adobe release including Creative Suite 6, the older version(s) on your computer will not ever be uninstalled, removed, or written over. That is because people often 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.

So in a nutshell, this means you could install and run as many versions as you want alongside one another, and they will coexist side-by-side without interference – and many users do this. But if you decide instead that you only want the latest version on your system, then the best way to proceed is to uninstall your older releases first – before installing the later one, other­wise it’s possible that your file associations could get lost or crossed up (though this is fairly easily fixable).

Moving or Sharing Project Files Between Windows and Mac OS

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 Suite 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 okay on the other platform…

See here for example, the cross-platform workflow with Premiere Pro CS6, similar capability for After Effects CS6 project files, and so on.

Was this article helpful?  What CS6 or “version conversion” questions can we answer for you?  Just use the comments below and we’ll get back to you quickly…

See Also

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62 thoughts on “Are Adobe CS6 Files Compatible with CS5, CS4 & CS3 - and Back?”

  1. Recently I tried out what will happen when using new Stroke option in Photoshop CS6 saved in PSD format and open in Photoshop CS5. Everything is as it should be but Stroke will be rasterized because earlier version does not recognize this feature.

    • Hey there Bojan, welcome back and thanks for your comment. Yes, that’s a great point and good example of exactly what will happen if one of the newer features is used when a file is opened by a previous release… The older version doesn’t have the capability to understand the newer functionality – so typically that part is just ignored while the rest of the file is read in, which is what you hope would happen.

      But for a product like Photoshop CS6, certainly not all the new capabilities fall into this category… It’s only the few that could possibly be saved structurally into a file, like the new vector strokes as you mentioned. With everything else, all the core Photoshop functionality, there’s never an issue saving back or forward.

  2. It is good idea to write a post with a complete list which new Creative Suite features can be saved back and opened with previous versions, and which cannot. Nobody has a similar tutorial on the web.

    • Hi Paulette, thank you for pointing that out. The last issue of FreeHand was nearly a decade ago and appears to be too far back for Adobe CS6 to support, but this is one of those cases where keeping older CS releases around comes in handy – so here are some suggestions for converting your files.

      If you need a prior release for any conversion project like that (another example would be for saving back several releases in InDesign), then check out our Creative Suite direct download links, where you can access and install all trial versions going back to CS3… The free 30 days usage that you get will hopefully be enough to take care of your files.

      If you have or use Illustrator CS4, then you can even use automated scripting to convert your FreeHand files to Illustrator files.

      Hope this helps!

  3. I have both CS3 and CS5.1. I can open FreeHand files in both, and save them as Illustrator files. Occasionally I’ll refer back to old files. Not something I do often but it’s nice to have a version of Illustrator I can open them in. Thought I’d bring this up in case someone else has FreeHand files they want to convert.

    Thanks for your input!

  4. I was using an Arab-English version of Photoshop CS3. Now my computer crashed and I can’t install it back because the code has been used and can not be disabled at Adobe. Is my program useless now?

  5. Hello,

    I am wanting to get into doing some monogram design work for weddings. The tutorials/examples that I want to create were made using CS3 Extended. My question is would I be able to do the same things in a newer version, maybe by taking a different route?

    It seems like the tools required in CS3 do not exist in the trial version of CS6 that I downloaded.

    Thank you in advance for your help.

  6. hi.. i have problem with my cs6.. actually i use mac air. my problem is :

    1. i can’t save my project on my external hard disc..

    2. i can’t open my project from my cs6 with my other laptop in my cs3..


  7. I only need one question answered and I am sorry but I hate how Adobe is with the Forums, I never find what I want and they won’t just let me email Adobe. Anyways rant over, my company has CS5 and we don’t have a lot of money to keep upgrading every year when Adobe comes out with new Creative Suites. Do I have to upgrade to CS6 or can I still open files sent by other people using CS6? Is it mostly on the other person’s end when they save?

    • No worries Nikki, feel free to email or ask whatever you like anywhere on our site and we will be sure to answer, and give you a good, correct and complete answer… :)

      So the answer to your question is: If you want to continue using an older version when your colleagues are using a newer release, then yes it is mostly on their end when they save the file. That’s what the article above is guiding on (how to backsave) for each CS application – so you can point other people here… But as mentioned, the big caveat is that trying to save back to prior versions doesn’t always work well, and newer features are not able to carry back to an older format that doesn’t understand them.

      Hope this addresses what you wanted to know – but if you have any further or follow-up questions, then just post back.

  8. Great and very helpful post, and I’ve bookmarked for when I need it, thanks. I had a question though. Have the newer versions of some of the CS6 apps in the Creative Cloud added any changes to the file formats for those apps? Or are they all the same formats as the regular CS6? Thanks again.

    • Hey there Frances, thank you for your kind words – and that’s an excellent question. The answer is no, Adobe has not made any changes to the CS6 file formats with the exclusive upgrades that have gone out for several of the major products included in the Creative Cloud

      In other words, the newer versions of Photoshop (CS6.1), Dreamweaver, and Illustrator that Cloud members (and single application subscribers) are using have the exact same project and data file formats as those in the “standard-issue” CS6. So, these can be treated as the same.

  9. Hello, I have a question – when I create a legacy file, and make it compatible from CS6 to CS5, it keeps converting it into a Acrobat PDF file instead of making it an Illustrator file. This keeps the person receiving the file in CS5 format from being able to properly view the uploaded file. Do you know how I can stop it from converting to an Acrobat PDF file? Thanks

    • Hello Loren, here are a few things you can try or think about… We have no problem at all saving back to Legacy versions in Illy CS6. Are you carefully following the instructions for how to do it? Are you specifying the file you’re saving to have a “.ai” extension? Why or how would it get a PDF extension instead, or open in Acrobat? What happens when you save down the file, close in Illustrator (Ctrl+W) and then immediately read the same file back in to Illustrator?

      Hopefully this helps track down what’s not happening the right way for you.

  10. On Windows how can you determine the version an fla file was saved as?

    I am using Flash Pro CS6 on Windows and I do not see any differences in the File/File Info when I open version 5 or 6 fla files or in their file properties either.

  11. We are currently using the CS4 suite. We have 6 licenses for this version. Can you tell me what the cost would be to update to the latest version?

    Thank you.

  12. ProDesignTools :

    Hi Raya, sorry for your computer trouble. The only people who can help you with a case like that – where you need to deactivate software that you no longer have access to, like from a crashed disk – is Adobe themselves…

    If you contact them and give them your serial number, they should be able to reset all activations in their database for your product, and then you can start reinstalling and reactivating it fresh on whichever machines you want. The best/fastest/easiest way to contact Adobe Customer Service usually via live online chat.

    These articles should also help you along the process:

    How to Move or Reinstall Adobe Software from One System to Another

    How Many Systems Can You Use Adobe Products On?

    Hope this helps!

    Hi, I have faced the same problem as well, however I have lost the Adobe Creative Suite CS4 CD! :(

    However, when I logged on to my online Adobe account, my serial number is still intact – so what should I do, since now the Adobe website does not even provide CS4 trial demo downloads anymore…

    And does the CS4 serial number work for CS6 trial demo downloads??

  13. Are .eps files saved in Illustrator CS6 able to be opened in earlier versions of Illustrator (CS3 specifically)?

    The print company I am working with can only accept CS3 formats and specifically asked for .eps files.

  14. My computer is old and i can not install the illustrator CS6 version, i’m still using CS3 and can not open a CS6 file.

    • Sorry – in many cases, CS3 tools won’t be able to open CS6 files – there’s a 5-year difference in age there… Photoshop is the application that’s most likely to be backwards compatible in such a case.

      Sometimes it also depends on the features used in the CS6 file/project, if they existed in the CS3 version.

  15. Hi,

    I am working with cs4 on my computer at work, while someone else is using cs6. We both share files to work on.

    My question is, if I open a cs6 file on my computer does it automatically save it in a different format, overwriting the original cs6 format?

    When I open a cs6 file everything is in a clipping mask. So if I just wanted to open a cs6 file to say print it, would that corrupt the file format in anyway?

    • Hey Alanna, just opening a CS6 file in a CS4 tool won’t resave or rewrite the file in any way, or change the format… You would have to explicitly resave it to overwrite the original file.

      So if all you want to do is open and print, then you shouldn’t have a problem with that process.

      See the Best Practices section above for tips on how to proceed if you’re trying to do more than that.

  16. Hi, I`m using PS-6 Illustrator, when I make any file by it but I can`t save.
    I use PS-6 Illustrator Portable.
    Please Solve me.

  17. Hello, can I really save cs6 to cs5, then cs5 to cs4, then cs4 to cs3, then cs3 to flash 8? When I try to open my sprite .fla in flash 8 (it’s some flash 8, because my cs6 is spanish and I do not understand, I just say “si” thingy.) Then it says “Unexpected file format.” when I try to open it in flash 8. So can I really save cs6 to cs5, then cs5 to cs4, then cs4 to cs3, then cs3 to flash 8?


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