How can I maximize budget + power for graphic design?
May 2, 2011 9:58 AM   Subscribe

For graphic design on a budget, can I get by with an older version of the Adobe software? What are my options?

I'm buying a new laptop and also the software to get back into graphic design. My initial budget was $400 or $700 for the machine plus software. I'm realizing that that might not be realistic, but I literally don't have the money to spend more. Would it be all right to get an older, less expensive version of the Adobe Creative Suite or some of its products? Would it be worthwhile to get the software and a less powerful machine?

FWIW, I'm looking at laptops with at least 4 GB RAM and an Intel i3 or i5 processor. I don't care about screen size or graphics quality right now. I just want to be able to use Photoshop and InDesign, etc., get familiar with them, and not waste time waiting for the computer to catch up. Aside from that, my standards are low; my previous laptop is around 6 years old, incredibly slow, and emitting sparks.
posted by ramenopres to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Yes, it is completely all right to use an older version of Creative Suite to get your feet wet. I recommend CS3, which smoothed out some of the missteps of 1 and 2, but isn't so far removed from the current CS5 that you wouldn't be able to transition smoothly when (or if) it becomes necessary.
posted by Aquaman at 10:06 AM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm still using CS3 at home, and CS5 at work (although different apps -- at home I primarily use PS, Illustrator and InDesign; at work it's PS and Fireworks). While there are some things I do like in CS5, I don't really feel handicapped on CS3 at home -- if I did, I'd have upgraded by now. Do be careful purchasing older versions, though. There's a lot of shadiness in selling Adobe software online...
posted by sharding at 10:26 AM on May 2, 2011

CS3 is definitely the right starting point, if you can find a copy of it. Keep in mind it can't be just any used copy, since Adobe requires it be registered to use it, and you don't want one that's 'locked' to the current owner's computer. NB: I have never gone through the process of getting hold of a copy of an older Adobe product, so I don't know what's involved.

Alternately, though it may cost more in the long run, starting with CS5.5 Adobe now offers a monthly subscription. For example, if you prepay a year, you can get Photoshop CS5.5 for $35/month, or $50 without a commitment. Or $95/month for the entire Design Premium suite. It's not cheap, and it's not the right choice for everyone, but "I just don't have two grand up front to buy software" is one of their major target markets for this new option.
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:27 AM on May 2, 2011

You can go back quite a few versions and still learn the core aspects of Photoshop. You may not be able to open files saved by a much newer version, but you can get good at the software on Photoshop CS or even versions prior.

If you're really short on cash, get GIMPShop, a free, open-source alternative, and learn that first. Photoshop will be somewhat similar when you switch.
posted by 4midori at 10:56 AM on May 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Depends on what you want to do. I use CS2 which does everything I need. And there was a time when it was the industry standard. My impression of the versions above CS2 are that it has new features that most people won't use (cue flame war) and improvements on already-existing features. The patch-tools look awesome in CS5, but the ones in CS2 work pretty well.
posted by jander03 at 11:45 AM on May 2, 2011

I taught Photoshop in the CS3 + CS4 years. CS2 should be fine. I wouldn't go much older than that, though. Keep in mind that this makes study books cheaper for you, too. You should be able to get CS2 books for a song. As far as where to get it, call (or even better, visit) your local college's art department and ask if they have advice.

Beyond that, I would just mention that a lot of freelancers end up getting free hardware and software from their clients or colleagues. I have a friend who just got a free desktop PC (already has a laptop) and I know many, myself included, who have received free copies of the Adobe Suite from clients.
posted by circular at 1:52 PM on May 2, 2011

The only reason I moved from CS1 is that I got a new Intel Mac and CS1 had to run in Rosetta and was a times. Otherwise, I'd still be happily working in CS1. I'm on CS5 now, and, honestly, I'm not feeling the love. I'm certainly not feeling any "how did I ever work without that?" love.

So, yeah, go right ahead and use the older stuff.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:08 PM on May 2, 2011

Just make sure if anyone's sending you an Illustrator file that they save it down to CS3 for you.
posted by zadcat at 4:28 PM on May 2, 2011

Zadcat mentions saving down, but Illustrator's not going to be the problem; InDesign is. Illustrator and Photoshop both retain backwards-compatibility with older versions of the software, but InDesign only allows you to save backwards one version. So, if you're going to be dealing with anyone who's using CS5, they'll have to export to 4, then open up in 4 to export to 3. If you're working alone, no problems, but if you have to play with others, you may find it a bit of a hassle.

With that one caveat, I'd wouldn't hesitate to recommend CS3 as a learning tool.
posted by lekvar at 5:33 PM on May 2, 2011

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