Adobe Tips & Tricks: Photoshop CC vs. Photoshop Elements

I’ve been using Adobe Illustrator since 1988 and teaching Photoshop as an Adobe Certified Instructor since 1999, and I’m always amazed at how many students haven’t heard of Photoshop Elements.

If you haven’t seen Photoshop Elements in a while, it’s well worth a look at version 15. (Yes, it’s been around for over 15 years!) Adobe recently made some big breakthroughs including Auto Haze Removal, Smart Tags that automatically analyze image content (like having your own Google Image Search Appliance), support for importing from the Apple Photos App, plus directly batch importing images from iPhones & iPads and automating color corrections.


Mobile apps continue to improve and evolve into an ecosystem, but Photoshop Elements goes above and beyond, containing many features not available or as easily found in Photoshop CC or Lightroom. Elements Organizer 15 is Touch Screen Friendly for Microsoft Surface.

Many students who are new to Photoshop CC are overwhelmed by how complex it’s become over the past 25 years; some students think CS stands for Complicated Software and CC stands for Credit Card! Photoshop Elements starts up with its own built-in website with tutorials (some of which I have recorded) and templates for design inspiration, plus a Guided Edits wizard that walks you through dozens of common and complicated tasks. You don’t need to know anything about Adjustment Layers to turn dull skies blue using the Smart Brush, whether to use the Dodge or Burn tool instead of a Whiten Teeth brush and a Red Eye tool that fixes Pet Eye too!

There are features in Photoshop Elements that even well seasoned Photoshop pros wish they had in Photoshop CC like the Recompose Wizard, which walks you through Content Aware resizing (some such as Haze Removal and Pet Eye are can be found in the Camera Raw filter). In other words, Photoshop Elements isn’t elementary school; it’s more like art school. You can conjure up a calendar, card or professional photo book in a matter of minutes instead of hours! Photoshop CC doesn’t come with any templates.

Turn dull skies blue with one swipe of the Smart Brush! If you’ve ever tried to create a calendar or scrapbook from scratch using Illustrator or InDesign, you will be astonished at how simple it is with Photoshop Elements.

Another big budgetary reason to consider Photoshop Elements instead of Photoshop CC and/or Lightroom is it doesn’t require a credit card subscription, since a perpetual license is under $100. You can try it before you buy it, fully functional for 30 days, whereas the Photoshop free trial has been cut to seven days. You might already have a license in the box with your digital camera that can be upgraded. Of course the best time to buy is Black Friday or Cyber Monday when pricing has been below $50.


My favorite new Photoshop Elements 15 feature: Smart Tags automatically analyzes image content (people, places and things) to create tags to facilitate finding your images. It’s like having your own private rack mounted Google Search Appliance behind your firewall, which is worth over $5000!

Photoshop Elements can create .psd files that plug and play with Photoshop CC, Illustrator CC and InDesign CC, but some features from Photoshop CC—such as 3D, CMYK, Pantone Colors, Typekit font auto activation and Artboards—are not supported in Photoshop Elements. You can still open such .psd files in Photoshop Elements, but some things may get lost in translation and rasterized (converted to pixels) and flattened (combined into 1 layer).


Bottom line: Photoshop Elements is not included with Creative Cloud, but a perpetual license is a pittance.

Learn more Adobe tips and tricks in Bill Carberry’s online workshop, Adobe Illustrator & Photoshop Tips & Tricks, via HOW Design University.