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Is Adobe Creative Cloud worth it for freelancers?

Let me start this article by emphasising the word ‘freelancers’, this post doesn’t focus on the team or business licensing aspects of the Creative Cloud suite. It’s more of an objective view, looking at it as a freelancer.
I have been using the tools since Photoshop 5 and the first iteration of Premiere (yes I am old experienced). Ever since, I have been using the tools in some capacity for my entire working life and owned various licensed versions. But are they indispensable to me as a freelancer? Now bear in mind that the Creative Cloud Suite is huge and the tools I use professionally may not be the same as the tools you use. But here we go.

Adobe Creative Cloud pricing

For the full Creative Cloud suite it costs $79.50 (£75.80) when paid monthly or $53 (£50) paid monthly as an annual subscription. You also have the option to pay for just one application of your choice for $20.99 (£16.18) per month and that includes the Font suite. I have never found this plan to be particularly useful though because you usually need at least 2 of the apps for a complete workflow. Take for example graphic design, you tend to need both Illustrator and Photoshop and in a video workflow you may need Premiere Pro and After Effects.

You can also get just the Photography tools for £9.99 ($9.99), this includes Photoshop and Lightroom. If you solely do photography work then this is a pretty good deal.

Do you need the latest versions of the Adobe applications?

I still have licences to the CS3 suite that I still use quite often, you would be surprised going back to the older versions of some tools just how similar they are. This is more true for graphic tools over video tools as the video industry is rapidly evolving. But for tools like Photoshop, there are only a few major features and improvements that have been made over the last 10 years. Backwards compatibility of files can sometimes be an issue but there are always ways around that. So picking up an old standalone licence for some people will be absolutely enough to get started with for a small one-off cost.

Do you need Adobe Creative Cloud for video work?

There always used to be a fairly big divide in that if you used a PC you would use Premiere Pro and if you use a Mac you would use Final Cut Pro or Premiere. There have always been other options around like Sony Vegas and Avid but in my experience Premiere and Final Cut Pro have always held the majority of use in everyday video work.

In 2019 BlackMagic released the Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K and 6K, these not only disrupted the camera market in a big way, they shed light on the excellent piece of software that is DaVinci Resolve Studio. For those who don’t know, DaVinci Resolve Studio is Black Magic Design’s editing suite. DaVinci Resolve stands out because its compatible on Mac and PC, there is a free trial you can cut your teeth on and the full version only costs $299 (£260) as a one-off cost. And trust me, its worth every penny, the denoise, stabilisation and slow motion tools in it are superb, let alone the colour grading tools. It does take some getting used to, but in my opinion it is more stable and has more premium features than Premiere Pro.

DavVinci Resolve

You might be thinking, but I use Audition for my audio and After Effects for my motion graphics work. Resolve has you covered there with its integrated Fusion suite and Fairlight audio tools. These are such big programs that they are impossible to compare, but for the work I do, I have never come across anything I couldn’t do in DaVinci Resolve Studio that the tools would have allowed me to.

Final Cut Pro X is a similar offering, although a slightly different pricing model. You realistically would want Final Cut Pro X which costs $299 (£299), Motion which is $49 (£49) and Compressor which is also $49 (£49). So all in all you are looking at a total cost of around $399 (£399) if you bought all three. Compressor is similar to Media Encoder, a tool for using all sorts of different render options, this is pretty essential. Motion on the other hand is for advanced motion graphics and this may not be essential to your workflow. Unfortunately Final Cut Pro X has no trial version and is only available for Mac users.

Image copyright Apple

So there you have two viable options to work with outside of the Adobe suite that offer professional-grade tools at an affordable one-off price.

Do you need Adobe Creative Cloud for graphics work?

Photoshop and Illustrator have been a staple of my workflow for years and although many have tried to create rival tools, they have all fallen by the wayside. But now there is Affinity Photo, Designer, and Publisher. These are to replace Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign and each works for both Windows and Mac.

Affinity Photo Interface

Image copyright Affinity

The Publisher application is a more recent addition and I don’t use InDesign anymore, so I haven’t gone beyond the free trial but it seems to be up to par with the other 2 applications. These programs combined rival the big 3 from . A real bonus is that you can open .psd, .ai and .indd file types. Although there are some compatibility issues with certain types of Photoshop files. Affinity Photo also supports most major raw file formats too.

Affinity Designer Interface

Image copyright Affinity

I have found these tools enough to tackle most jobs I have thrown at them, the are very fast intuitive programs. If you are proficient in the tools then this will feel quite natural to use.

They only cost $50 (£48.99) each and you probably won’t need all thee of them, depending on what type of work you do. So essentially each one costs the equivalent of a one month Creative Cloud subscription.

Do I need Creative Cloud for web design and development?

For web development, its a 100% no. period. I’m not going to even talk about Dreamweaver because it isn’t used by anyone doing professional work (aside from maybe the odd email template) and it is likely to be discounted in the near future.

Sketch Interface

Image copyright Sketch

For web design and prototyping there is Sketch, which is a great alternative to XD. Sketch costs a very affordable £99 ($99) per licence. Sketch has actually been around longer than XD and it is a really well refined tool. But has a huge amount of resources and XD is really making leaps and bounds in the right direction. They are both excellent tools, there are a few features that one has over the other but nothing that is a deal breaker either way. Unfortunately Sketch is a Mac only application, PC users will have to look to monthly plans on something like InVision or Figma for alternatives.

What about Adobe Fonts and Stock

In my experience there is nothing in the libraries that can’t be found for a reasonable price elsewhere, stock sites are bursting at the seams with high quality affordable content right now.

In a project using TypeKit for a website build I was throughly unimpressed with the slow load times and inability to have offline versions available. In the end I switched to Google Web Fonts, which worked a lot better and there was really no compromise on the quality of the fonts.

Reasons to stick with Adobe Creative Cloud

The applications in the Creative Cloud suite are commonly used, very well refined and they are constantly getting updates but it all comes at a cost. Most of us realistically probably only scratch the surface of what we are actually paying for due to the rigid pricing structure offer. Old projects and compatibility keep a lot of people tied in to the Suite, for example, having Fonts in projects or the need to be able to access older projects and update them for existing clients.

Adobe Lightroom Interface

Image copyright: adobe.com

There are bits of the Creative Cloud suite that I do miss, Lightroom is one of them as well as all the presets, actions and add-ons out there for the tools. But there is no reason you can’t mix and match tools. Say for example you get the Photoshop and Lightroom package from and then get the Affinity Designer tool as an alternative to Illustrator. That way you can have the best of both worlds and not break the bank.

Do you need Adobe Creative Cloud as a freelancer

If I were a new in to freelance I would probably try to avoid the suite and use the wealth of other tools out there on the market that come at a better cost. Then if you need the tools for a project you can just pay for it when you need it and make sure you bill the work appropriately to compensate that expense.

For people that have been working in the industry for a long time and have become comfortable with the tools, it is a big leap and learning curve to leave. Once you are making a decent amount of money off the back of using the tools, you tend to just forget about the ongoing costs.

But for me it has been quite a liberating experience to explore some new creative tools and have all my applications paid up front. It means not having to worry about making back that subscription before even making any profit each month, which when starting out is a real consideration.

So you see, there are lots of professional tools out there that you can get your hands on without having to spend huge amounts of money. Are they the best on the market? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, you just need the right tools for you. After all, that is all they are, they are there to make our lives quicker and more efficient. So we can spend more time doing what we enjoy, whilst making a better profit margin in the process.

This is only scratching the surface of what’s out there and only you can decide for yourself, most of the tools mentioned in this article have 30 days trials, so you have nothing to lose checking them out. I think the main point of this article is just to be aware that Creative Cloud isn’t the only way when working in the creative industry.