Can You Buy Photoshop Outright?

No, it is no longer possible to purchase Adobe Photoshop outright. Adobe Photoshop is only available to users with an active Creative Cloud subscription purchased from Adobe. 

Whether you’ve been out of the Photoshop game for a few years or if this is your first time exploring the world of professional image editing software, this post will give you a quick explanation of the current situation. 

Key Takeaways

  • Adobe Photoshop is only available to users with an active Creative Cloud subscription plan.
  • Creative Cloud subscriptions can be purchased on a monthly or annual basis.
  • The cheapest Creative Cloud subscription with access to Photoshop is the Photography plan priced at $9.99 USD per month, but it can be hard to find on the Adobe website.
  • Adobe Photoshop Elements is a simplified version of Adobe Photoshop for casual home users that can be purchased outright.

The Creative Cloud Subscription System

In 2013, Adobe announced the launch of their new “software as a service” cloud-based approach to application design and development: the Creative Cloud. If you have no idea what that means, you’re not alone because many people were greatly confused by this new approach and all the accompanying terms, so here’s a quick rundown on how it works.

Instead of purchasing a physical copy of Photoshop each time a new version is released, customers pay monthly or yearly for access to the software. 

As long as your subscription stays active, you can continue using the software, but you don’t actually own a copy of it. This model is known as “software as a service” or SaaS if you want to use the corporate software development jargon. 

In addition to access to the latest version of Photoshop, a Creative Cloud subscription also includes some other benefits, such as cloud-based storage and access to Adobe Fonts and Adobe Stock. 

Previously installed versions of Photoshop purchased on CD/DVD may still function, but they do not receive updates, bug fixes, support, or any new features, and they may experience problems when used with modern operating systems. 

Adobe has also shut down the activation servers that are used to authenticate perpetual licenses, which prevents them from working – even for those who purchased them legally at full price. 

The launch of the Creative Cloud services package was filled with high-profile errors and communications failures, which caused a great deal of confusion and public outcry. 

Adobe’s position as a market leader allowed them to ignore the issues and complaints from their user base, which generated additional bad feelings in the user community. If you’re curious, you can read more about the Creative Cloud controversy on Wikipedia

As a result of Adobe’s extremely poor handling of the situation, many new image editing apps appeared to challenge Photoshop for industry dominance, including the popular Affinity Photo from Serif. 

It’s now been ten years since the painful transition to the new system, it’s hard to say if the end result is better for the average customer or not. 

Photoshop is constantly being updated with new features at a pace that would not have happened under the old model, but the regular update cycle has also had the unintended result of allowing more minor bugs and issues into the working version of Photoshop.

Also Read: 3 Legal Ways to Get Photoshop for Free (With Tricks)

Photoshop Alternatives You Can Buy Outright

Photoshop may be the industry standard for image editing, but it’s far from the only capable image editing app! Here are a couple of alternative options that you can purchase for a one-time fee with no subscription required. 

Adobe Photoshop Elements

As you might guess from the name, Photoshop Elements takes many core image editing features from Photoshop, but it emphasizes simplicity and ease of use for the casual home user instead of professional image editors. 

Adobe Photoshop Elements can be purchased outright for a one-time fee of $99.99 USD, and it comes with a discount code for purchasing the next version of the software when it is released.

Serif Affinity Photo

If you’ve given up on Adobe and its high-handed approach to its users, there’s a great Photoshop alternative available from Serif named Affinity Photo. 

Original image from Serif’s website

Affinity Photo has only just released version 2.0, but it’s already got an impressive list of features that rival many of those found in Photoshop. While it might not be ready to take Photoshop’s place in high-end photography studios and ad agencies, Affinity Photo is a great alternative for home users and professionals who don’t want to be tied to the Creative Cloud system. 

Affinity Photo is available for Windows, macOS, and iPad for a one-time price of $69.99 – no subscription required!  You can also download a free trial of Affinity Photo from Serif to give it a test run before purchasing. 


If you’re feeling a bit confused about all these changes and technical details, don’t worry – you’re not alone! Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about purchasing Photoshop and the Creative Cloud system. 

What is the Cheapest Plan for Photoshop?

The cheapest plan for Photoshop is the Photography plan which includes 20 GB of Creative Cloud storage space for $9.99 USD per month. This also gives you access to Adobe Lightroom CC and Adobe Lightroom Classic, as well as Photoshop for iPad.

Beware! There is also a more expensive version of the same plan which includes 1 TB (1000 GB) of storage space for $19.99 USD per month, and Adobe strongly pushes their potential customers toward the 1 TB version of the plan

They actually go out of their way to make it difficult for customers to find the cheaper 20GB plan on their website, but it’s still there if you know where to look! You can find the link to the correct product page here

Why Did Photoshop Switch to Subscription? 

This question is a bit more complicated because it depends on who you want to believe. If you believe Adobe’s explanation, then Photoshop switched to a subscription to provide faster updates and prevent software piracy. If you want to look for a more cynical explanation, Adobe made the change to convert its user base into a more consistent revenue stream. 

In the past, many individuals and businesses would purchase Photoshop and then wait years before upgrading again. The cost of Photoshop alone was nearing $1000 per version before the transition to the Creative Cloud model, so it made sense for customers to skip releases that didn’t come with a compelling reason to upgrade. 

What was the Last Photoshop Version Without a Subscription?

The last version of Photoshop that was available without a subscription was Creative Suite 6, also known as Photoshop CS6. Not to be confused with the new Creative Cloud, the ‘Creative Suite’ branding was finally retired on January 9, 2017, when Adobe removed all CS6 apps from their online store. 

A Final Word

That covers everything you need to know about the current state of Photoshop and the Creative Cloud! While it’s no longer possible to buy Photoshop outright, there are still plenty of subscription options available for every budget level. There are also some excellent alternatives to Photoshop that you can buy outright, so everyone’s happy! 

Whichever path you choose, have fun!

About Thomas Boldt
Thomas started his Photoshop career way back in 2000. After exploring Photoshop 5.5 in a high school computer lab, he developed an enduring passion for photography, design, and technology that carried him through a Bachelor of Design degree and into the wild world of tech startups.

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