Can you buy Adobe software without a subscription?

The Adobe transition to a subscription-based business model has been successful by many measures, but it doesn’t meet every customer’s needs. If you want Adobe software but you don’t want to pay a regular subscription fee, do you still have options? Depending on what you need, the answer is “maybe”…and as of 2017, the non-subscription options are fewer than ever.

Just to get some terms out of the way, the conventional way to pay for software is called a perpetual license, because you buy the license once and it doesn’t expire. With Adobe Creative Cloud you maintain your license to use Adobe software and services by paying a subscription fee every year or every month, as you might with Netflix or Spotify.

Update: CS6 no longer available as of January 9, 2017

As of January 9, 2017, Creative Suite (CS6 or earlier) perpetual license applications such as Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe InDesign, Adobe Premiere Pro, and Adobe After Effects are no longer available for sale from Adobe (see below). They are now only available as part of a paid Creative Cloud subscription. Many Creative Cloud applications have a Single App subscription option in case you don’t want to pay for them all. If you read an earlier version of this article that talked about how to buy CS6 without a subscription, I’ve now had to bring this article up to date to account for Adobe taking CS6 completely off the market.

After the launch of Creative Cloud in 2012, Adobe originally stated that CS6 applications would remain on sale “indefinitely.” Through most of 2015 Adobe provided a web link where you could still pay once to buy a perpetual license of CS6 applications. But in late 2015, Adobe redirected the link to a web page, shown below, where ordering by phone was the only option:

Adobe web page for ordering Photoshop CS6

The web page http://www.adobe.com/products/cs6.html  before January 9, 2017

Then, on January 9, 2017, the content of that web page changed to this:

Adobe web page for ordering Photoshop CS6

The web page http://www.adobe.com/products/cs6.html  after January 9, 2017

Note the text that the arrow points to, which says:

As of January 9, 2017 Creative Suite is no longer available for purchase.

There may be copies of Creative Suite software available for sale through the used market, but if you are interested in buying it that way you should exercise extreme caution to avoid scams and pirated copies. If you’re buying software that has been previously opened and installed, it’s a good idea to make sure the seller is willing to do an official transfer of license to ensure that you become the new legal owner of the software.

Also, CS6 applications were released in 2012, so they were not written for the latest operating systems and hardware. They are no longer being updated, so if there is a problem running a CS6 application on recent systems, a fix may not be available.

Photoshop

The king of Adobe software is, of course, Adobe Photoshop. Now that Adobe no longer sells CS6 applications, the only professional version available from Adobe is Photoshop CC, which you get through a paid Creative Cloud membership. The most affordable membership is the $9.99 Photography Plan which includes both Photoshop CC and Adobe Lightroom CC as well as some online services such as Lightroom Mobile sync; if you use Photoshop for business reasons this is probably going to be one of the smallest business expenses you have. The relatively low cost of the Photography Plan means that most of the people who don’t want to subscribe to Creative Cloud are opposed to it for reasons that aren’t economic.

The only non-subscription version of Photoshop currently for sale is Photoshop Elements, or you can use a non-Adobe Photoshop alternative. See below for more information about those options.

Lightroom

Adobe sells a subscription version and a perpetual license version of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom:

  • Lightroom CC is available as part of an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription, including the inexpensive Photography Plan. Lightroom CC has Creative Cloud-specific features such as the ability to sync with Lightroom Mobile. Lightroom CC is eligible for all Lightroom updates, which can contain new features or bug fixes.
  • Lightroom 6 is sold as a perpetual license. In terms of features, the main difference is that Lightroom 6 doesn’t connect or sync to any Creative Cloud services such as Lightroom Mobile. Lightroom 6 receives bug fixes as they become available, but new features added to Lightroom CC are not added to the perpetual license version of Lightroom until the next major upgrade. Adobe has not announced when Lightroom 6 will receive a major upgrade. Some Lightroom 6 users think it’s unfair that they are not getting the new features appearing in Lightroom CC, but it’s consistent with the traditional perpetual license model where, for example, if you bought Microsoft Word 5 and you wanted new features that weren’t in Word 5, you had to wait until Word 6.

Based on the number of people asking where you can buy Lightroom 6 (the non-subscription version), many don’t seem to be aware that you can still buy Lightroom 6 at the same retailers where other perpetual license software is sold. For example, you can buy Lightroom 6 for a one-time non-subscription purchase at Amazon.com, B&H, and Adorama. However, those are for new full-price licenses; if you want a discounted upgrade from earlier versions of Lightroom you may have to do it through Adobe.com.

B&H Photo web page for buying Lightroom 6

There is an often-repeated rumor that Lightroom 6 is the last perpetual license version of Lightroom, but Adobe has never announced this and there is no proof of it. The rumor probably originated from misunderstanding an Adobe statement about feature updates. Adobe was not saying that non-subscription Lightroom would never get another update; they were saying that feature updates were not going to happen for version 6 specifically.

Acrobat Pro DC

(Note: When this article was written in January 2016, Adobe was still offering perpetual licenses of Acrobat Pro DC. This was true throughout the first half of 2016, but when I checked the Acrobat Pro DC page at the end of August 2016, the perpetual license options had been removed.)

The Elements line

Years ago, hobbyists and non-professionals used to buy the full version of Photoshop because it was one of the few applications that could do a good job of editing images. Today many of those users may be satisfied with recent versions of Photoshop Elements. It’s sold from many retailers as a perpetual license for under $100, no subscription needed or available.

Over time many advanced features in recent versions of Photoshop (such as healing, hair selection, camera shake reduction, and panorama merge) have been handed down to Photoshop Elements, so some areas of Photoshop Elements are more powerful than older versions of Photoshop.

For video editing, Premiere Elements serves a similar consumer audience, and is also sold as perpetual license software.

Alternatives outside Adobe

Photo editing software has matured greatly since the days when Photoshop was the clear standout. On the Mac, hobbyists and others needing something more advanced than Apple Photos can turn to Acorn, Pixelmator, Polarr, and others. However, photo editors at that level tend to be missing features that advanced and professional users rely on in Photoshop. If you do need more advanced features such as support for true camera raw editing and non-RGB color modes (such as CMYK and Lab) and ICC profile conversions, take a look at  Affinity Photo. That affordable application seems much closer to Photoshop than most other alternatives. GIMP is also a frequently mentioned Photoshop alternative; it’s mature and powerful but can be challenging to learn.

Affinity is the developer to watch here. Before Affinity Photo they released Affinity Designer, a legitimate alternative to Adobe Illustrator. And Affinity is working on an alternative to Adobe InDesign. If that happens, Affinity will have a trio of perpetual license applications that covers much of the same ground as the old Adobe Creative Suite. Serif (the parent company of Affinity) certainly has the background to build it, as they are the developer of the long-established PhotoPlus, DrawPlus, and PagePlus applications for Windows. Affinity has also said they are working on a digital asset manager, which could compete with Adobe Lightroom or Bridge.

For pure raw processing, alternatives to Lightroom and Camera Raw include Capture One, DxO Optics Pro, ON1 Photo Raw, Luminar, and the free/open source Darktable, Lightzone, and RawTherapee. If you value the organizational features in Lightroom you should evaluate the alternatives carefully, because in general their photo organization features are not as strong as their raw development features.

Some enjoy using Apple Photos enhanced with editing extensions made by MacPhun, DxO and others. These extensions bring the image-editing capabilities of Photos closer to Lightroom. But because these extensions are created by multiple developers, the editing experience is less integrated and consistent than in Lightroom. Another problem is that the organizational abilities of Apple Photos fall well short of what Lightroom can do, and so far it looks like extensions are not able to improve that area of Photos.

The big picture

There’s no question that Adobe Creative Cloud has been successful for Adobe. For several quarters through 2015 and 2016, Adobe reported record revenue growth partially driven by Creative Cloud subscription rates that exceeded their projections. Adobe seems to have found a combination of products, services, and subscription pricing that works for the customers they want. Financially, Creative Cloud has worked out so well for Adobe that as long as revenue growth stays as positive as it has been, they’re unlikely to abandon their subscription-based business model or bring back perpetual licenses for their professional applications.

Remember that Adobe Creative Cloud isn’t just about subscriptions. It includes features that perpetual license software usually doesn’t offer such as online services, online storage and portfolios, and links that tie Adobe desktop and mobile apps into a single continuous workflow. These benefits tend to have the most appeal for highly mobile creatives who work daily with the latest workflows and need features that support them. For example, if you frequently prepare graphics for websites that are Retina/HiDPI enabled, you’d probably want the Adobe Generator, Export As, and Artboards features that are in Photoshop CC 2015 but not in Photoshop CS6.

If you have a more modest or occasional workflow, like weekly processing of a few images for prints or a simple website, one of the non-subscription alternatives in this article might be all you need.

22 comments

  1. Hi Conrad,
    Thank you for all the wonderful and informative information you provide. I am always pleased when I find an email from you in my inbox. It is full of useful information and has helped me navitgate through topics and questions that have caused me great confusion. Your latest article on Creative Cloud subscriptions, and if one can still purchase CS6 was extremely helpful and very timely. I don’t happen to need or want a subscription as I am not a professional and it isn’t financially feasible for me to pay per month.
    Thank you for providing some of the best information on the internet.

  2. I just called the number to buy a perpetual license. I was referred to third party resellers, including Best Buy and Office Max… as well as Amazon.com.
    I was told that Adobe will no longer sell Photoshop CS6, due to Adobe no longer offering technical support for the software.

    1. Wow, that’s a strange answer from them since I think it’s difficult to find CS6 at any third-party resellers these days. The Adobe web page still says “Yes, you can still buy CS6 products” through that phone number, but if I get more comments saying that doesn’t include Photoshop, I’ll have to update this blog post.

      1. I just tried to purchase Illustrator CS6 only to be told individual products are no longer available and I must Purchase Master Suite for £2500. So technically you can still buy CS6 products as long as you want all of them.

  3. Why when you do a google search on buying Adobe Photoshop about 95% of the posts are from 2013 or before?

    This is the only recent article under that search. I’d like to learn how to make gifs and thought photoshop would be the best bet, but I am rethinking it now. What would be your suggestion? I’m not looking to be a professional, just someone who makes funny gifs on the weekends for friends and my local website forum.

    Thank you,

    1. The reason that you see al lot less information about buying Photoshop after 2013 is that Photoshop CS6, which came out in 2012, was the last version that you could buy in a store.

      In 2013, Adobe made all future versions of Photoshop available only for Adobe Creative Cloud members, which requires a regular payment. And you can only download it from Adobe, not any other store. Today, if you want the full professional version of Photoshop, you can get it from Adobe for US$10 a month under the Creative Cloud Photography Plan.

      If all you need to do is learn how to make animated GIFs, you can use many other inexpensive image editing applications such as Photoshop Elements, which is still available in stores for less than $100. I mentioned some other ideas (Mac software) near the end of the article.

      You can also make animated GIFs with Gimp, which is free for Mac, Windows, and Unix; here is a tutorial:
      https://www.gimp.org/tutorials/Simple_Animations/

  4. I just wanted to add as of 2014, no you can’t get photoshop CS6. There was a time I tried to upgrade, did the process calling and the person on the other end more less flat out said no. They weren’t going to offer CS6 when you can do so much better getting the CC subscription.

  5. While with services like Netflix it makes sense to have subscription service as you use it probably quite regularly, with software this is ridiculous. It may work for digital studios, or professionals, but what about amateurs that need to use the software from time to time only? Why should I pay monthly fee, I want to pay once and use it whenever I need to. For the price of the annual subscription you would normally own the software, but now – no, you pay for a year and still have nothing.

    1. Sigh…I was hoping this wasn’t the case. I’m a student learning and was trying to focus on Adobe products mostly, but yet another subscription-based SAAS monthly drain on my bank account is getting untenable.

  6. I am in the process of writing a history book with pictures and was encouraged to use InDesign. This is the first I have heard of your program. I am new to this and am not sure where to even start, from what I have read on this page, the program is in a virtual cloud, is this correct? I also was hoping I didn’t have to have a subscription that lasted for a long time as I was hoping I would be done in four months. Can you please reply, thanks.

    1. Hi Grace, InDesign is an excellent and widely used program for creating books; I used it to lay out all of my print books. The way Adobe talks about Creative Cloud can be a little confusing; although they talk about “the cloud” a lot, the Creative Cloud applications like InDesign are not that different from the other programs you use.

      If you use InDesign or other Creative Cloud programs, a complete copy will be installed on your computer, like most programs. Except for an occasional check-in with the server, you do not need a continuous Internet connection to get your work done. Creative Cloud programs can only be installed by downloading them from an Internet server; there are no discs available (similar to how phone apps are installed). So installation is one of the “cloud”-based aspects of InDesign. Another “cloud” aspect is that Adobe uses Creative Cloud services to connect InDesign to other Creative Cloud programs and phone/tablet apps, but those are optional. If all you want to do is use InDesign to get a book printed, you can do just that and not get involved with the rest.

      The other aspect of Creative Cloud is how you pay. You can’t buy the software with a single payment, but you do have different subscription choices. Go to the link below and look at the “Single App” option, the second from the left. Make sure InDesign is selected in the top menu, and then click the menu below that to see your payment choices.

      https://creative.adobe.com/plans?single_app=indesign

      If you only need to use InDesign for your one book project that might take four months, you probably do not want the first two options, “Annual plan, paid monthly” and “Annual plan, prepaid.” Those $19.99/month options would tie you up for at least one year at $240, which sounds like more than you need.

      The option you probably want is the third one, “Monthly plan.” If you select that, you will see that the price goes up to $29.99/month since you’re only committing month to month. But the monthly plan gives you the option to stop paying immediately after the book project is complete. If you subscribed to InDesign for five months, that would be about $150 (before tax). For a short-term project that would be a better deal than before Creative Cloud existed; back then it used to cost around $700 to buy InDesign on disc.

      If you think you’ll need more Adobe software like Photoshop or Illustrator to work on graphics for the book, you might go for the All Apps plan, but that is $75/month for the monthly option. If you already have good graphics programs that you can use to prepare photos and illustrations for your book, you can use those with InDesign and keep costs down.

      1. Thank you Conrad, it seems quite simple when you explain it, we’ll see how everything pans out.ni

  7. Online subscriptions suck when they are the only option. I don’t like the cloud. I will never like the cloud. Why shun a large portion of their clients?

  8. I never use the apps that let me store and organize online, as I personally, don’t care for the idea of my creative, or personal info floating out there on somebody else’s ‘server’ that you are required to log-on to.

  9. Darn, I guess I just missed the 1/9/17 cutoff. I use CS4 at work for small projects and the license allowed me to install onto two devices as long as only one at a time was used. I will be retiring soon and have to leave that license to my successor. So now I’m left with needing something at home for my personal use. I’m definitely not a fan of all the cloud aspects and have to now be more budget minded. If I subscribe from my PC, can I use use it from my laptop as well? What if I can’t connect to the internet from the device I want to work from?

    1. Hi Marsha,

      Adobe has answers to both your questions at

      http://www.adobe.com/creativecloud.html#top-questions

      They’re actually a little more flexible on the multiple computer use than they used to be. For CS6 and earlier, you could use the software on up to two computers, but only on the same platform. Currently, with Creative Cloud you can use the software on up to two computers on different platforms (two PCs, two Macs, or one PC and one Mac), if that matters.

      Below are answers I copied from the Adobe link above.

      – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

      2. Do I need to be online to access my desktop apps?

      No, the desktop applications in Creative Cloud, such as Photoshop and Illustrator, are installed directly on your computer, so you don’t need an ongoing Internet connection to use them.
      An Internet connection is required the first time you install and license your apps, but you can use the apps in offline mode with a valid software license. The desktop apps will attempt to validate your software licenses every 30 days.
      For annual members, you can use the apps for up to 99 days in offline mode. Month-to-month members can use the software for up to 30 days in offline mode.

      4. Can I use the software I download from Creative Cloud on multiple computers?

      Yes, you can install and activate Creative Cloud desktop applications on two computers, regardless of operating system, for use by the individual associated with the membership. See the product license agreements page for more information.

  10. I just got a CS3 web premium and inputted the serial number, but it didn’t active unless I get the authorization code. Can I still use the photoshop, and illustrator without it? If not what should I do?

    1. I just tried my copy of Photoshop CS3 on Sierra, and it was able to deactivate and activate again using the Internet with just the serial number; it didn’t ask for an authorization code. Were you using the Internet method of activation? I thought the authorization code was only needed for phone activation, which no longer works as far as I know.

  11. Hi, so i just bought the dvd version of lightroom 6 and i have an iMac that no longer has a disc drive. So i was going to borrow a family members disc drive to install the program, but my question is do i need to have the disc in the computer at all times while i am using the program?

    1. You don’t need the disc with you at all times. From what I have read, you don’t even need a disc drive to install. If you use a computer with no disc drive, I think you can download the trial version of Lightroom from adobe.com and enter your serial number into it from the box you bought, and that should turn the trial version into a regular working version. All you should really need from the box is the serial number.

  12. Ugh this subscription model stinks. I signed up for Creative Cloud in 2013 and I only ever used Photoshop & Acrobat and only occasionally Illustrator or Premier. I’ve dumped $~2500 into that subscription. I could’ve bought Photoshop and Acrobat and still have money left over *siiigh*

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