Is Adobe Creative Cloud Worth It?

Is Adobe Creative Cloud Worth It?

Adobe’s generated a lot of buzz with their Creative Cloud, launched in April of this year. The idea is that you subscribe and pay a monthly fee for access to the entire Master Collection. Cancel the subscription, lose your access. The flipside is that you constantly have access to the latest version, possibly before the rest of us retail dinosaurs.

But is it really worth it? I’ve been asked this a lot since April, so let’s finally take a look. Because the question of “worth it” is tied to your specific set of circumstances, I’ve narrowed my scope to four situations that represent the majority of those I work with/for/near:

  • You Own a Recent Version of Production Premium (defined as CS 5 or 5.5)
  • You Own a Recent Version of Master Collection
  • You Own Nothing
  • You Own Some Version of Photoshop
Other variables to keep in mind:
- Adobe’s release cycle is now [yearly]( "Adobe Release Cycle") – milestone releases in even years, and mid-cycle releases in odd years. Upgrade costs used in calculations are current as of this writing. - Since I’m way too lazy to project changes in Adobe’s pricing over the next few years, I will assume both Creative Cloud and retail upgrade pricing as fixed. - [Creative Cloud pricing]( "Creative Cloud Pricing") is $29.99 per month for the first year and you get one month free – after that it’s $49.99 per month with a one year contract. I’m going to ignore the month-to-month option, because I do what I want.
OK, let’s do this.

You Own a Recent Version of Production Premium

In what I do, and with those I work with, this is the most common. Production Premium has everything most video pro’s need to do their jobs, so this is what we’ll start with.

By the numbers:

**Year One****Year Two****Year Three**
$329.89 for Creative Cloud$599.88 for Creative Cloud$599.88 for Creative Cloud
$375 upgrade from 5.5$375 retail upgrade$375 retail upgrade
$749 upgrade from 5.0

As you can see, coming from 5.5, after the first year the cost benefit is clearly against Creative Cloud. After that intro period, you’d essentially be paying $125 more per year for applications you don’t need.

But if you’re upgrading from 5.0, Creative Cloud is cheaper until the very end of Year Three. Then you’re in the same boat as the 5.5 people are after Year One.

You Own a Recent Version of Master Collection

Honestly, if you own a retail copy of Master Collection and consistently pay to keep it up to date, you’re making enough where you don’t need to consider a subscription model. But hey, maybe those dubstep trailers aren’t selling like they used to.

So let’s see what the numbers look like…

**Year One** **Year Two** **Year Three**
$329.89 for Creative Cloud$599.88 for Creative Cloud$599.88 for Creative Cloud
$525 upgrade from 5.5$525 retail upgrade$525 retail upgrade
$1,049 upgrade from 5.0

Here, the discrepancy after Year One is significantly less skewed. Coming from 5.5, Creative Cloud will be cheaper for you until mid-way through Year Four. Then, you’ll begin paying a $75 premium for The Cloud – which works out to $6.25 per month. That’s roughly 1.2 Starbucks Frappamochahalfwhipacinos.

If you’re coming from 5.0, your break-even point is significantly further out – mid-way through Year Eleven. Eleven years is a looooooong time in tech. So chances are, by the time you hit the breakpoint, the licensing decision you made 11 years ago won’t matter.

You Own Nothing

Maybe you’re a reforming pirate, maybe you’ve gotten tired of GIMP being weird, or maybe you’ve just discovered the wonderful world of Photoshop Phriday. No matter the reason, you have suddenly decided that you need Adobe in your life, and you. Thing is, because you don’t own anything already, you can’t take advantage of the introductory 1-year pricing – but you can still get 1 month free.

**Year One** **Year Two** **Year Three**
$549.89 for Creative Cloud$599.88 for Creative Cloud$599.88 for Creative Cloud
$2,599 Master Collection$525 retail upgrade$525 retail upgrade
$1,899 Prod. Premium$375 retail upgrade$375 retail upgrade
$699 Photoshop$200 retail upgrade$200 retail upgrade

If you want the entire Master Collection, you will be a quarter of the way through your 29th year of licensing before retail becomes cheaper than the subscription. Production Premium is less dramatic: break-even will be at Year Eight. In both cases, that essentially equates to forever.

Photoshop is a different story. Before the end of Year Two, the retail route will be cheaper than the Cloud. So let’s look a little closer at Adobe’s most popular single application.

You Own Some Version of Photoshop

Let’s face it – not everyone’s on the cutting edge. I’ve noticed this is especially true at companies that aren’t necessarily production/design-focused, but which need some employees to have Photoshop. It seems like some time around CS4, Photoshop became something that could have use in almost any department. So the company grudgingly bought a few copies, and since then has maintained a staunch “the one we have works fine!” stance on upgrading.

So can you now present an amazing cost-justification to the crotchety finance exec? Well, you can always point out that $50/month doesn’t qualify as a capital expenditure…

**Year One****Year Two****Year Three**
$329.89 for Creative Cloud$599.88 for Creative Cloud$599.88 for Creative Cloud
$200 retail upgrade$200 retail upgrade$200 retail upgrade

Remember, Photoshop never had a 5.5 version, so 5.0 is the second-latest version. And it costs $200 to upgrade to CS6, whether you’re coming from CS5, CS4, or CS3. So if you already own Photoshop CS3 or later, there is never a point where Creative Cloud is cheaper.

Additional Considerations

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the features exclusive to Creative Cloud, that could bring enough value to sway your decision. Personally, I don’t care about any of these, as I either use dedicated services or don’t need these features – but on this personal blog where I’m beholden to no one, thoroughness is next to cleanliness. Or something.

Anyway, here’s the extras you get with Creative Cloud, straight from Adobe:

Creative Cloud membership includes cloud-based services that allow you to create and access files from any Internet-connected computer or device. Every paid member of Creative Cloud receives 20GB of space that allows you to:

  • Sync your creative files between the Adobe Touch Apps on your tablet (purchased separately) and your desktop computer, and between two of your desktop computers
  • Share your files with colleagues and clients
  • Access your files via a web browser

I personally use Dropbox, because my clients and collaborators use Dropbox. But Adobe has tailored their offering towards our workflows:

In addition to file storage features, Creative Cloud has unique capabilities designed to support creative work that make it a very different solution than Dropbox. These capabilities include the ability to:

  • View thumbnails and larger previews of creative files in the browser to make them easier to find visually
  • Change layer states of PSD files and step through Illustrator art boards and InDesign and PDF pages in the browser
  • Easily share files for review via the web browser
  • Convert creative files to PDF to share them with clients and colleagues
  • Sync directly with Adobe Touch Apps and desktop applications to enable a seamless workflow between tablet and desktop

So there’s the extras. Again, they don’t fit my needs, but they might fit yours.

Also, A Clarification: This is Not SaaS

I feel I need to add this last bit in before I wrap up:

Creative Cloud is NOT a new Software as a Service solution from Adobe.

You download installers like normal, you install them like normal, but once a month they call home to Adobe’s servers to make sure you’re still paying them money. Adobe’s retail apps already call home periodically to make sure you’re using a legit serial number – so nothing’s really changed on the user side, they’ve just changed what their servers do on the backend. Creative Cloud is simply an alternative licensing choice.


Obviously, there are a huge number of factors that go into deciding if subscription-based software licensing is right for you. I’ve barely scratched the surface of options, and have completely ignored academic and corporate discounts and volume licensing.  There’s also other factors to consider: namely, that $50/month is just easier to reconcile than $2,600 at once.

That said, here are my thoughts.

Can you afford to purchase the application or bundle you need outright?

If no, the decision is easy: welcome to the Cloud.

You Own a Recent Version of Production Premium

It’s close on this one, but I’d stick with retail. Continued use of the product even if I decide to stop upgrading is a nice thing.

You Own a Recent Version of Master Collection

Creative Cloud is cheaper. But do you care? That’s your decision – which licensing model you like better. Because you’re probably not incredibly concerned about the cost differentials we’re talking about.

You Own Nothing

****Unless you only want one application, go Cloud. It’s cheaper, plus you get the bonus of exposure to software you haven’t used before.

You Own Some Version of Photoshop

****Keep upgrading retail. Hell, if they let you jump 3 versions for the same cost as a 1 version jump, you could upgrade every 3 years and save a ton.

So that’s it. In the end, your decision should be dictated by your specific needs and circumstances, and you should always do the math before choosing licensing that will directly impact your livelihood.