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Is the Creative Cloud the Best Choice for You?

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Read Time: 9 mins

Recently, Adobe released the Creative Cloud, a subscription service that will allow you to use all of Adobe's Creative Suite applications, and more, for just $49.99 per month. The Creative Cloud is a radical deviation from Adobe's traditional pricing structure, and a model that many think will completely change the industry. In this article we will take a look at the pricing model for the Creative Cloud to help you decide if it's the right decision for you.

Back in 2011, before we had ever heard of the Creative Cloud, we asked our readers in an article, if they thought that Photoshop was too expensive. As you can imagine, this article inspired a passionate debate about Adobe's pricing structure and whether or not it was fair to consumers. Back then, a lot of our readers felt that Adobe products were just too expensive, and as a result, they simply could not afford to purchase Adobe's products.

The Creative Cloud, however, significantly reduces this barrier. Users no longer have to pay for a full license up front. They can now subscribe to individual applications like Photoshop for just $19.99 per month or purchase a subscription to the full creative cloud, which includes all of Adobe's Creative Suite apps, and more, for just $49.99 per month. This means users can now choose the option that works best for them. They can pay for a license up front, or choose to spread out the payments over time.

This brings up an important question; which plan makes the best sense? Before we answer that question however, it's important to first talk a bit about Adobe's traditional pricing structure. A traditional license to Photoshop CS6 is $699. Photoshop CS6 Extended costs $999. If you needed more than one Adobe application, suites start at $1,299. This is a lot of money for the average hobbyist, or to some one just getting started in the industry; and as we said earlier, many users simply can't afford it.

Adobe clearly needed more options for it's consumers but how could they offer their high quality products to their users, at a reduced price, and still manage to run a profit? Well, that's where the Creative Cloud comes in. Users can now get individual access to their products for just $19.99 per month or access to the entire Creative Cloud for just $49.99 per month. This makes Adobe products much more appealing to users who simply can't afford the initial investment of a traditional license.

With that said, many of our readers have asked us which model makes the most sense over time. $49.99 per month sounds like a fantastic bargain but how do the numbers work out 2, 5, or 10 years from now? Well, let's take a look.

In the charts below, we looked at a potential user's total investment in Adobe products over time. In the first chart, we compared a traditional Photoshop CS6 license to an individual subscription to Photoshop CS6 through the cloud, over a 9-year period. We took into account the cost of an upgrade at 2-year intervals. As you can see, users who subscribe to the cloud have an advantage over traditional license holders for about 4 years. After that time, it becomes more economical to have purchased a traditional license.

So what does this mean in real numbers? It means that at the end of a 9-year period, a person subscribing to an individual subscription to Photoshop will have paid $700 more than a person who purchased an individual license and then upgraded every 2 years.

What about users who subscribed to the full Creative Cloud at $49.99 per month? The chart below compares the full Creative Cloud to Adobe's family of Creative Suites. We looked at CS Design standard that costs $1,299 to buy and $549 to upgrade. CS Design and Web Premium which costs $1,899 to buy and $749 to upgrade, and the Master Collection which costs $2,599 to buy and $1049 to upgrade. Like our previous chart, we took into consideration an upgrade every 2 years.

Editor's note: these numbers are based on the upgrade from CS5 to CS6.

What we found was that Creative Cloud is a far better deal that puchasing a license for the Master Collection. As you can see, at no point during the 7-year period that we reviewed would a Creative Cloud subscriber end up paying out more money than a traditional license holder.

On the other hand, Creative Cloud customers do eventually end up paying out more money than traditional CS Design Standard and CS Design and Web Premium Customers. How much time does it take? That depends on the suite that you're comparing it to. It will take about 3 years for a Creative Cloud customer to pay more money than a CS Design Standard customer, 5-7 years for a Creative Cloud customer to surpass a CS Design and Web Premium customer.

So what does this mean in real numbers? It means that after 7.5 years, a Creative Cloud customer will have spent $1,603 more than a CS Design Standard Customer, and $403 more than CS Design and Web Premium customers. A traditional license is usually a better deal, unless you need everything included in the Master Collection.

Now that we know how the numbers work out, it's time to make a decision. Is the Creative Cloud a good deal, or not? Well, that really depends on your perspective. How do you use Adobe's products? Which products do you need? Are you a professional designer, a student, or a hobbyist? Is this a long or short-term investment? These are all questions that you will need to answer before you make your decision.

If you can't afford a traditional license to Adobe's products, then you don't really have a choice. At $49.99, the cloud is a bargain, and your only option. You'll be able to use their products for a low monthly fee without having to invest a lot of money up front.

If you are a student, the Creative Cloud is a fantastic deal. You can get a student discount for just $29.99 per month and get access to all of Adobe's Creative suite products at a fraction of the cost of a traditional license. You'll be able to evaluate the software, and decide if design is the industry you want to be in, without having to make a huge initial investment in software.

If you're trying to learn the software but you're not enrolled in school, the Creative Cloud is also a smart option. You'll be able to download the software, learn how to use it, and then decide if the software is for you.

If you're a hobbyist, it really depends on what your hobby is. If you're a photographer who just needs Photoshop, it might be in your best interest to buy a traditional license as opposed to subscribing to an individual subscription or to getting a subscription to the entire cloud. You might also want to consider how serious you are about the hobby. Will you only be needing Photoshop for a few months, or for several years? If you only need a handful of applications, and don't need access to everything in the Master Collection, then it might be best to purchase a license to CS Design Standard or CS Design and Web Premium. It really depends on your needs. You'll have to decide for yourself which is the best option.

If you're a professional designer, it depends on your needs. If you only need Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator then it might be a better idea to purchase a license for CS Design Standard. If you need a few more apps or want Photoshop Extended, then maybe a traditional license to Design and Web Premium is the way to go. If you need all of Adobe apps, then it seems that the Creative Cloud is the best choice.

If you're a design firm, again, it depends on your needs and depends on what type of design that your firm does. Do you need access to all of Adobe's products? If so, the cloud seems to be the way to go.


We understand that all of our readers are different and you are all looking at the Creative Cloud from a different perspective. For some of you, the Creative Cloud is a fantastic opportunity to explore everything that Adobe has to offer its users. For others, the Creative Cloud might not be a very good fit.

That's what we love about the Creative Cloud. Adobe has realized that their users use their products in different ways, and therefore, have different needs. From our perspective, the Creative Cloud is really about adding more choices. You can choose to buy a traditional license for a large up front sum of money, or you can purchase a subscription to the full Creative Cloud for just $49.99 per month and spread out the payments over time.

Does the Creative Cloud cost more in the long term? That depends on what license you're comparing it to. For several of the licenses, it does, for the Master Collection it does not.

So what's the verdict? Is the Creative Cloud a good or a bad thing? Are the pricing options fair or not? In our opinion, the cloud is a fantastic new option. The design community has complained about the high cost of Adobe products for a long time. The Creative Cloud addresses those concerns in a way that is fair to both Adobe and its users. Ultimately, the Creative Cloud gives us more options, it will allow more users to earn a living off Adobe products, it will slow piracy, and hopefully make Adobe a more profitable company. It's a win/win/win.

With that said, we would love to hear your thoughts. Do you like the new pricing model? Is the cloud the best fit for you? We would love to hear your perspective.

Editor's note: when we originally published this article, we based our calculations off a potential upgrade from CS5.5. This produced some slightly incorrect conclusions. Since then, we updated our numbers to instead include an upgrade from CS5. This should more accurately reflect a typical user upgrade over a 2-year period.

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