Adobe Photoshop Versus Adobe Photoshop Elements

Did your eyes cross reading that headline? It's easy to toss off the fact that Adobe Photoshop is the premier image-editing application around (well, it is), but there's more than one Photoshop around. Adobe Photoshop Elements is the smaller, sleeker, cheaper (that's a major point) version of the big guy.

It's not about which is better. Obviously the Photoshop with more features is better (as any computer geek will gleefully point out). It's about which is better for the individual consumer. Because there's a few hundred bucks to be saved buying Photoshop Elements if you don't need the, well, elements of Photoshop that get left out.

If there was one word that could sum up the difference, besides 'price', it would be 'professionalism'. The full version of Photoshop is geared toward the professional who's gearing his images toward the print shop, not just the Internet or the refrigerator. The first thing that invariably comes up is that Elements does not support the CMYK color space. If you don't know what CMYK is, it's unlikely you'll ever need it. This sort of philosophy can be taken all the way down the line for much of the technical specs: lab color, high dynamic range image creation, working with 16- and 32-bit images. Your correspondent doesn't know what some of that means and he's writing an article.

Yet to someone who needs those features, Photoshop Elements has immediately encountered its dealbreaker. It's this sort of thing that makes the comparison easy in some ways; one thing you truly need that Elements doesn't have, and you're gone. And that's okay.

But don't think Elements is all about stripping down Photoshop. It builds up, too, with a couple of nifty features like an easy one-click red-eye correction; something the average photographer can learn without much effort, whereas the digital professional would handle such an issue step-by-step with his own techniques. One might compare Adobe's goal for Photoshop Elements to Apple's iMovie and iDVD, programs that try to make creative tasks easy and fun. Even kid-friendly. Take Elements' exclusive Cookie Cutter tool, which is as cute as it sounds, fulfilling all your cut-something-out-in-the-shape-of-a-pawprint needs.

Does Elements work? Yes. Adobe is a respected producer of graphics software for good reason, and wouldn't tarnish the good name of Photoshop. Still, there are some things in Elements that this reviewer considers too vital to go without. The last straw here is layer masks. A layer mask is a powerful tool that allows one to non-destructively select which parts of an image to hide or show, and is an essential part of making a good Photoshop project. Once you understand a layer mask, you'll never go back to the old Eraser tool again. Is it worth the extra price? Here's one reviewer that felt so, and opened his wallet accordingly.

Maybe your dealbreaker is different. Because, unless you're desperate for that cookie cutter, there's nothing wrong about the full Photoshop except the price, and in an ideal world we could all get past that and move on.

Adobe themselves seems oddly reluctant to post a convenient comparison on-site; one might expect the Elements site to be plastered with things Photoshop had, in an effort to steer the consumer toward the pricier option. And indeed the price is considerable; Adobe Photoshop can be around five times pricier than its sleeker counterpart, depending on where and how you shop. In the end, it comes down to your setup and your individual needs.

If you're at home enjoying sticking your dog's head on your mother-in-law's body, you don't need the highest-end software. If you're in a professional graphic design environment, you need the best—but, then, didn't you know already? Whatever the case, remember that ultimately it's not the computer software that makes the art good, but the artist.

But, then, didn't you know that already, too?

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