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Photoshop CS vs Photoshop Elements

{reported by Paula Gilarde}

What it is: Adobe Photoshop, also known simply as Photoshop (or PS), is the leading image editing program developed by Adobe. It has been described as the industry standard for graphics professionals. Adobe Photoshop Elements (aka PSE) is the consumer version of Photoshop, sold at a fraction of the cost of the professional product. It contains most of the features of the professional version but with fewer and simpler options. The latest version of Photoshop is CS4:

And the latest version of Photoshop Elements for Windows is 7.

Mac versions tend to lag a bit behind the Windows versions - I'm not sure why. PS CS4 is available for the Mac but PSE is still on version 6 on that platform.

When I first became interested in Digital Scrapbooking I already had photo-editing software - Paint Shop Pro, but all the tutorials that I found for digi scrapping were based on Photoshop Elements so after a failed attempt to use PSP for digi-scrapping I went ahead and purchased PSE. Die hard PSP users will say that it can do everything PS can do but the fact remains that there is more information out there for PS users. I eventually graduated to PS when I got more and more into digital scrapbooking (it was a gift from my dh) but if truth be told I don't often use all of the features that PS offers over PSE. I recently downloaded trial version of PS CS4 and PSE 7, and I'm going to do a brief comparison in this article.

Ease of Use

PSE and PS are not the most intuitive image editing programs out there. There is a steep learning curve, especially for full Photoshop. PS is vast and very few people do more than scratch the surface of its capabilities. PSE is geared more toward the average consumer, with lots of automatic photo-editing features like auto-levels, auto red eye fix, auto color correction. Photoshop can essentially do everything that PSE can do (although not as easily), and you have more control over each feature. With just about any software program I find that when you get used to something, it becomes second nature. Once I mastered PSE, moving to PS was hard, but then when I got accustomed to PS, switching back to PSE was difficult - what can I say, I'm a creature of habit. I like things when I get used to them :)


Now for the fun stuff. What can they do? Well, there's a lot they can do but I'm going to focus on what is different between these two products, with specific emphasis on the things that are important to digital scrapbookers. Elements provides most of the basics found in PS, especially in regard to photo editing: most of the tools and functions are found in both products. There are even ways around some (not all) of PSE's limitations, either through add-ons or work-arounds.

PSE has basic text options but the serious typographer will find it lacking -tracking (space between letters) and other advanced formatting is not possible in PSE. There are some workarounds, for example a simple Ctrl-Shift-J will fully justify text, even though the option isn't available on the text toolbar. There's a lot of hidden features in PSE that can be found through some web searches.

The pen tool and paths are not available in PSE. The Pen tool is quite difficult to master and can be very frustrating (believe me I know!) but there are some really amazing techniques that can only be accomplished using the Pen tool. The Pen tool allows you to create vector graphics. Vector graphics are resolution-independent - this means that can be resized to be much, much larger, without becoming pixilated. Text on a path is another fun feature in PS where you can specify a path - for example a curve, wave or shape and have the text follow that particular path. Although this feature is not available in PSE there are path template that can be purchased that allow you to add your journaling to a specific shape (for example Pattie Knox's Text Bytes)

Layer Masks is a feature in Photoshop that allows you to do non-destructive editing so if you make a mistake or change your mind you can easily revert - this is not available in PSE, but you can simulate some of the effects using adjustment layers and other tools.

Photoshop allows you to recording custom actions. An action is a series of tasks that PSE performs with a click of a button. PSE V7 comes with a set of actions, but you can't record your own actions in PSE. You can however, play actions that are created in Photoshop as long as the actions use features supported by PSE.

Cost Effectiveness

Hands down, Photoshop Elements is the best deal with a price tag of less than $100. Full Photoshop costs almost $700. Unless you really, REALLY need the features I listed above or you have the extra $$ I think PSE is sufficient for most digi-scrappers. Another thing to note though is that full-time or part-time students, faculty, staff, and employees of government-certified educational institutions can purchase education versions of Adobe products at a significant discount.

What I liked - PSE:
- I'm familiar with both products and I will admit that it took me quite a while to leave the comfort of PSE with the easy to use auto-features like auto-color-correction, for the more difficult, everything-takes-more-steps, Photoshop.
- I'm not in favor or re-inventing the wheel and I've found that using templates and pre-made elements I can achieve a what I want using PSE.
- The price is much more palatable than PS.

What I disliked - PSE:
- The workspace is comprised shades of black and dark grey - I don't like this change from earlier versions.
- The feature that I missed most from Photoshop is the ability to run actions - there are actions available for PSE but nowhere near the amount for PS.
- It can be frustrating if you are familiar with PS and know that you are missing out on nice little features - for me that was the warp option in the transform tool and the fact that some PS hot-keys didn't work (some do however!).

What I liked - PS:
- I didn't see a huge different in functionality between the PS CS2 (which is what I currently have) and PS CS4 which is the latest version available, that said, I love my Photoshop :)
- Although I don't use the pen tool/path feature a lot I like that I can use it when I want to :) - I also enjoy being able to have more control over my text e.g kerning.
- It there is a funky graphic technique in print or online, there is a Photoshop tutorial out there showing you how to do it - with Photoshop anything is possible!

What I disliked - PS:
- It's very expensive. I'm not sure that I would ever have bought it myself if my dh didn't get it.
- It's overwhelming when you start using it - the vastness of the capabilities have paralyzed me at times! There are so many different ways of accomplishing the same thing in Photoshop that sometimes it's hard to know which one to do!

What I made:
I made a couple of layouts - one using PS CS4 and one using PSE 7. Can you tell which one is which?

Credits: Tailed Alphabet no 1, Photo clusters no 12, Notebook Edge Frames no 2 and Krafty Drop Shadow Actions by Katie Pertiet; Tatty Alpha by Lynn Grieveson; Robot Guys by MaryAnn Wise; Kiana paper pack by Michelle Martin; Taped Dotty Polkas, Stitched by Anna white no 1 and Stitched by Anna White no 2 by Anna Aspnes; Memory Tags by Ali Edwards. All from

Credits: Krafty Tags Christmas (flossy stitches), Yarn Swirls, Basic Paper alpha; Word Strips, Expression Tapes, Star Gazers no 1 Brushes and Date Spots by Katie Pertiet; Top of the World kit, Worn Edges Mixed, Ripped and Stitched 1 and Ripped and Stitched 2 by Lynn Grieveson; Text Byte no 1 by Pattie Knox; Tattered and Torn Circles, Curvy Corners Stitched Borders and Stitched by Anna Circles no 2 by Anna Aspnes. All from

Give up? The second layout was created using Photoshop Elements - I used a text path template to put my journaling in a semi circle!

Where and How Much:
Product Name: Photoshop CS4
Manufacturer: Adobe (
MSRP: $699
Available at:,,*

Product Name: Photoshop Elements 7
Manufacturer: Adobe (
MSRP: $99
Available at:,, Fit Cost Store*

What the team thinks:

Aly - I LOVE CS because you can do more with it, but Elements is so much more affordable. I just can't live without the custom actions capability, and the text-editing options - I uses them on EVERY layout!

Noel - I love all of the options that are available in CS, but it's a RAM hog on my computer, so most of the time I stick with the speed of Photoshop Elements for my daily digital needs.

Emilie - I think Elements is great for the average digital scrapper. I happened to get PS through my work and I love it because it can take any Photo Actions. But honestly, I don't know how to do anything fancier than what you could do in Elements.

Anne - LOVE PS CS2. I started with Elements, but quickly outgrew it...I would, however, have been TOO overwhelmed jumping right into CS2.

Layle - I have both, but find myself using Elements more often when I just need to make a few quick photo edits.

What do YOU think?
If you digi-scrap do you use Photoshop or Photoshop Elements? If you own PSE, have your been frustrated by its limitations? If you own Photoshop, do you think it is worth the extra $600?


Anonymous said...

I use PSE 5.0 and have been completely happy with it. I do have access to Photoshop CS3 and am just learning my way around it. So far, one thing I love about CS3 is the guide lines which don't print. I haven't found any way to do those in PSE.

Anonymous said...

Okay so I used to have the dinosaur Photoshop 7.0 and I loved it. However, having since upgraded my iMac to Leopard it is no longer compatible with it. I am in the market for Photoshop. I just love the actions I can use with it and the ease of use once you get the hang of it. So I will definitely be socking away the cashola until I can get PS. As for the elements, yeah I am not sure I want to go that way just yet.

Kate Block said...

I bought a Corel Photoprogram when I got my computer. I had very good intentions of learning to use know what they say about good intentions!!

I know it has tutorials, but I want a BOOK!! I miss the days of printed instruction manuals included with software.

I am intrigued by digi scrapping and the thought of "never running out of an 'e', or being short 2" of ribbon" is very appealing, but I don't know if I want to invest the money. Especially considering all the money I have tied up in traditional scrap supplies.

Kristin said...

I have an PSE 3.0 It took some more effort to load the actions that I wanted to use in this program but well worth the time.

Unknown said...

WOW, I am amazed at the cost for the program at $600.00! I will be watching the comments here for sure.

Scrapycandy said...

My son has both but really loves the PSE. He received an academic discount which made it more affordable. He has tutorials on his website at

Anonymous said...

I have PSE and am very much a beginner to digi scrapping. I can edit photos but have barely begun to create actual LO's. I have tried some of Jessica Sprague's video tutorials for PSE which I find wonderful! For me personally, PSE will probably be all I ever need---I'm still overwhelmed by what it can do.

Julie Howard said...

I have PSE and only know how to do basic things. I'm learning though... slowly, but surely! I think I spend more time surfing for 'how to's' online and reading my PSE for Dummies book than actually creating & editing. It's very frustrating at times. I think I need to take a class or something.

Anonymous said...

I've never used either program. The price alone for PS would be a factor $600??? I know for some people that isn't much money but that is more than our family makes in a week so a program would have to be pretty spectacular....insanely spectacular to justify that cost.

meganklauer said...

I prefer CS because you can do more and I love the option of the actions. I do wish it wasn't so expensive so I could afford to upgrade!

Holly Denghel said...

I think I'm finally going to hop on the bandwagon ... i got my costco sales flier this weekend in the mail, and it's on sale for the next 3 weeks. $50!! You guys make it sound so fun, and I can't resist the bargain. Wish me luck. :)

Anonymous said...

I really like my PSE7. It is pretty easy to use. I like the feature of tagging pictures, so that I can bring up pictures with certain people in them, when I am trying to figure out what to use for a layout.

My two cents, :-)


Theresa said...

I have both programs - PS through work and PSE for my personal photo editing. However, I have NEVER used either for digital scrapping - because I don't currently do digital scrapping. I may someday make the switch, but for right now, I need to stick with traditional scrapping, if for no other reason than to knock a chink out of this mountain of stash I have! Informative review - appreciate the time it took to put this informaiton together!

Emily Pitts said...

i am quite relieved that i got CS3 because i use the warp feature ALL the time. i didn't realize PSE didn't have it. this article was extremely informative, dare i say...

Anonymous said...

I have PSE and it is more than enough for me.

Sammie said...

I have Elements 5 and it has everything I need. I do some digital scrapbooking and some basic photo editing. I have also found that there are not many actions available for Elements.

Anonymous said...

I don't have PS or PSE but I have tried the demos, and, I like my Paint Shop Pro better!( for working with paint shop pro since Version 7, I found it hard to understand PS..)
With Paint shop pro,You can open and edit PS images,and it is really less expensive. ($79.99 USD)

Tricia said...

Great layouts! I am so dragging my feet on going to digital. I love the hands on approach and really don't want to change. But I love what I see! I'm slowly thinking I could possibly, in a few years, try a hybrid page. But maybe not.

Anonymous said...

I look at PS and PSE as the mother and child. I love full PS over elements because there is so much more you can do with it and once you know how to use it off you go!!! I think PSE has its merits and for some people that aren't so technical minded it is easy to use.

Love the layouts!!!!

Anonymous said...

I have PSE & I use it to only edit my photos. I do no digital scrapping. I've been very happy with it. And it's saved a lot of otherwise bad pics. Found a great book to help me use all the different features. Very happy I purchased this a while back.

April V said...

I have PSE 7 but am thinking of getting CS... I wanna be able to have access to all the extras.. plus so many of the actions are for CS... I'm trying to decide!!!

PattiM said...

I have a mac and use PSE. Even though we're only on PSE 6, it's still better that the previous versions. PS was too expensive and since I don't do any designing, there was no reason to get it. I chose a new camera instead.


(Pattie's passion)

I Scrap So All Moments Are Remembered!!

Kim M said...

My hubby has photoshop because he does a lot of web designs and things but I haven't even been able to master the basics on it. It just seems too overwhelming. I think I would definitely be better off using PS Elements instead.

Jodee said...

We own and use CS3 because my hubby is a graphics artist and web designer etc. I know some basic stuff but it can be very overwhelming! If I want something different done I make him do it because I just don't get it! LOL! I've thought about Elements, but he would kick my butt. I guess I'll just keep letting him do the hard stuff.

Anonymous said...

This review came just in time! You can't really find unbiased opinions on the various programing out there! Between the review and Holly mentioning the coupon at costco-PSE will be added to my computer shortly!

Thank you!!

DKALLRED said...

I have the luxury of having PSE7 and CS3. I use PSE7 for digital scrapping because I LOVE the photo bin, a storage are at the bottom to see all your open photos. I use CS3 to edit photos taken in RAW format. Can't live without that and the editing capability and the actions.

Nathalie said...

This was a very interesting article to read... I am not a digi scrapper but I have been interested in actions... but I only have PSE... would I buy PS just because of that...mmmh I doubt it! Thanks for the great review Paula!

Pam Callaghan said...

Thanks for posting this, I really find this very useful! :)

Unknown said...

Noel brought up a good point on her comment about RAM. Can you compare the requirements for running and maybe talk about what one can do for RAM issues...or is this a stupid "newbie" question? LOL

Mandy said...

Thanks for this review Paula!! I recently purchased PSE7 after having a PS program on my wish list for a year. It sat in the box for almost 2 weeks so I could read this article first I think I made a good choice to start with.THe $$ was a big thing too I didn't want to spend hundreds on a program I wasn't sure i could figure out so I'm happy with elements and it's price tag. I did finally get it on the computer lastnight and will be trying to figure it out now. Thanks again!!

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading this post, thanks for sharing this. One thing for sure, whether you use PS or PSE, you will be able to create wonderful designs! It's up to you to explore and practice.