The Best Alternatives to Adobe Creative Cloud for Designers

For some users of Adobe's software, the company's focus on their Creative Cloud platform has proven to be a problem. For example, those users that prefer to delay updating software, or who wan to skip certain updates altogether, don't have this option in the cloud-based system that updates automatically.

Though Adobe's suite of graphic design tools is powerful and ubiquitous, competitors offer viable design alternatives for those who may wish to shift their own focus in response. We explore a few of the best options, taking into consideration needs such as the ease of sharing files with other designers and agencies.

Designers Who Share Files Have Little Choice

If you share files with other designers, you have fewer options that compete with Adobe Creative Cloud. Though you can stick with Creative Suite 6, doing so becomes more problematic as newer files produced in later versions of Adobe's CC software may require you to have the latest version to open them.

If you don't share files often and generally work directly for clients, then alternative software competitors in the design category may be worth considering if you don't like the subscription model of Adobe Creative Cloud.

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The Best Alternatives for Web Designers

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

GIMP for Photoshop Users

GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is at the forefront of alternative web design tools. It's not as polished as Photoshop, but it includes layer groups similar to Photoshop that make it easier to design multiple page layouts in a single document. 

With a wide range of plug-ins available for GIMP, web designers can add many other features when moving to GIMP.

The interface in GIMP may not be as familiar, and it can be frustrating trying to find things when you're new to it, 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.

Plus, you aren't shelling out a subscription fee every 30 or so days, which can be a significant motivator for learning.

Inkscape for Illustrator Users

If you're one of those web designers who favors Adobe Illustrator, the open-source project called Inkscape may be the better option for you. At first glance, the interface can appear a little lightweight after Illustrator, but don't let it fool you—this is an impressive and powerful vector line drawing application.

As with any software, it may take some time to familiarize yourself with Inkscape, but you should find that you're able to achieve a great deal of what you could with Illustrator. You may be miss a few bells and whistles, but the money you save can soften that discrepancy.

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The Best Alternatives for Graphic Designers

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

There used to be a time when Quark or Adobe's applications were pretty much the only options when supplying work for commercial print because they were the industry standard packages. 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 choices here really depend 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 better options. 
  • 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.

GIMP for Graphic Designers

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. It includes soft proofing, though it is not quite 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.

CorelDRAW for Graphic Designers

If your choice is CorelDRAW, its 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 the aforementioned Inkscape are much less pronounced, and both of these should offer a smoother transition for an Illustrator user.

CorelDRAW might offer a bit more versatility, primarily through slightly more powerful text control. Paragraph and tab formatting allow for a greater degree of control in page layout of text over Inkscape. CorelDRAW also allows for 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 completely match Illustrator, but they're both capable and functional tools that will produce strong results in skilled hands.

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The Best Alternatives for Desktop Publishing

Scribus - Screenshot from scribus.net
Scribus - Screenshot from scribus.net

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 Adobe's 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.

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Sticking with Creative Suite 6

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

The obvious alternative to Adobe Creative Cloud is CS6. If you've been the type of user who hasn't maintained a regular update cycle, you can be continue using CS6. However, it's likely that eventually, you'll have to choose to move to Adobe Creative Cloud or an alternative.