macOS 10.15 Catalina: Will Adobe software work?

With the release of macOS 10.15 Catalina, you’re probably wondering if your Adobe software will work in this macOS upgrade.

Here’s the short version: Many companies are cautioning users to delay the upgrade to macOS 10.15 Catalina. If you decide to go ahead, you’ll want to run the most current version of Creative Cloud applications on the new system. Because of changes and tighter requirements by both Apple and Adobe, a much smaller number of old applications are going to run in macOS 10.15 Catalina than in past upgrades. If you can’t or don’t want to upgrade your applications to current versions, you should delay upgrading to Catalina.

Of particular concern: Even if you are running the latest version of Photoshop CC 2019 (version 20.0.6), the list of problems discovered with Photoshop has grown since Catalina was released (details later in this article).

With every macOS upgrade, full information about compatibility is typically not available on the day the new system is released or even shortly after. More information emerges over time, as Apple, Adobe, and other software developers test with the final public release and produce updates with fixes. I’ll update this article as new information comes out.

What’s covered in this article

I focus on information that’s direct from Adobe, and on verified reports. To make the best use of your time and mine, I don’t repeat rumors and random anecdotes. But I may mention my own experiences.

Here are the major sections of this article relating to Adobe applications and Catalina:

Creative Cloud versions

Adobe Creative Suite 3 through 6 (CS3–CS6)

Adobe Creative Suite 2 (CS2)

Do not upgrade until everything you use is ready

Caution: For macOS 10.15 Catalina, it is particularly important that you research which applications you have on your Mac before you click that Upgrade button. The longer you’ve been using a Mac, the trickier the macOS 10.15 Catalina upgrade may be, because major changes will block a lot of older software from working. The Verge has good coverage of this in their article Why macOS Catalina is breaking so many apps, and what to do about it.

There are principles that apply to almost any system upgrade, whether it’s for Macs, Windows PCs, or mobile devices. Those principles remain true for the macOS 10.15 Catalina upgrade:

  • Be prepared. If you use your Mac to run a business or another activity where you can’t afford to lose productivity, do not upgrade to Catalina until you’ve made plans to fully recover your previous configuration if things don’t work out. For example, have a complete system backup that you know how to restore.
  • Check all of the hardware and software you rely on. Before you upgrade, remember to check compatibility for everything installed on or connected to your computer. Especially anything that depends on driver software being compatible. That could include printers, graphics tablets, scanners, cameras, networking equipment, calibration equipment, backup software, diagnostic software, adapters, hubs, docks, and so on.
  • Test your complete workflow. Published compatibility reports may be on test systems that don’t have the same hardware and software you use. If you must ensure complete compatibility with everything you use, run your own tests with macOS 10.15 Catalina on a separate system, such as an external drive with a Catalina test system installed.
  • Current versions will be the most compatible. You can expect that current versions of Mac software will be updated for full compatibility with macOS 10.15 Catalina, but previous versions probably won’t. For Adobe applications, that means you can expect the most recent Creative Cloud (CC) versions to be either already compatible or will be updated eventually. But if you use an older version such as CS6 or earlier that Adobe no longer updates, any issues with Catalina will not be fixed.

Official statements and verified reports for Creative Cloud versions

Adobe has posted a general statement about macOS 10.15 Catalina: Why don’t my Adobe apps work in macOS Catalina? It links to some Catalina-related articles that Adobe posted earlier, which are also listed below.

Expect this section to be updated over time as we find out more about other applications and emerging issues. I’ve already added a few links since Catalina went live.

Direct links to applications covered in this section:

Photoshop

Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements

Lightroom and Lightroom Classic

Illustrator

Acrobat

64-bit compatibility for current Adobe applications

macOS 10.15 Catalina supports only applications that run 64-bit code. This is no surprise, because Apple has been warning about the 32-bit cutoff for several years now. To be compatible, an application and all of the components installed with it must be 64-bit compliant. Adobe has been updating its applications over time, so most current applications run under macOS 10.15 Catalina. The Adobe article Why don’t my Adobe apps work in macOS Catalina? discusses 64-bit compatibility for Adobe applications on macOS. It also includes a table of some Adobe applications that are still 32-bit, whether they are going to be updated, and suggested alternatives if they not going to be updated.

Note: “64-bit application” has nothing to do with the bit depth of images or channels. Among other things, it’s about the amount of memory an application can address at once. 64-bit compliance doesn’t make any visible difference to the user, but aspects of it make it possible for an application to achieve much higher performance than a 32-bit application.

Adobe posts a special “letter” about Catalina compatibility

On October 10, 2019, Adobe posted A Letter to Our Photoshop Community in the official Photoshop user forum (Adobe Community). Adobe posted similar letters to the Adobe Communuities for Photoshop, Lightroom Classic, Lightroom, Bridge, and Photoshop Elements. This is not the typical Adobe tech note. Instead, it appears to be a response to the special challenges that users are experiencing when upgrading to macOS 10.15 Catalina without first checking their applications against the much stricter requirements that Apple has built into Catalina. It sounds like many users are contacting Adobe about Catalina blocking their older Adobe applications from opening, particularly Photoshop CS6, the final non-subscription version. (Note that although Photoshop CS6 is 64-bit, 64-bit compatibility is not the only tightened requirement in Catalina.)

Photoshop

In July 2019, Adobe published an early advisory about Photoshop and Lightroom compatibility: Upcoming changes to Photoshop & Lightroom OS support with macOS 10.15 (Catalina). Adobe has now posted more specific articles about the current versions of individual applications, which I’ve linked to below.

Photoshop and macOS Catalina (10.15). The list of known issues in this Adobe document has grown significantly since Catalina was released. There are issues with file naming, droplets, plug-ins, and a new section added on problems found with Adobe Camera Raw. Read this document carefully, and if any of the problems will cause serious issues with your workflow, the right thing to do is delay your Catalina upgrade until at least the next Photoshop update (and/or macOS as well, since sometimes a problem is a bug in macOS that Apple fixes). Update: Photoshop version 20.0.7, released on October 23, 2019, fixes some of the problems but not all of them.

For older versions, meaning any version before Photoshop CC 2019, Adobe clearly states its recommendation in the Adobe document Photoshop and macOS Catalina (10.15):

Adobe does not recommend that customers using old versions of Photoshop upgrade to macOS Catalina.

Unfortunately, that includes Photoshop CS6, the last non-subscription version many users are choosing to stick with.

Adobe Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements

I don’t normally cover the Elements line, but the macOS 10.15 Catalina upgrade is turning out to be unusually challenging for Elements users too. The worst case scenario is if you just bought Photoshop Elements 2019, because if you need Catalina compatiblity you’ll now have to buy Photoshop Elements 2020 which was just released. Adobe has posted two articles for Photoshop Elements users:

Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements compatibility with macOS 10.15 (general statement) which says:

Adobe does not recommend that customers using legacy versions of Photoshop Elements or Premiere Elements (versions 2019 or earlier) upgrade to macOS Catalina.

Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements | macOS Catalina (10.15) (known compatibility issues)

Adobe Lightroom and Lightroom Classic

Adobe has published the following articles about the compatibility of the two Lightroom desktop applications with macOS 10.15 Catalina:

Lightroom Classic and macOS Catalina (10.15)

Lightroom and macOS Catalina (10.15)

Victoria “Lightroom Queen” Bampton has posted her summary: Lightroom and macOS Catalina 10.15 Compatibility Bonus: Victoria tested earlier versions of Lightroom going all the way back to version 1, and included the results in her article.

Also, Victoria’s article contains issues not listed by Adobe. For example, in macOS 10.15 Catalina, the import dialog box in Lightroom Classic may display three copies of the Mac startup volume. This issue has come up in user forums, and I have seen it myself.

Adobe Illustrator

There are reports of Adobe Illustrator having problems connecting to the Mac desktop in Catalina, which means the Save, Save As, and Export commands are not working properly. It isn’t happening to everyone. but Adobe has acknowledged it on both their user forum and feedback site:

We are on it. So far what we know is that it is impacting a few scenarios and not all users on Catalina. We are actively investigating it. Please drop a note at ShareWithAI@adobe.com so that our team can work closely with you to identify the root cause. Thanks.

If you are having this problem, email the address above, or go to the Adobe Illustrator Feedback page for this problem, where you can add your vote and comment: Can’t save files in Catalina

Adobe Acrobat

Adobe has posted the article Acrobat and macOS 10.15 Catalina compatibility. Much of it has to do with the new permissions requests that Apple requires when applications want access to certain folders in macOS 10.15 Catalina.

CC 2018 or earlier are not supported

Enterprise users are being told that “Since CC 2018 or prior apps contain 32-bit components, these apps will fail to launch on machines running macOS 10.15 Catalina.” See the Adobe article Known issues with Creative Cloud packages on macOS 10.15 Catalina.

Catalina may quarantine plug-ins

The Adobe article above for Photoshop notes that you might see an error that plug-ins cannot be found or verified. This is because of new macOS security requirements, including that plug-ins need to be notarized and hardened. If you rely heavily on plug-ins in Photoshop or other Adobe software such as Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe After Effects, or Adobe Audition, you must make sure your plug-ins are compatible with macOS 10.15 Catalina. If they are not, macOS will quarantine them and they will not load.

The consequences of the tightened macOS requirements are rippling through the music industry; many audio/video hardware manufacturers are advising not to upgrade to Catalina at this time until plug-in and driver compatibility for their gear can be verified or updated for Catalina.

That’s all the official information available for now.

Older versions of Adobe software (CS3–CS6)

Already officially unsupported, many Adobe Creative Suite 3 through 6 applications do not make the cut for macOS 10.15 Catalina because they are not 64-bit code (see below). Many of them already have significant issues running in macOS 10.14 Mojave. CS3–CS5 applications are now 10–13 years old. It is time to upgrade…or you can keep using them under older versions of macOS/Mac OS X.

The absolute first thing you need to do to check compatibility of older Adobe software is to see if it’s 64-bit code. If it isn’t, forget it…there’s no way it will run in macOS 10.15 Catalina.

How do you know if you’re running 32-bit applications? Do this:

  1. Click the Apple menu, choose About This Mac, and click System Report.
  2. In the System Information window that opens, click the Applications category, and then (after a slight delay on some systems) look for the 64-Bit (Intel) column. On smaller displays you might need to scroll the list to the right.
  3. Click the 64-Bit (Intel) column heading to sort the list so that applications marked “No” appear at the top.

The System Information screen shot below was taken on a Mac running macOS 10.14 Mojave, with some (not all) Adobe CS3 through CS6 applications installed. I highlighted the applications marked “No” in red. The horizontal highlights mark main Adobe applications, but many of the other applications marked “No” are related Adobe components.

Finding 32-bit applications in macOS System Information

Some CS3–CS6 applications are missing because I’ve had trouble installing some of them on Mojave, especially CS4 applications. But how to get them installed no longer matters in macOS 10.15 Catalina for any applications marked “No” in the 64-bit column, because they’re simply not going to run in Catalina.

If an older Adobe application isn’t marked “No” because it’s 64-bit, does that mean it will run in macOS 10.15 Catalina? Not necessarily. As Adobe explains above in their post about Photoshop and Lightroom, a 64-bit application may still have problems in Catalina if related components are not 64-bit, or if components don’t meet the new Catalina security requirements. In the figure above, many of the applications marked “No” are components installed with CS3–CS6 applications, or with other applications from other companies.

For example, if Lightroom 6 is already installed on a Mac that you upgrade to macOS 10.15 Catalina, it might run, but you’ll never be able to reinstall it because some installation and licensing components are not 64-bit code. (The main Lightroom application was released as 64-bit code before its original competition, Apple Aperture.)

Applications must also meet all other requirements for security, code signing, permissions, etc. that Apple has tightened in the last few releases of macOS.

InDesign Secrets reports that Adobe InDesign CS6 and earlier are 32-bit code and will not run in Catalina (see macOS Catalina is Incompatible with InDesign CS6 and Earlier).

Adobe Creative Suite 2 (CS2) compatibility

There is no way to run Adobe CS2 software on macOS 10.15 Catalina. The only option is to use a newer version of the software.

The question of CS2 compatibility comes up during every recent Mac system upgrade. Some users moving up from older Macs running 10.6.8 or earlier to new Macs with the latest OS version may still be using the Creative Suite 2 (CS2) version of Adobe software, such as Adobe Photoshop CS2.

As with the last several major Mac system upgrades, macOS 10.15 Catalina requires that software be written for the Intel processors that have been running Macs for over 10 years. But CS2 applications were written for the PowerPC processors that ran older Macs. The last version of Mac OS X to run PowerPC software was OS X 10.6.8 Snow Leopard.

So, CS2 applications won’t run in macOS 10.15 Catalina for two major, unfixable reasons: They can’t run on Intel CPUs, and as with many CS3–CS6 applications, they aren’t 64-bit code.

Possible workaround for 32-bit apps: Run them in a virtual machine

Although 32-bit applications won’t run in macOS 10.15 Catalina, one way around it is to run an older version of macOS or OS X in a virtual machine within Catalina. Mac expert Glenn Fleishman writes about this for TidBITS: Moving to Catalina: Keep Your 32-Bit Mac Apps Running with Parallels

This does involve its own complications. You’ll need virtualization software such as Parallels Desktop, and because this runs a second instance of the Mac system, for best performance it works best on Macs with more CPU cores and lots of RAM. Because you need enough power to smoothly run two systems on one computer.

Sidecar: iPad as graphics tablet for a Mac

For Adobe users, an intriguing new feature of macOS 10.15 Catalina is Sidecar, a feature that lets you use an iPad as an additional display for a Mac, and Apple Pencil as a stylus for Mac applications shown on the iPad screen. In other words, Apple has added a feature that was previously available only through third-party applications such as Astropad Studio and Duet Pro, or by buying an expensive Wacom Cintiq graphics tablet with display.

I tried out Sidecar briefly on my Catalina test volume, and it seemed to work great in Photoshop, Lightroom Classic, and Lightroom 6. Apple Pencil pressure sensitivity was recognized by all three applications. That makes me think that Sidecar is sending the same type of pressure data that other Mac-compatible tablets use. However, none of those applications currently take advantage of double-tapping the Apple Pencil tip to switch to another tool or mode. But that’s a minor thing, since all other Sidecar features appear to work fine.

External GPU support

In macOS 10.13.4, Apple added support for external graphics processing units, called external GPUs or eGPUs. The idea is that you put a powerful graphics card inside a box and connect it to your Mac using Thunderbolt, and that upgrades the graphics capabilities of your Mac. I use one to boost the weak internal graphics hardware in my 13-inch MacBook Pro.

Adobe has improved eGPU support in the most recent versions of application such as Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe Lightroom Classic. Across macOS, don’t expect older applications to take full advantage of an eGPU. If you want to get the most out of your eGPU, use current versions of both your high performance applications and macOS.

Some applications may not support an eGPU automatically, so if there is an application that you’re especially interested in accelerating with an eGPU, contact the developer to see if their application fully supports an eGPU.

Update: There are now reports that macOS 10.15 Catalina may have issues with certain combinations of eGPU and graphics card.

Wondering what else Catalina is all about?

For the most in-depth review you’ll probably find anywhere, read the macOS 10.15 Catalina review at Ars Technica. As with every major release of the Mac operating system, the Ars Technica review not only evaluates the visible features that Apple promotes, but goes under the surface to explain changes to some of the underlying technologies in macOS and how they affect your Mac experience.

What I’m doing

I rely on my Mac to pay my bills, so I can’t afford for it to be out of service because of a major software problem. So as with every major release of macOS, I did not install macOS 10.15 Catalina on my production Mac on the day it came out. I’m still waiting for known incompatibilities to be fixed with all of the software and hardware that I rely on. I usually don’t install the latest version of macOS on my production Mac until the .5 or .6 release or when I’m satisfied that there aren’t any remaining issues with, for example, my printer or graphics tablet.

I have installed macOS 10.15 Catalina on a separate test volume. That’s always the best way to confirm that it works with your specific workflow.

This article was originally posted on August 28, 2019 and will be updated as new information emerges.

4 comments

  1. Adobe chat fellow just told me Elements 2019 will work with Catalina, but has to be re-downloaded after install. It had better work. I paid $100 for it less than a year ago.

    1. How do I re-download? I’ve just bought a 15″ MacBook Pro and installed Catalina. Had no idea there would be problems with Elements 19. What do I do? New to Mac!

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