Is Photoshop worth the extra $500 compared to Photoshop Elements?

Photographer using computer in studio
Bambu Productions/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Question: Is Photoshop worth the extra $500 compared to Photoshop Elements?

Is Photoshop worth the extra $500 compared to Photoshop Elements?

Answer: For most people, probably not. But for creative professionals such as designers and photographers, yes!

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. However, if you are planning to enter the graphic design or photography business, you will need to know industry-standard Photoshop, which offers many more advanced tools and productivity enhancements over Photoshop Elements. Although the price difference (and learning curve) for the full Photoshop program are steep, students can purchase Photoshop at significantly discounted educational prices.

Some of the features in Photoshop CS5 that are not included in Photoshop Elements 9 are:

  • CMYK and LAB color modes
  • More tools and features that work with high-bit (16-bit and 32-bit) images
  • Channels Palette
  • Recording 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)
  • Editing 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
  • In the features and tools that are shared, the Photoshop version usually offers more advanced options for fine tuning and control.

Although these features are not natively supported in Photoshop Elements, some of them can be simulated through other tools in Elements, and some are actually there, but hidden and only accessible 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 will 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, like Group Shot, Scene Cleaner, Faces, and Style Match
  • Guided Edits and Quick Fix mode
  • Multi-file processing without the need to record an action
  • Automatically divide 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 types of creations for sharing your photos in slide shows, video CDs, cards, email, calendars, Web galleries, and photo books.

In addition, most Photoshop-compatible Plug-ins and Filters will 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 found on the Web.

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 Web site.

Editor's Note:

This discussion is relevant if you are using the boxed version 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. Since then there have been a serious number of Photoshop updates and feature additions. The real issue around choosing Photoshop Elements - current version is Photoshop Elements 14 - revolves around what you need to do. If you are a serious graphic designer that does heavy-duty image editing and effects, then your choice is Photoshop CC - 2015.5 release. 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.

Updated by Tom Green