It’s a tough question, and the answer will depend on your post-processing preferences. In this article, I’ll break it all down for you; I’ll compare and contrast Photoshop Elements and Photoshop and see where they both fit in the grand scheme of image editing.
By the time you’re finished, you’ll know which program is the better buy!
Let’s get started.
Photoshop Elements vs Photoshop: overview
Photoshop has become the industry standard for editing on Windows and MacOS systems – so much so, in fact, that the phrase Photoshop is now used as a verb. Photoshop gives users the ability to create and enhance photographs, illustrations, and other digital media. As a critical utility for graphic artists, photographers, designers, web developers, etc., Photoshop has become an integral part of many creators’ processes.
So where does Elements come in? Photoshop Elements is a simplified version of Photoshop, designed primarily for photographers who want a quick and easy way to edit and organize images. The program came out in 2001 (long after Photoshop first debuted), and is also great for consumers who are just getting started with photo editing.
While there are numerous incarnations in the Adobe Photoshop and Photoshop Elements lines, for this article, I’ll compare the most recent versions: Photoshop Elements 2021 vs Photoshop version 22.3.0.
Photoshop Elements vs Photoshop: key features
Now that you’re familiar with the purposes of both Photoshop Elements and Photoshop, let’s take a detailed look at what these two programs offer, starting with:
While both Photoshop Elements and Photoshop are owned by Adobe, the sales models couldn’t be more different.
Adobe Photoshop Elements is sold as a one-off program, and the 2021 version will set you back about $100 USD. Photoshop Elements can be bundled with Premiere Elements 2021, a simplified video editing software (see the screenshot below). Upgrade pricing for existing Elements customers in the United States is also available.
Adobe Photoshop, on the other hand, is offered only as a (monthly or yearly) subscription. At present, the best value is the Creative Cloud Photography Plan, which includes Photoshop, Lightroom, Lightroom Classic, plus 20 GB of cloud storage, and costs $9.99 USD per month.
Note that Adobe offers a 30-day trial of both Elements and Photoshop if you’d prefer to try before you buy.
Ease of use
Although Elements and Photoshop offer many overlapping features, Elements is geared toward an audience looking for a newcomer-friendly editing application.
Photoshop is the industry standard, but this can make it harder to approach for first-time users. Enter Photoshop Elements, which is designed to enable simple, streamlined editing processes while maintaining an accessible interface. This simplified application can help ease a budding creative into the world of digital editing without plunging them headfirst into a sea of pixels.
Bottom line: Photoshop is designed for in-depth, manual editing operations. Elements is a photo processor, better suited to quick and easy refinements that don’t require intensive editing.
Photoshop offers six pre-made workspaces for different creative requirements: 3D, Essentials, Graphic and Web, Motion, Painting, and Photography.
Photoshop Elements divides the editing process into three workspaces: Quick, Guided, and Expert:
In Photoshop Elements, Quick view is a simplified interface with basic adjustments. This layout lets you quickly perform common editing tasks and includes basic photo editing tools neatly distributed across the workspace.
Quick mode enables users to access the Healing brush, fix exposure, sharpness, color, and lighting, and even provides the option to apply effects, filters, enhancements, textures, and frames.
The Guided workspace offers step-by-step instructions for Photoshop Elements users. With over 50 tutorials and counting, this workspace will help you apply a range of effects to a photograph.
With the option to introduce Tilt-Shift, Black and White, Orton, and Lomo effects (and many more) to an image, Guided provides a user-friendly interface for applying relatively customizable effects.
To access these tutorials, switch over to the Guided interface in Photoshop Elements, pick an effect, and go from there.
Expert mode is designed for users who are more experienced with image editing. The Expert view unpacks all of the editing tools available in Photoshop Elements and neatly organizes them around the user interface:
Expert mode has an expanded range of tools compared to Quick mode, enabling you to apply complex editing effects. Draw and Enhance tools, Graphics, Layers and Styles, Histograms, additional Filters, History, and more are all available in the Expert workspace.
Other tools and functions
While Photoshop Elements packs a considerable amount of power, some tools are still reserved for Photoshop. For instance, chromatic aberration correction, which fixes unwanted fringing, is a Photoshop exclusive.
Elements doesn’t support vector formats, either – so the Pen tool, which creates advanced paths and shapes, is not an Elements feature. (Because Photoshop supports vector and raster files, users can add vector-based Smart Objects into a Photoshop file.)
In addition, Elements doesn’t offer the Content-Aware Patch tool (which sources nearby content to blend a region with the surrounding image area) or the Channel Mixer (which is often used for advanced black and white conversions).
Other significant differences include the lack of 16-bit and 32-bit image support in Elements. Lens geometry profiles aren’t included in Elements or in the accompanying (and also pared-back) Camera Raw utility.
A new feature in the 2021 version of Elements is the AI-powered Moving Photos function (used to turn static pictures into moving GIFs, as displayed above). While GIFs can be created in Photoshop, the process is a little less streamlined, though Photoshop does offer more flexibility in making these GIFs.
An additional point of difference in the Photoshop Elements vs Photoshop comparison is printing. Unfortunately, Elements is missing a few key features for professional print production. Unlike Photoshop, Photoshop Elements can’t export files in CMYK, and the program also excludes in-depth soft-proofing.
Plus, Elements supports a simplified color management system compared to Photoshop; while Elements has RGB, Grayscale, Bitmap, and Indexed Color, Photoshop features all of the aforementioned color options, but also Duotone, CMYK, Lab, and Multi-Channel, which allows for greater control when printing.
Photoshop can be more labor-intensive than Photoshop Elements, though the number of guided edits available in Photoshop Elements do streamline the process.
However, although Elements includes quick, automated processes and adjustments, it sometimes sacrifices the manual customizability and creative precision achieved through editing in Photoshop. Put simply, the hands-on approach of Photoshop can pay off, depending on the level of tweaking you require to create an effective image.
Photoshop Elements vs Photoshop: final words
Photoshop can create stunning photographic work, but that doesn’t rule out the capabilities of Photoshop Elements. While Photoshop Elements offers to do the heavy lifting with a few clicks of the mouse button, Photoshop proper offers a larger range of detailed editing features.
Ultimately, if you’re looking for a simple editing program, Elements works well. However, creative professionals in need of precision editing software should jump for Photoshop instead.
Photoshop Elements vs Photoshop FAQs
Put simply, Photoshop Elements is a simpler version of Photoshop. Elements is easier to use but lacks the full-fledged creative control that Photoshop delivers.
Photoshop Elements is primarily aimed at beginner or intermediate users looking to edit photographs. Professional photographers and designers generally invest in Photoshop for more in-depth editing capabilities.
There are a good amount of utilities available in Photoshop Elements, but some tools are still reserved for Photoshop. Chromatic aberration correction, the Content-Aware Patch tool, and the Channel Mixer don’t feature in Elements. Elements doesn’t provide vector format or 16-bit and 32-bit image support. Lens geometry profiles aren’t included in Elements or in the accompanying Camera Raw utility. Photoshop Elements can’t export files in CMYK, Lab, Duotone, or Multi-Channel color modes.
Adobe Photoshop Elements 2021 costs around $100 USD for a full license. Photoshop is only available as a subscription, which costs $9.99 USD per month (at minimum).