Whether you’re a hobbyist or a professional, if you’re interested in photography, you’re likely to eventually run into Adobe Photoshop.
That might lead you to wonder why Photoshop is so expensive.
Open-source alternatives like Gimp are free.
Previous iterations of Adobe Photoshop ran around $600 to $800 for a license.
Today, Photoshop is a subscription that starts at around $10 a month or $120 a year—forever.
Why is Photoshop so expensive?
Why Is Photoshop So Expensive? (Top 10 Reasons)
1. Industry Standard
First, let’s discuss the obvious answer.
Photoshop is so expensive because it can be.
In school, Photoshop is taught.
Photoshop is the de facto industry standard.
It’s a commercial program that is used throughout the photography and photo manipulation industries.
From film design to advertising and marketing, Photoshop is the software program to use, and it has been for the last decade.
That comes with a price. Because Photoshop is the standard, it can charge a lot more.
People within the industry are expected to purchase Photoshop.
Many companies purchase Photoshop by default.
People who haven’t learned Photoshop are going to find it very difficult to break into an industry that revolves around Adobe Suite.
Simply having expert knowledge of Photoshop can make someone more attractive to recruit, giving them an edge over others in terms of employment.
That’s not to say that you can’t get away with not using Photoshop, because you can.
However, people who have never used Photoshop or who have no experience at all in Photoshop are going to find it difficult to advance.
That type of ubiquity costs money.
2. Price Includes Updates
When you purchase an Adobe Photoshop license, you’re purchasing the right to use the most current version of Photoshop.
The price stays the same for your subscription, but you’re going to get all the updates, improvements, features, or even new versions, as they roll out.
You don’t need an IT professional to install these updates, either.
The software is automatically updated whenever you load it.
While it was once possible to purchase a license and own the software forever, realistically, you’d have to be upgrading the software regularly and buying a new license.
Photoshop no longer requires that kind of upfront payment.
In reality, for most people, paying $10 a month makes more sense than having to pay $700 a year for the latest version.
Having an upfront cost of $700 can be more painful for people like students, even if it would get them the best iteration of the software.
Adobe is doing a lot of work behind the scenes to make sure that its software remains the gold standard.
That does require an investment of money, but that means that it’s constantly getting better, too.
If you want a software solution that’s going to keep advancing as you do, Photoshop is an excellent all-around solution.
3. Subscription Model
The truth is that most programs have moved to cloud-based platforms and the subscription model.
The subscription model is inherently more expensive over time, just because you can’t pay for something once and be done with it.
However, it’s not as expensive at one time, which is often beneficial.
Someone can purchase a month of Adobe Photoshop now and get started with their business and start making money right away, rather than having to wait until they’ve saved up enough to purchase the software in its entirety.
Programs have moved to the subscription model as they’ve moved to the cloud for a variety of reasons.
The cloud makes it possible to micro-manage software, deliver updates and patches, and provide better support.
What it doesn’t do, however, is make it easy to release specific versions.
Instead, the software is continually improved.
Consequently, companies no longer want to give out one-use licenses for their software, because their software will evolve and improve over time.
For Photoshop, it would take five years or more of usage under the current subscription model to exceed the cost of a one-time purchase under a license model.
While the program is still expensive, it’s actually less expensive for many than it was before.
If you’re interested in starting to use Photoshop now, you can start with an annual subscription and consider whether you want to renew later.
4. Price Depends On Usage
If you’re using Photoshop as a student, it costs less than if it’s being used commercially.
That makes sense.
Realistically, the cost of Photoshop isn’t very high when you consider how dramatically effective it is at what it does.
Many software suites cost thousands of dollars for professionals.
Photoshop is only going to amount in the hundreds for most.
An individual might pay $10 for Photoshop a month.
A business is going to pay $40 for Photoshop a month.
Yearly, that’s a lot more, and it’s absolutely more than just paying for a $700 license.
However, that business is going to be getting a lot more value than an individual.
Of course, it’s also a per-license basis, which means a company is going to need to pay even more depending on how many employees they have, but again, this also directly relates to the volume they are producing.
Companies can regularly audit their usage of Photoshop and other software solutions to determine which licenses they actually need to pay for.
With this knowledge, they can reduce the licenses they’re using relative to what they really need.
If you’re paying a lot for Photoshop, it’s probably because you need Photoshop a lot.
If you don’t need Photoshop a lot, if you’re just using it as a student or as a hobby, there’s probably a way to save money.
5. Extremely Robust Program
It’s important to remember that Photoshop is a very advanced program.
It’s used by professionals to create photo manipulations that are almost impossible to detect.
Photoshop is used by major film productions.
It’s used for ads that cost thousands upon thousands of dollars.
Because it’s so robust, it’s a professional tool, and professional tools cost money.
The research and development that goes into Photoshop are significant.
In recent years, Photoshop has seen some impressive functionality, like the ability to cut people completely from the foreground of a photo on its own.
These advanced features can save people time and money because they don’t have to expend their own effort.
It takes a lot of money to develop.
Some of the functions that Photoshop uses require advanced algorithms, not only to complete the processes but also to make sure they can be done quickly.
6. Better Than Competition
Realistically, there’s not a lot of competition for Photoshop.
Photoshop can charge whatever it wants.
Open-source products don’t come close to what Photoshop can do.
While they may have advanced technology, where Photoshop really excels is in its user-friendliness.
Photoshop is easy to use and intuitive.
Its developers have spent years upon years streamlining and optimizing its GUI until even a beginner can pull off some very advanced tricks (and advanced users can pull off things that seem like magic).
There’s a huge community around Photoshop, too.
If you look online, you can find tutorials and plug-ins everywhere.
This type of community documentation and support shouldn’t be underestimated.
This is part of what separates Photoshop from other similar programs.
Not only does it have commercial support, but it’s something that other people know, can help with, and can improve.
There are open-source initiatives for suites like Photoshop (like GIMP), but they have comparatively less material.
When you don’t have any competition, you can essentially charge anything you want.
Photoshop is in the position of being able to charge what it wants because there really aren’t any other easy-to-use alternatives that do what it does.
If you want to save money by using an open-source solution, you’re probably going to spend significantly more time trying to learn it.
7. You Pay For It When You Need It
Photoshop, like other Adobe software products, is paid for as a yearly subscription, but with a monthly payment.
If you need Photoshop for school, you can pay for a single year.
That’s getting away with a $120 payment rather than a $700 payment like the licensing used to be.
A $120 payment is high, but it explains why Photoshop needs to have fairly substantial subscription costs.
People aren’t paying that upfront $700 fee and may never pay $700 because they only have to pay for it when they need it.
Being able to pay for something only for the time that you need it is a convenience, and usually conveniences do cost more money.
Adobe is able to provide Photoshop for a comparatively low monthly subscription cost by making that subscription cost still fairly sizable.
Otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to make much profit at all on their software suite.
This is also why Adobe makes sure that you sign up for a yearly contract rather than just a monthly payment.
Otherwise, you could pay for a month or two (or a semester) before dropping the program, which wouldn’t be realistically profitable for Adobe as a company.
Realistically, the subscription fee for Adobe does cut into Adobe’s upfront profits, and it does have to be a certain amount to make it still worthwhile for the company.
The side benefit is that it is continual income for Adobe, and they can more or less know how much money they’re going to make every month.
In the early days of Adobe when it was still mostly a desktop application, a lot of people pirated the software suite.
It was very easy to pirate it.
Nearly everyone had some reason for wanting Adobe software, whether it was for school, for professional work, or just for making memes.
There are still pirated copies of early versions of Adobe out there.
Adobe has to be able to charge for its software suites to continue developing it.
With pirated copies out there and available, Adobe has to ensure that its current software solutions are profitable.
There’s the argument that those who pirated Adobe suites would never have purchased them.
However, because Adobe is actually such a critical part of the world, being the industry standard software solution, it actually is very likely that piracy has cut into their profits.
To what extent may be debatable.
Because people are still trading cheap keys for Adobe or trying to download Adobe packages, the sold packages of Adobe have to be able to make up for those losses in revenue.
That may factor into the price points of the Adobe software systems, including Adobe Photoshop.
There’s an argument that piracy actually improved the popularity of Photoshop because it made the software suite even more ubiquitous.
Even if this is true, it only underscores the fact that Photoshop is an excellent solution and that many found it indispensable.
9. People Make Money With Photoshop
Cost is about profit, of course.
This doesn’t only mean profit for Adobe, but profit for the individual or company that’s purchasing an Adobe subscription.
Photographers, for instance, need Photoshop.
While Photoshop could cost them $40 a month for their business, it’s likely they’re making at least $4,000 a month with their photos, even as a beginning professional.
A single photo set a month is likely to pay for the overall cost of a Photoshop subscription.
Photoshop really isn’t a large portion of a company’s profit.
Consequently, it really can charge that much and not really impact the bottom line of the companies that are using it.
While Photoshop can seem really expensive to a hobbyist or a student, it’s actually very reasonably priced when you consider how much money is being made by the companies who actually use Photoshop.
Nearly no professional is going to lose money on a license for Photoshop, and it comes with a lot of support and integrations with other solutions.
Even those who are creating Photoshop images for hobby reasons may be able to sell their works for far more than the subscription cost of the program.
If it wasn’t worth it to them, people wouldn’t be buying the subscription.
Photoshop makes it easier for people to make money, and because of that, it can charge the amounts that it does.
10. Bundled Software
You can buy Photoshop on its own, but you can also buy Photoshop in a package with other software like Illustrator and Lightroom.
These packages aren’t as expensive as buying each application individually, and it makes it far more attractive to use multiple Adobe solutions.
When you do this, you can save money.
Even though you might have a bit of sticker shock with the price, you’ll be getting a complete suite that’s industry-standard and professional-ready.
Many people get an assortment of software solutions, not just a single item.
Adobe actually works better that way because they have so many integrations.
With the Creative Suite, you can automatically push files to whatever software solution you’re trying to use, and you can use features from other software solutions.
Not only does that improve your efficiency and workflow, but it cuts down on the amount of money you’re spending individually for each app.
If you can move your entire production workflow to Adobe rather than another software company, you might even be able to save money through the bundling.
At that point, Photoshop can actually be extremely affordable.