Photoshop Versus Photoshop Elements: Is Photoshop Worth an Extra $500?

The answer depends on how you use it

For most people, Adobe Photoshop Elements is sufficient — but for creative professionals such as designers and photographers, the full version of Photoshop is well worth the investment.

If you are a home user or hobbyist, save your money and go with Photoshop Elements. It has all the features of Photoshop that you are likely to ever need. If you plan to use the software for professional graphic design or photography, however, you will need the industry-standard Photoshop; it offers many more advanced tools and productivity enhancements than Photoshop Elements. Although the price difference and the learning curve for the full Photoshop program are steep, students can purchase Photoshop at significantly discounted educational prices.

Some features included in Photoshop but not in Photoshop Elements are:

  • CMYK and LAB color modes
  • More tools and features that work with high-bit (16-bit and 32-bit) images
  • Channels palette
  • The ability to record custom actions (for batch processing)
  • Adjustments: color balance, match color
  • Layer comps and quick-mask mode
  • Smart objects, smart guides
  • Lens-blur filter
  • Vanishing-point tool
  • Puppet Warp
  • Pen tool and paths palette
  • Mixer brush and bristle tips painting tools
  • Some adjustment layers (curves, color balance, selective color, channel mixer, vibrance)
  • Editable history log
  • Text on a path, advanced text formatting
  • Advanced layer-style manipulation
  • Advanced color management
  • Advanced web features (rollovers, slicing)
  • Customizable tool presets, keyboard shortcuts, and menus
  • More advanced options for fine tuning and control

Although these features are not natively supported in Photoshop Elements, you can simulate some of them using other tools in Elements. Some are actually there, but hidden and accessible only through actions created in the full version of Photoshop. Some generous folks who have access to both Photoshop and Elements have created add-ons and tools that allow Elements to use some of these features.

Photoshop Elements also offers some features that are not available in Photoshop, such as:

  • Cookie cutter tool
  • Smart brush tool
  • Drop-in frames, backgrounds, and artwork
  • Additional photomerge modes, such as group shot, scene cleaner, faces, and style match
  • Guided edits and quick-fix mode
  • Multi-file processing without the need to record an action
  • Automatic division of scanned photos
  • Multi-page documents
  • Photo creation templates for photo books, greeting cards, calendars, and more
  • Easy online sharing options for Facebook, Flickr, etc.
  • A powerful photo organizer

The Photo Organizer (Windows only in Photoshop Elements 8 and under) lets you organize your photos with keyword tags, then search and share them. The organizer also offers several ways to share your photos in slideshows, discs, cards, email, calendars, web galleries, and photo books.

In addition, most Photoshop-compatible plug-ins and filters also work with Photoshop Elements. Photoshop Elements users who are aware of the limitations noted above can also take advantage of the many Photoshop tutorials available online.

If you are still undecided about which version to purchase, you can download time-limited but fully functional trial versions of both programs from the Adobe website.

This discussion centers on the older boxed versions of Photoshop. In 2013, Adobe switched over to the Creative Cloud subscription service. For a monthly fee, you can download and install all of the Adobe products to your desktop. Coupled with this are regular, no-fee updates to all of Adobe's products. A large number of Photoshop updates and feature additions have rolled out under this model.

The Bottom Line

The real issue in choosing the best Photoshop version for you revolves around what you need to do. If you are a serious graphic designer who does heavy-duty image editing and effects, then your choice is Photoshop CC. If you find Photoshop's feature set and techniques to either be intimidating or not for you, then Photoshop Elements is a great way to start. Either way, it comes down to personal choice.