Creative Cloud full review
Should you upgrade to get your hands on Photoshop CC, Illustrator CC, InDesign CC, After Effects CC, Premiere Pro CC, Dreamweaver CC, Flash Pro CC, Edge CC et al?
Adobe has today released what under its previous approach to upgrades would have been called CS7 (or late yesterday if you're in the US). But as the company has moved to a largely-subscription-only model – bundling in online services for online typography and portfolio hosting, alongside its core desktop applications – this could be just another day in the life of Creative Cloud. A day, however, that has seen upgraded 'CC' versions of all the key creative tools, from old favourites, including Photoshop and Illustrator, After Effects and Premiere Pro, Flash Pro and Dreamweaver, to newer tools such as Muse and Edge Animate.
Should I upgrade to the Creative Cloud?
The answer to the ten-million-dollar question – or the somewhere-between-£15-and-£65-per-month question – is a slightly nebulous maybe. There are many different types of creative who use Adobe's applications, so alongside the reviews of the individual products we're running in our Creative Cloud Guide, I'm going to take you through what CC has to offer based on the mediums you work with, so you can work out whether Creative Cloud is right for you/and your studio.
First off, the cost. If you’re a freelancer, monthly pricing for the first year varies, depending on whether you have CS6 (£14.65 plus VAT), CS3-CS5 (£22.78) or are still on CS1-2 (or somehow don’t own Creative Suite – either way it’s £39.06). Adobe is putting the pressure on, too. After 31 July, it’s £39.06 per month whether you have an older version or not.
If you just want one tool – Photoshop CC, Illustrator CC, InDesign CC, Dreamweaver CC, Flash Pro CC, After Effects CC, Premiere Pro CC et all – you can stump up £14.65 plus VAT.
The ‘Teams’ version of Creative Cloud, which lets the studio boss or IT team manage licences and gives you better support, is pricier: £37.11 per month, per seat before August 31 for every CS3+ licence you own, and £65.44 after.
So if subscribing to Creative Cloud makes sense for you, it’s best to get in quickly. However, these low prices hide the fact that in a year’s time you’re going to have to pay full whack – and full whack may be more than it is now. Adobe will almost certainly raise prices in the future, and while we hope it’ll only be inflationary, there’s no way to know what will happen. You need to ask yourself how you’d feel if in a year’s time it cost you £50 per month, or £70 – or your studio £100 per month, per seat. Once you’re in, you’re in – and going back might be trickier than you think, as Adobe has been hazy about how exactly you’ll be able to downconvert CC-created project files to what you’ve got now.
Pricing aside, let’s look at whether there are currently enough useful functions for different types of users to justify switching over to the Creative Cloud.
Graphic designer: probably not
Primarily print-based graphic designers will get the least from Creative Cloud – especially if you're already on CS5, 5.5 or 6. Pretty much all of the relevant new features added in InDesign CC, Illustrator CC and Photoshop CC could be classified as nice, but aren't creatively exciting or time-savingly useful.
InDesign CC has a dark interface like its sister app and can make QR codes (but doesn't include tips for persuading clients to use them). Illustrator CC lets you manipulate type with the mouse, and you can place multiple images in turn a la InDesign CS5. Both have better type filtering. Photoshop CC can also do rounded corners.
(You’ll also get features added to Photoshop and Illustrator between CS6 and now, but again they’re relatively minor).
Muse CC is only available to Cloud subscribers and is useful in its own way. It's a web design tool for projects for clients with low expectations – fewer than 10 pages and requiring you to make any changes. A web design tool for when your local independent coffee shop comes calling, if you will. It's easy for long-term InDesign users to get to grips with, but it's no use if you need something more interesting than a flat site – or need to work with developers (in which case, check out the £35 Illustrator-style Sketch).
The services that sit alongside the applications include one definite winner: the desktop-friendly Typekit – though this wasn’t launched today as it's not ready yet, apparently. This will give you access to 700 fonts – and fonts you can use in any app, not just Adobe's. Okay, it appears that a lot of these are free Google web fonts, but there are some great typefaces here including the Digital Arts' 'house font' Futura, Aktiv Grotesk, Franklin Gothic, and more.
Is this worth the monthly fee alone? Well, certainly not until it launches. Other services include Dropbox-style file sharing (which appears to have not launched either) and a free Behance ProSite, which if it's going to appeal, you probably already have.
More interesting is the ability to learn other tools without having to pay more – the chance to get into motion graphics or proper web design is a great opportunity. But again, you have to ask yourself whether this is worth the cash?
Cross-media designer: yes
This is a bit of a no-brainer: the more tools within Creative Suite you or your team uses, the more Adobe Creative Cloud makes sense. While with the exception of After Effects and Premiere Pro, most of the individual product upgrades feel more CS6.5 than CS7 – together there’s a lot to like.
Looking forward, the succession of future updates are likely to be spread across the tools. We expect to see the Edge model – the introduction of separate tools for specific tasks – applied to other areas beyond interactive design, and these will likely be of most benefit to those whose work spans multiple media.
I’d go as far as to say that Creative Cloud is primarily aimed at the ever growing number of creatives and agencies that work in what we used to call cross-media until it just became ‘media’ – and it’s only the relatively high-cost of moving over a large team that might put some studios off.
If you use Photoshop and/or Illustrator for artwork creation, there's little to get you to move, whether you're a hand-drawn artist who uses Photoshop for colouring/touch-up or full-on vector artwork creation in Illustrator. Illustrator CC's typography tweaks and Photoshop CC's rounded corners aren't going to generate more than an "oh well" from you – though illustrators who work with photographic elements will appreciate Photoshop CC's new retouch tools such as Smart Sharpen.
More appealing for some is the inclusion of a Lite version of Maxon's Cinema 4D suite for creating 3D CG – as many illustrators would like to explore creating photorealistic or abstract 3D elements to include in your compositions. But the only purpose of Cinema 4D Lite is to create CG for VFX work in After Effects – you can’t access except through AE.
Again, the most interesting parts of Creative Cloud are the services: Typekit's 700 fonts could prove useful, and for freelance artists, a Behance ProSite is a really useful asset (if you don't already have one, or a Cargo site or similar).
If all you use is Photoshop or Illustrator, Adobe is offering Photoshop CC or Illustrator CC alone for £14.65 plus VAT each. This is a much more attractive proposition if you want the photo retouch features in Photoshop CC or better type controls in Photoshop. Adding a Behance ProSite is another £7 per month – which brings it up to around £22.
Considering all the new retouch tools in Photoshop CC and our generally positive response to Lightroom 5, you’d have thought that Creative Cloud would get an automatic thumbs up from us for photographers. But as above, you can get Photoshop CC alone for under £15 per month – and upgrade to Lightroom 5 for £48.
This is the most flexible buying option Adobe offers, and – if you're not a Lightroom user – you can slot Photoshop CC next to Apple Aperture, Capture One or whatever other photography tool you use for a minimal amount.
VFX/motion graphics artist: yes
If you’re a current After Effects user, you’re going to want to upgrade to the CC version straightaway – and the chances are you use enough of the rest of the suite from Photoshop and Illustrator to Premiere Pro and SpeedGrade to get the full benefits of access to a whole bunch of new tools.
The ability to work backwards and forwards between After Effects and Cinema 4D is a major bonus – unless your or your colleagues’ choice of 3D suite is Maya or another 3D tool, of course. This is the kind of feature that will become a regular tool for both VFX and motion graphics artists alike – and the same is true for the Refine Edge tool for better rotoscoping and the oddness that is the Warp Stabilizer VFX tool.
Video editor: yes
As with After Effects, Premiere Pro has also had a notably hefty upgrade – with even the way the timeline works getting a redesign and colour grading brought in from SpeedGrade in a way that looks to take on even the might Magic Bullet (or at least the Looks version).
Again, if you’re a Premiere Pro-based editor, you’ll likely be using After Effects, Photoshop, Illustrator et al – so the whole Cloud makes sense.
3D artist/animator: maybe
Here’s a question for you. Are you a Cinema 4D artist who After Effects for post-render VFX, plus Photoshop for texture editing and/or Premiere Pro for editing? If the answer is yes, you’ll love the new C4D-AE workflow.
If you just use AE, then an AE CC-only subscription will cost you less than £14.65 per month. If you use Maya, 3ds Max, LightWave or another 3D suite, it’s a difficult sell.
Web/interactive designer: er, we'll get back to you
We’re reserving judgement here until we’ve received our review of Adobe’s Edge line of tools, which our reviewer had to wait until the new Creative Cloud was fully up and running to look at. Tune in tomorrow for an update.