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Top Alternatives for Adobe Creative Suite

By Justin Heyes on March 17th 2018

Adobe has been offering its Creative Cloud suite for years now with the estimated number of subscribers to be over 9 million, and with their latest news, it doesn’t look like the “Cloud” is going anywhere. They offer a wide variety of plans with the least expensive one being their Photography Plan for $9.99 a month.

On paper, the $10 a month Photography Creative Cloud Plan from Adobe looks like one of the better deals out there for photographers, where, for the same price as two Venti Caramel Macchiatos, you get access to Lightroom and Photoshop for your computer, a handful of mobile apps, and your own portfolio website. The plan is actually a great deal if you are just doing photography. But what if you’re not into the subscription plan? What if you’re not happy with Lightroom? What if, frankly, you want options?

[Rewind: Dear Adobe, Please Fix Lightroom]

When you first visit Adobe’s main page the words that are greeting you make believe that with the “world’s best creative apps” you can make anything regardless of your discipline, as long as you make it with Creative Cloud. If you want to use the “world’s best creative apps” to edit video, mix sound, or produce special effects; you either have to pay $20 for each individual application or pay $50 a month for access to the entire suite. Suddenly you are paying $600 a year, in perpetuity, to stay under the Adobe umbrella.

Subscriptions work for services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and those little monthly boxes; all of which promise something new and exciting. They work less so for professional grade apps that peddle the same features year after year, with nothing more than a few tweaks here and there.

Recently it has seemed as if Adobe has taken the Apple approach to their product line, in that they tend to focus more on mobile-optimization than improving their product line for professional use. Looking at Lightroom’s last two updates almost all of the concentration looks to be on mobile usage instead of fixing their antiquated code for the real version.

Features in red are Mobile Only

One would think that with Adobe’s 5.85 billion in revenue they could have improved the speed and functionality of their desktop apps, instead of implementing mobile features hardly a real photographer asked for.

Doing a quick search in your favorite search engine you will find millions of hits on how to make Adobe’s apps perform better. Hits like “Improve Illustrator Performance”, “How to Speed up Lightroom”, and “Optimize Performance in Photoshop” are among the most requested searches in Google; it goes to show that Adobe’s apps, although popular, are far from perfect. Heck, we have lots of that material right here if you want it.

As Adobe sits idly by, other companies have produced applications that either meet or exceed the functionality of ‘The Cloud’. For the cost of a yearly Creative Cloud subscription, you can ‘create’ your own suite of applications that can tackle any project. Below is a list of such alternatives to Adobe’s Creative Cloud that you may want to check out.

Alternatives to Adobe Creative Cloud

Capture One Pro

There are plenty of raw processing applications on the market, but few that have image management as well. Capture One Pro is a professional RAW converter offering ultimate image quality over the competition with accurate colors and incredible detail. There is support for more than 400 cameras (including medium-format) right out of the box. It offers a powerful tethered capture feature that is leaps and bounds beyond Adobe, powerful digital asset management, extensive adjustment tools, and a flexible workflow.

Capture One not only has both a powerful image processor and robust image management, it does implement them in spades. Photographers in drones praise Capture One for making their images look sharper, cleaner, and not as flat as they do in Lightroom. It has been said many times that if you care about color and getting the most out of your images you should give Capture One a try. They offer a 30-day free trial here.

Replaces: Lightroom

Other Alternatives: Alien Skin Exposure, DxO Optics Pro, On1 Photo


Affinity Photo

In just a short time Affinity Photo has moved up the ranks and become one of the most competent photoshop alternatives. The parent company, Serif, has been known for their budget-priced image and vector programs for the last couple of decades, on of which is the now-defunct PhotoPlus X8. Affinity did something that previous products did not: offered a professional grade product for a budget price.

Affinity Photo has many features including unlimited layers, a dedicated RAW editing workspace, 360 Degree Editing, Full HDR merge support, and a complete tone-map workspace. As well as RGB, CMYK, LAB, Greyscale color space with end-to-end CMYK workflow with ICC color management, and 32-bit editing. It also costs $49.99 all in, one time, making it a steal.

Replaces: Photoshop

Other Alternatives: PaintTool SAI, Pixelmator, Corel Paintshop Pro


Affinity Designer

Described as “the fastest, smoothest, most precise vector graphic design software available”, Designer is comparable in many ways to Adobe Illustrator thanks to its vector editing heart. If you already use Photoshop as your main design driver, you will likely feel at home right away. Classic Adobe Illustrator UI is, in contrast, much busier than Designer’s clean, modern, intuitive interface.

Affinity Designer is something that draws together some nice aspects from both Photoshop and Illustrator since it offers an extensive set of vector drawing tools with some basic pixel-based manipulation. Whether you’re working on graphics for marketing materials, websites, icons, UI design or just like creating cool concept art, Affinity Designer will revolutionize how you work.

Since its launch in October 2014, Affinity Designer has received four huge updates, including hundreds of new features and improvements.

Replaces: Illustrator

Other Alternatives: Sketch, Gravit Designer, Autodesk Graphic


DaVinci Resolve

One of the biggest issues with the Adobe subscription model isn’t just the price, but the inability to install the software on more than a couple machines. Granted a software company can’t give out unlimited licenses because you bought one copy. The answer to this give away the software for free (or at least a very capable version for free).

There are both free and paid versions of DaVinci Resolve 12, but the free version can do most everything you would ever need. The paid version DaVinci Resolve 12, dubbed ‘Studio’, adds features such as real-time noise reduction, 4K output (free is limited to UHD), multi graphics card rendering (free is limited to 1 GPU for Windows and 2 GPU on 2014 MacPro) and Stereoscopic 3D capabilities. The latest release is being heralded by Blackmagic as a real Non-Linear Editor; something you could edit a feature film or television program with, and of course, grade it in the same application. It stands up to the claims. Blackmagic provides an extensive list of what is included in the free version here.

Unlike previous versions, Resolve no longer feels like a dedicated color grading app and more like a full-flidged editing system that has the best color tools built-in. Blackmagic have taken a very sensible approach to the user interface for Resolve’s editing, picking the best ideas from most popular non-linear Editors, without adding stuff that will scare users. There are keyboard shortcut presets that mimic Media Composer, Premiere Pro, and FCPX for converts, and of course, you can create and save your own keyboard layout. Resolve gives you the flexibility to scale your editing to enhance the production value of your video.

In a nutshell, this is an editing and color-correcting powerhouse for the unbeatable price of free. It is so stuffed with features that it would require its own article to describe.

Replaces: Premiere Pro, SpeedGrade

Other Alternatives: MAGIX Vegas Pro, HitFilm Pro, Final Cut Pro


Blackmagic Fusion is an image compositing software program originally created by Eyeon Software Inc, now developed by Blackmagic Design. It follows the same method as Resolve in offering a very capable free version and a Studio upgrade. Fusion Studio adds features such as optical flow tools for advanced re-timing, stabilization and stereoscopic 3D production, support for third-party OpenFX plug-ins, and network rendering.

The free version of Fusion features a large visual effects and motion graphic toolset, perfect for personal or commercial work. Featuring an infinite 3D workspace and an easy to use node-based interface in which complex processes are built up by connecting a flowchart or schematic of many nodes, each of which represents a simpler process such as a blur or color correction. This type of compositing interface allows great flexibility, including the ability to modify the parameters of an earlier image processing step “in context” (while viewing the final composite).

While it is not a household name like After Effects, Fusion has been a Hollywood mainstay visual effects and motion graphic tool for over 25 years. It has been used in film projects such as Maleficent, Edge of Tomorrow, The Hunger Games, and television shows like Battlestar Galactica and Orphan Black.

Replaces: After Effects

Other Alternatives: HitFilm Pro, Apple Motion


Adobe Audition has no competition with Pro Tools, Logic Pro, Cubase, or Acid Pro when it comes to the professional scene. The use of Adobe Audition is different than Acid, Pro Tools, Cubase, and whereas the latter are professional tools designed for music production, sound designing, and music arranging, the former is best at editing and mixing or recording audio with a user-friendly interface and operation.

So you may be wondering why I am not recommending one of the industry standards listed above, and the simple answer is cost. The programs list above crush Audition when it comes to feature set and usability, at the cost of hundreds of dollars.

REAPER (short for Rapid Environment for Audio Production, Engineering, and Recording) is one of the best-kept secrets in audio. With a basically nonresistant marketing strategy, REAPER lurks in the shadows of the DAW industry.

It has evolved to fit into all kinds of projects including electronic music, audio recording, mixing, mastering, sound design, live performance, podcasting, audio stories, and subtitles timecoding. It’s got a scalable workflow to meet both amateur and professional standards with the ability to use just about every plugin format on the market. If there is a specific compressor, equalizer, delay, or any other plugin that you really like from a third-party manufacturer, it can be used in REAPER.

Featured Highlights

  • Efficient, fast to load, and tightly coded. Can be installed and run from a portable or network drive.
  • Powerful audio and MIDI routing with multichannel support throughout.
  • 64-bit internal audio processing. Import, record to, and render to many media formats, at almost any bit depth and sample rate.
  • Thorough MIDI hardware and software support.
  • Support for thousands of third-party plug-in effects and virtual instruments, including VST, VST3, AU, DX, and JS.
  • Hundreds of studio-quality effects for processing audio and MIDI, and built-in tools for creating new effects.
  • Automation, modulation, grouping, VCA, surround, macros, OSC, scripting, control surfaces, custom skins and layouts.

While traditional studio recording programs take up a massive amount of hard disk space and computer resources, reaper has a small footprint and is lighter on your CPU than most WAV files. REAPER can be up and running on your computer in less than a minute. With its freedom of plug-in support, it can be customized to suit your needs and you do not pay for features you don’t need.

Replaces: Adobe Audition

Other Alternatives: Logic Pro X, MAGIX Acid Pro, Cubase


Media encoders are sometimes described as a Swiss army knife, able to tackle multiple things at once. Anyone who has ever used a Swiss army knife or a multi-tool can attest that while they do a lot of things good, they do not do anything particularly great. Handbrake does one thing well – transcode video formats.

With one part banana, one part cherry, on part mango, and a garnish of pineapple, Handbrake has been the favorite go-to video transcoder for many over the years and it only continues to get better.

Replaces: Media Encoder

Other Alternatives: SUPER


A House of Clay

When I first heard of Creative Cloud being the direction that Adobe was heading I was surprised, I didn’t think that a subscription-based model would prevent users from pirating apps. It was my honest belief that users of apps such as Lightroom and Photoshop would not be comfortable with, what was in essence, renting their tools. To my surprise, the majority users migrated sheep-like to Adobe’s cloud offerings, with little complaint -though with some die-hard creatives still clutching onto their old CS6 apps. Now so many photographers are getting into the ‘Cloud’ system and, I suspect, are coming to regret it.

It is clear that Adobe’s grounds for adopting a cloud-based system wasn’t anything to do with improved functionality or performance, it was a sardonic move to convert professional creatives and aspiring amateurs into predictable revenue streams. There is a storm on the horizon and companies like Phase One, Blackmagic Design, and Serif are leading the charge.


*This post was originally published in March 2017

This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, however, this does not impact accuracy or integrity of our content.

Justin Heyes wants to live in a world where we have near misses and absolute hits; great love and small disasters. Starting his career as a gaffer, he has done work for QVC and The Rachel Ray Show, but quickly fell in love with photography. When he’s not building arcade machines, you can find him at local flea markets or attending car shows.

Explore his photographic endeavors here.

Website: Justin Heyes
Instagram: @jheyesphoto

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Motti Bembaron

    @Justin Heyes, Dartable has a Windows version

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  2. Motti Bembaron

    I still have CS6 and when my CC 2018 started giving me a hard time I installed the PS CS6 and kept working.

    But of course, Adobe has to make things dificult for old version. It turned out (at least for me) that when CC 2018 is installed CS6 do not always function as well. Could be only me, however, searching around I saw many having the same issues.

    CS6 was a stable release that just worked. Now I have  hard time with After Effect, Premiere Pro, Illustrator (I don’t really use it but still..).

    Yes, I agree that they are going the Apple way and well, more and more professional studios migrate to PC’s, as well as Windows and Android tablets.

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  3. Mihael Tominšek

    “on my surprise, the majority users migrated sheep-like to Adobe’s cloud offerings, with little complaint -though with some die-hard creatives still clutching onto their old CS6 apps. Now so many photographers are getting into the ‘Cloud’ system and, I suspect, are coming to regret it.”

    So damn true! I was just at the purchase of my first whole Crative Suite in early 2013 (CS6) when CC was anouced. Paying 600 per year for WHOLE suite instead of 3600 for CS6 was just overly tempting. I felt GOOD about it. The CC apps was just he same as in CS6, only lincencing was different. They vere giving CS6 at large discounts everywhere. And I laughed at them – my BIGGEST MISTAKE!! 

    Soon updates came and so many broken workflow mornings or changed features after lunch break, or bugs introduced, and hair pulled not knowing WHY ON THE EARTH Premiere won’t do something that was perfectly fine yesterday. I find myself in THE HELL OF ADOBE’s EVERLASTING CHANGES. Non documented, silent under the hood, forced to all tweaks of workflow without option to change it in preferences. I stopped upgrading apps since it was by default deleting previous version and often broking workflow, deleting personal settings, and plugins for shure didn’t work in new version. Lastly they packaged “upgrade” in the name of “update” in the CC2015.4 – It should be called CC2016… I thought bug fixes… but it was new version. 

    And after 5 years in CC what we got: Bunch of tweaks that are mostly annoying and less and less intuitive user interface. Who needs rounded buttons as main new feature. Many features implemented are pleasing noewbies only, since they lack any sofistication and pro’s already have proper external tools. Which will possible not work because of “new” version. So after 5 years I pay just the same as I would buy CS6 and I would save ton of my nerves, time, computer reinstallations, and money on RE-BUYING perfectly capable plugins jut to fit into the new CC “version”. 

    And it is hard to get out after so MANY TIME invested into the Adobe apps due to learning, fiddling, bugs resolving, workflow adapting, system optimizing… They are clever at marketing. I found myself I must have installed Premiere CS6, CC2013 and CC2017 to get work done (various reasons).

    I already use Davinci Resolve and Capture One. I must somehow accept the farewell of Cool Edit Pro as well (ups, Audition). 

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    • Willie Smith

      I have Adobe CS6 from when I attended AiOnline. Still running Win7, but since Microsoft is ending support of Win7 in January, and since CS6 won’t work with Win10, I HAVE to find an alternative or I’m out of business. I cannot afford Adobe’s insane subscription fees.  So I’m looking very closely at Affinity Designer, and downloading DaVince Resolve 15 right now.  If these programs do what they appear to do, then it’s bye bye Adobe! 

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  4. Ian Darwin

    Good overview and I learned about a couple of tools I hadn’t tried yet.

     Although they are somewhat geekish, I half expected to see the totally-free Gimp mentioned in passing as a replacement for Photoshop and DarkTable as an alternative for Lightroom. These tools are “free” both in the sense that you don’t have to pay to use them AND in the fact that if it “almost” does what you want, you can probably hire a software developer to modify it (i.e., not just write a plugin, but modify how the core application works). If the improvement is generally useful, you can offer it back to the team that maintains the given program, helping everybody that uses it. Not an option with the commercial programs mentioned here! There are lots of other tools in this “free” category btw, which you can find by doing a web search for, say, “open source video edIting” or “open source photoshop replacement”.

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    • Justin Heyes

      GIMP is arguably the most popular free software for non-vector digital art and image editing. It is mentioned in many alternative list as a photoshop alternative, but its development is slow and “gimped” at times. If you are are looking for both a free and open source editor Krita is a much better option.

      If you were to apply to editing house any you put that you were proficient in GIMP, you would have a hard time getting through the door.

      As for Darktable there is no Windows option and it is only for Unix based OSs like macOS and Linux, so that is not a viable alternative.

      The problem free and open source software is that it is volunteer based is that support is based solely on the community. I know Handbrake is both free and open source, but it is included in the list because I know studios who prefer it over the like of media encoder. – It is that good.

      Investing in a program that a company provides not only guarantees the application itself but, support from people who’s job it is to develop and maintain the software; not just do it in their free time.

      For the case for Affinity, their asking price of $50 is a steal for a much more polished product than GIMP and a much faster alternative than Photoshop.

      Capture One may be the most expensive product of the bunch, but their support is uncanny. Their parent company, Phase, actually makes cameras and understands what photographers want, unlike Adobe.  

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  5. David Stong

    Geat assessment. I’m one of the  “die-hard creatives still clutching onto their old CS6 apps” I treated myself to the Master Suite with plans to update every 2 years. Ah well.  I’ve been hoping Adobe packages a “current state” software CD, but I see I don’t have the need.  CS6 on Mountain Lion runs beautifully. I have no wish to pack up my desktop and wheel it to a free-wifi cafe every month for Adobe’s approval.  I think Affinity is my future; it gives me the tools I need to survive.

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  6. Overmind .

    Article isn’t quite correct: it lacks of comparison of workflows and misses the fact that some tools oriented for different market segments, actually. 

    If we’r speaking about professional workflow – and we’r – time factor and the product integration in the process mean not any less than that you can get the same / about the same output thing.

    It’s absolutely not right to misplace areas of usage like to name a node tool, focused mainly for the film-making industry, a “replacement” for the more “universal” layer-based tool well-integrated in a graphic -> motion design process.

    Affinity’s Designer is a great app but it’s very limited for the deep-dive graphic design. It has a lot of potential but as it’s at its up-to-date version AD’s more Sketch app successor than Illustrator’s. Especially as Affinity promised some prototyping mode which would make Designer all-in-one tool for the web designers. And that’s pretty cool. Simply it can’t replace Illustrator in many things for now and no one knows if it ever’ll happen as Affinity shares with Adobe the same downside: slow development.

    Also here’r other things. 1. To succeed an industry standard software you have to make a product which lets users to migrate painlessly. That means support for plugins (let’s say Google’s Nick collection is very useful for photographers), implement in-app conversation for the presents and brushes. Affinity mostly fails here. 2. Developer has to invest in the studying materials. No one will run for your product even if it costs less because that “less” doesn’t actually mean less if on changing workflow your clients may loose per month / contract more than they do have pay for Adobe CC annually. Affinity do put some free tuts on their YouTube channel and I’ve seen few payed what’s nothing against the tons of Adobe tuts.

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    • Mihael Tominšek

      how I see it – Adobe advertize the integration all the time and the new features that saves time. But in reality that are just hype. many features pro won’t use, and if want to perfect them it will take more time than just do it like in old days – separate tool. Adobe would like to make swiss army knife, but is not thought and myde by Swiss people. So it is cheap consumerish clone. Professioanl tool give performance, accuracy, problem free workflow. Only than features. Adobe bet on features only,  since they lack everything else. 

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  7. James Rogers

    I’ve been using Affinity exclusively for over a year now. I have no need, nor desire, to head back to Adobe. They work really, really well. 

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    • Willie Smith

      I’m glad to read this, as I’m fed up with Adobe’s price-gouging and holding designers hostage. I have CS6 and looking VERY closely at Affinity.

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  8. mind over

    [mind over has deleted this comment]

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  9. Corey Weberling

    I haven’t bought the Affinity apps yet, but they look REALLY promising. I have capture one for cheap because I have a Sony camera. It seems to be really good….but I’m not fully comfortable with editing in it yet.

    I’m not really a fan of the subscription….even more not a fan that they don’t have a “designer bundle” that gives me Illustrator, InDesign, and Photoshop….that’s freakin stupid.

    I might have to make the switch to Affinity….simply because I’m not really a professional when it comes to photography stuff but I use photoshop a lot. But I’m not looking forward to having to relearn software.

    Some of the features Affinity has are great though. I find it absolutely ridiculous that Adobe can’t do similar things….especially things like “live adjustments” and “live blend modes”…….stuff like that should be standard!

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    • Geoffrey Gordon

      I have purchased both affinity designer and photo. They are both excellent replacements for photoshop and illustrator. in fact, the designer replaced both adobe fireworks and illustrator for me in one go.

      There are some features that are awesome extras and few that are a little different, but most functions are similar. I really like the export options. 

      There is a small learning curve but not much and improvements are being made all the time, so it just keeps getting better and better. There is also a lot of tutorials available for learning new techniques and awe community-developed addons. 

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  10. Simon Sutcliffe

    Hi Justin

    Thanks for the informative blog post.  I agree with your overall concept that Adobe is basically making their revenue stream reliable and there are some great alternatives on the market.

    But what you missed in your review is the consumers also benefit from  monthly payments.  It allows you to buy as you use in small chunks.  SLR Lounge has also now offered smaller chunks for their Premium service as people like to pay as you go.

    Another point I make which you did not make clear was some Adobe products offer limited functionally outside or subscription, For example Lightroom  still allows you to use the library module to export out or just lay dormant whilst you have a break from photography, there is no depreciation of your large investment (As we all want the latest versionso will just update after the break anyway). With a subscription you start up again with the small monthly payment to get straight back up to date with the latest bits delivered by Adobe.

    I looked this morning at Capture One after you post and it is currently £236 from Amazon in the UK,  I am not sure how often they update the major versions causing me to upgrade but the cost of having the Photography Bundle could still be much less based on you get two products also so over time this might still be the cost effective solution for some.  This is compounded if you consider the other products.

    I can also agree with you, Adobe seems to be heading in a direction that might seem to not fit the core professional photographers.  I am not a pro but have never looked at any of the mobile products. However if you look at the way the technology is moving, portability is a major trend and I expect not going mobile leaves them out of this game hence there current push.  Likewise I think we would all love to see a little more speed and stability improvements in the next release of Lightroom :-)

    What mainly triggered me to write this reply was as a Premium member of SLR Lounge I wondered since you are peddling on the site about these products will the team be adding training for Capture One and adding post production sections covering both Lightroom and Capture one from now on in the training material.  Currently the training is all focused on Adobe and that is also another reason I continue with my subscription as having invested in SLR Lounge Premium they go hand in hand.

     Again thanks for the informative post and I look forward to a reply from the team at SLR Lounge on the updated training material.

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    • Ryan Beuke

      +1 on getting training for Capture One as well as Capture 1 Presets designed by SLR Lounge.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Hi Simon, thanks for your detailed response, and of course for being an SLRL Premium member; we’re glad to have you.  I’ll try to address a few points you’ve mentioned and starting with monthly payments, we’re certainly aware that breaking down the monthly payments make these programs more tangible for many, and even for those who otherwise could purchase outright the burden is less; I, for one, am am fan, and think it’s one of the best deals out there. That said, regarding the Adobe Cloud plans, it hasn’t been without its critics, and many people still want to be able to buy a standalone product and do without the incremental updates.  

       Regarding Capture One, with each purchase of COP say version 10, you’ll get updates like 10.2, 10.2… all the way up to the next full level version at which point you can update it for 1/3 the price of the original buy. Also, you can choose to skip an update should you wish, and do it the next time around (I believe the price remains the same if you’re one or two versions behind). There’s no question COP is pricier but it’s certainly worth it for many.

      As far as education for COP, that’s something we’ve already begun doing on site with our free material and as the demand and desire for it is growing you can look forward to more of it on a continual basis. You can look out for articles by Max, Marlon, and myself who currently cover it, and more to come. Ryan Beuke    As far as the preset system for COP, perhaps that’s something we’ll look into.  Cheers guys

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    • Jonathan Smith

      Fact is most Adobe users did an “every other” upgrade path because the new features simply weren’t worth the money.  Lightroom was a lightweight at $79 then $99 upgrade price but Photoshop was an absurd expense for most photographers>
      In addition when you stopped paying you could still use the old apps – I *still* use CS6 Web Design package and it works well for my needs.
      Nope – the author was dead-on in his assessment and Adobe isn’t the only one – Office 365 and many others are “trying” the subscription model forgetting that was one of the reasons for the PC revolution to begin with – people were tired of paying high per-seat licenses on mainframes.  I can remember when CorelDraw was a Unix program you paid per-seat.

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    • Mihael Tominšek

      you can buy ALL the mentioned software in their premium versions for less than one year of CC subscription. 

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    • Willie Smith

      I cannot afford monthly payments. Nor can I afford exhorbitant annual subsciption rates. I’m pretty much old school, and prefer to BUY something outright one time. 

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