The Best Designers Alternatives to Adobe Creative Cloud

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Designer Alternatives to Adobe Creative Cloud

Creative Cloud Alternatives
Text and images © Ian Pullen

I've been giving some consideration to what would be the best alternative to Adobe Creative Cloud for designers. In particular, I'm thinking of web and graphic designers, and this has been spurred by the decision of Adobe to stop updating their Creative Suite and to concentrate fully on their Creative Cloud platform.

This has provoked quite a backlash from users, but if you take a look around the web, you'll find plenty of articles that show that businesses that regularly update their software should see financial benefits from the new system.

However, there are plenty of users who would sit out one or more updates and these are very much the ones upset by Adobe's change of focus for their software.

This led me to wonder whether it would be feasible for professional designers to switch to other types of software. I think that the answer is both yes and no, primarily depending on whether you share files regularly with other designers and agencies.

Designers Who Share Files Have Little Choice

Adobe's Creative Suite became the industry standard software across the board for a wide range of designers and as such, if you're regularly receiving or sending files to other designers, you probably have no choice but to move to Adobe Creative Cloud. While sticking with CS6 might seem like another option, in practice, file formats seem to change with every new version of Adobe's software meaning you have to have the latest version to open files created in the latest version.

I know from experience that avoiding compatibility issues can be a compelling reason for companies to keep up to date with the latest software. Ironically, it can also be a strong driver for keeping legacy software available for the occasions a file turns up in ​a format that many had considered extinct.

If you don't share files often, but generally work directly for clients, uploading directly to the web or sending to printers, then there may be some other options that you could consider on the software front if you don't fancy the subscription model of Adobe Creative Cloud.


  1. Alternatives for Web Designers
  2. Alternatives for Graphic Designers
  3. Sticking with Creative Suite 6
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The Best Adobe Creative Cloud Alternatives for Web Designers

Creative Cloud Alternatives for Web Designers
Text and images © Ian Pullen

GIMP and Inkscape

The favored tool of most web designers is Photoshop and it is very well suited for the job, despite not being specifically designed for the purpose. Over the years it has been developed more in this direction to the point that Fireworks, software originally designed for producing web graphics, has been dropped completely in favor of Photoshop.

If you're looking for an alternative for web design, then GIMP is at the forefront. It's not as polished as Photoshop, but since V2.8 has included layer groups which make it easier to design multiple page layouts in a single document. Adjustment layers are planned for sometime in the future, after V3 launches it seems, but there's no date set yet and this is likely to be some years off. It also lacks layer styles, but at a time that design is going flat, there couldn't be a better time to make the move as you'll not be needing those bevels for the next year or so.

With a wide range of plug-ins available for GIMP, I don't think there are many other features that web designers would miss when moving to GIMP. Sure, the interface isn't as slick and it can be frustrating trying to find things for some time, but those users who put their prejudices to one side and get on with trying to learn GIMP may be surprised at how it can become a serious part of your designer's toolkit. It probably won't ever imbue you with the soft warm glow that Photoshop could, but you'll not be shelling out cold, hard cash every 30 or so days, and that might just be enough compensation.

If you're one of those web designers who favors Illustrator, then I believe that another open source project is possibly the best option for you, in the form of Inkscape. At first glance, the interface can appear a little naive and lightweight after Illustrator, but don't let it fool you – this is an impressive and powerful vector line drawing application.

As with GIMP, it may take some time to familiarize yourself with Inkscape, but if you put your prejudices to one side, you should find in time that you're able to achieve a great deal of what you used to in Illustrator. You may be missing a few bells and whistles, but on the other hand, if you live in New York state, you'll almost be able to afford to take up smoking again with the money you save.

Reader Reviews of GIMP
Learning The GIMP
"The Book of Inkscape: The Definitive Guide to the Free Graphics Editor" Review
Inkscape Tutorials and Resources

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The Best Adobe Creative Cloud Alternatives for Graphic Designers

Creative Cloud Alternatives for Graphic Designers
Text and images © Ian Pullen

GIMP, Inkscape, and Scribus or CorelDraw Graphics Suite and Scribus

The choices for graphic designers are a little more complex because of slightly different requirements when producing for print. There used to be a time when you almost invariably had to use Quark or Adobe's applications when supplying work for commercial print because they were the industry standard packages and so that was what printers used. The PDF file format changed that and now you can produce your work in whatever software you like, as long as it can produce a high-resolution PDF.

The choice here really depends on the volume of CMYK raster images that you work with. If you tend to produce a small number of creative images where you benefit strongly from layered files, then GIMP and Inkscape may be the best option. If you're producing catalogs or brochures with lots of images that need basic correction, CorelDRAW, with the inclusion of Photo-PAINT, will massively speed your workflow as it has a simple conversion to CMYK for images.

Assuming that you go with GIMP, you'll want to install the Separate+ plugin. While this doesn't offer the same effortless switching of color spaces that Photoshop does, it is a functional option and it does include soft proofing, though this isn't anywhere near as smooth a workflow as in Photoshop. This may be suitable for light use, but for designers who are producing a lot of CMYK output, this could be a deal breaker.

If your choice is CorelDRAW, Photo-PAINT is going to feel rather austere after Photoshop, but the handling of CMYK images may go some way to cheering you up.

The differences between CorelDRAW itself and Inkscape are much less pronounced and both of these should offer a smoother transition for an Illustrator user. CorelDRAW might offer a little bit more versatility, primarily in offering slightly more powerful text control. Paragraph and tabs formatting are useful features missing from Inkscape and mean that it is feasible to layout a page of text with a greater degree of control. It also allows the inclusion of multiple pages in a single document, though that functionality can be added to Inkscape with a plug-in.

Neither of these vector apps can truly match Illustrator, but they're both capable and functional tools that will produce strong results in the right hands.

Whichever choice you make above, Scribus is arguably the best option available for your desktop publishing requirements, assuming that you don't want to stretch to the expense of QuarkXPress. As an open source project, Scribus lacks the polish of InDesign, but it is a powerful piece of software that can be further extended with scripts. While many of the concepts will be familiar to InDesign users, there's likely to be an extended period of acclimatization for working with this.

Learning The GIMP
"The Book of Inkscape: The Definitive Guide to the Free Graphics Editor" Review
Inkscape Tutorials and Resources
Scribus Tutorials
CorelDRAW Graphics Suite Tutorials and Resources

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Creative Suite 6

Creative Suite 6 Alternative to Creative Cloud
Text and images © Ian Pullen

Not mentioned already, but there is obviously one other alternative to Adobe Creative Cloud and that's CS6. Adobe has indicated that this will continue to be available for the foreseeable future and if you've been the type of user who hasn't maintained a regular update cycle, it may be that you could carry on using this for some years to come.

It's likely that eventually, you'll have to choose to move to Adobe Creative Cloud or an alternative, but if you're in no hurry, why do today what you can put off till tomorrow?

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Pullen, Ian. "The Best Designers Alternatives to Adobe Creative Cloud." ThoughtCo, Apr. 14, 2017, Pullen, Ian. (2017, April 14). The Best Designers Alternatives to Adobe Creative Cloud. Retrieved from Pullen, Ian. "The Best Designers Alternatives to Adobe Creative Cloud." ThoughtCo. (accessed December 17, 2017).