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Adobe Creative Cloud Experience - Alternatives?

About a year ago Adobe announced that it would be ending their Creative Suite offering, rebranding their applications under the Creative Cloud. Customers would no longer be able to pay once for most of the main Adobe software and use it forever.  Instead they now need to pay monthly and will no longer be able to use the software if they stop paying.  I don’t use Adobe software extensively, but there are times when I need to so I decided to try it out for a year using their introductory $29.99/month offer.  That is about $360 for the year and I felt it was an okay offer.  A few weeks ago I received notice from Adobe that my yearly subscription was coming up for renewal and as promised the price would increase to $49.99/month.  

The software delivery system worked well. When I needed updates it told me and when updates were done they went smoothly.  I did not need to worry about installing patches.  There also seemed to be a good stream of updates and improvements made during the course of the year.  These improvements patched bugs and added new features.  It felt nice using applications that were being improved regularly.  I am not sure if this is true, but it seemed like the products were getting updated more than when I used to purchase the physical disks.

With the complete plan you get full access to most of the Adobe products.  Like Microsoft’s MSDN, Creative Cloud lets you install almost any product Adobe offers.  This allowed me to explore products I wouldn’t normally have tried, many of which are very nice.

I thought the experience and product were great and while I felt $29.99/month was a good deal, I do not think $49.99/month is for me.  I used mostly Photoshop, Fireworks, Illustrator and Acrobat.  However, I don’t use all of them every day or even every month.  My usage is probably too light for their target market.  Even at $29.99 I felt that I was throwing away money every month.  I found myself wishing that they offered lower tier plans, but looking at the pricing they charge $19.99/month for an annual single app plan and there is no option to use a single app for just a month. If you wanted to pay for only a single month of the complete plan usage it’s a fairly hefty $74.99.  For a limited time they are offering Photoshop CC for an annual subscription of $9.99/month.

There is no doubt that someone who makes extensive use of several Adobe products will find value in the subscription model.  It seems they would have no choice but to eventually submit to this model as older copies become obsolete and potentially incompatible with newer formats.

For hobbyists like me who don’t live in Photoshop and don’t depend on Adobe products I am not sure the subscription model makes any sense and perhaps the hobbyist is not who Adobe is going after.  Adobe products have never been cheap, but in the past I could justify the large purchase every 3-5 years and could still use my old software.  I think a subscription type of model is only good if you use the products extensively or if the pricing is low enough to make sense to keep the subscription going.

Which brings me to the second part of this blog post. Over the past year I have been looking for and trying out alternatives.  Here are some of the notable low cost or free alternatives I think are pretty good. I’m focusing on Photoshop and Illustrator alternatives since that is what I used Creative Cloud for most of the time.

SketchBook Pro and Express

SketchBook Pro works great if all you want to do is draw.  It has many different pen types and works well with a Wacom pen.  At $59 (one time purchase) I thought it was a great deal and use this the most for when I want to do some sketching.  The Express versions are also useful (and free) if you have an iPad, Android or Windows tablet.  However the Express versions vary greatly between different platforms and don’t offer nearly as many features.  SketchBook is from Autodesk and the Pro version works on Windows and Mac.


Freshpaint on Windows 8 is a nice app that simulates painting and drawing.  You can choose from several brushes and pencils and change the texture of the paper.  It has a neat feature where you can smudge your lines and strokes and then dry them out to make them permanent.  This app also has a Windows Phone 8 version that syncs up with the Windows 8 app over OneDrive so you can edit your paintings on the go.


If you do not need all the features of Illustrator Inkscape handles vectors well.  I had some issues with performance that I did not have with Illustrator, but it was very easy to set up and use.  I tried other vector drawing tools, but Inkscape was the only one I felt got anywhere close to Illustrator.  Free for Windows and Mac.


One of the original Photoshop alternatives.  Free and still one of the most feature heavy graphic apps.  A good alternative if you want Photoshop-like features but don’t need actual Photoshop.  I found that it is great for photo editing, but not so great for drawing and painting.  Runs on Windows, Linux and OSX..

Manga Studio

The only other paid software on my list was Manga Studio from Smith Micro.  It costs between $47.99 to $299.99 depending on version. Like SketchBook Pro this application is great for drawing.  As it’s name implies, it targets comic book (manga) artists.  I did not get to try it out very much before my trial expired, but intend to explore this application more in the future.  From what I did try it is worth the $50 price tag for non professionals.  Works on Windows and Mac.

In the end nothing can replace Photoshop fully, but I did find many worthwhile alternatives.  If you have any recommendations on other graphic apps or apps that are good alternatives to the ones in Creative Cloud I would like to hear about them.

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Comment by Daniel Leuck on March 17, 2014 at 12:13pm

Great post Doug. People like me who have been using Photoshop extensively for 20+ years have no choice but to submit to this new model. As a company, Ikayzo will have to do the same because designers are indoctrinated into Adobe's products from an early age. Creative Cloud provides some benefits, but I largely agree with Joseph's statement below.

For the casual user, the alternatives you found sound like good options!

Comment by Joseph Lui on March 17, 2014 at 11:54am


The SASS subscription model is mutually beneficial to vendor and user when the software is subject to a lot of churn and maintenance, and/or if the SASS includes hosting. This move seems like a one-sided benefit for Adobe.

Comment by David Chung on March 17, 2014 at 11:36am

Personally, I would never go for a product that offered subscription-based pricing exclusively in which the product stops working after unsubscribing. At most, I would be willing subscribe for maintenance, support, and upgrades with a perpetual usage license.


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