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Adobe software list: Which apps do you need?

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The Adobe software list is pretty long, as you'd expect given the Creative Cloud suite covers pretty much every creative practice. Whether you're a graphic designer, web designer, photographer, illustrator, marketing professional or are working in TV and movies, it has most of the tools your profession considers industry standard.

But most Adobe software requires a subscription. Potential subscribers have the choice of signing up to just a single app, the Photography Plan or the whole Creative Cloud suite (keep an eye out for an Adobe Creative Cloud discount). It's a big decision to make, so it's vital you're aware of exactly what you're buying. Though there are over 50, yes 50, apps altogether, there are 13 main ones you definitely need to know about. 

In this Adobe software list, we round up those 13 standout apps and explain, in simple terms, what they do and why you might need them. And to help you out once you're signed up, also see our best Photoshop tutorials and Illustrator tutorials. If you're into video editing, you might also want to check our list of the best video editing software.

Adobe software list: Photoshop

(Image credit: Adobe)

01. Adobe Photoshop

Photo editing and so much more

Specifications
Used for: Image editing and manipulation, photo retouching, graphic design, web and app prototyping, 3D modelling
Platforms: Mac, Windows, iPad
Reasons to buy
+Feature-rich+Powerful
Reasons to avoid
-Complex-Big learning curve

The first entry in the Adobe software list won't surprise anyone. If you want to edit images, Photoshop is the industry standard; so much so, that the word ‘Photoshop’ has even become a verb. But tweaking photos isn’t all that Photoshop does: it’s also a fully fledged graphics editor. 

Photoshop can be used, for example, to edit and compose raster images, graphics and text in multiple layers; edit and render text and vector graphics; and create and edit 3D graphics and video. This wide range of capabilities means that Photoshop is not just used by photographers and photo retouchers, but also by digital artists, graphic designers and art directors, and even, increasingly, by 3D designers and VFX artists. 

It’s important to note that Photoshop works with raster graphics, in contrast to Illustrator (below), which works with vector graphics. To understand the difference between these, read our guide to common file formats. Also check out our best alternatives to Photoshop  and our review of Photoshop for iPad.

Adobe software list: Illustrator

(Image credit: Adobe)

02. Adobe Illustrator

Create gorgeous vector graphics and illustrations

Specifications
Used for: Illustration, designing vector graphics
Platforms: Mac, Windows, iPad
Reasons to buy
+Feature-rich+Now on the iPad
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive compared to rivals

While Photoshop has wide and ever-expanding capabilities, Illustrator is much more focused on a specific tasks. It’s essentially a drawing programme based on vector graphics (which contain less detail than raster graphics and are infinitely scalable). As the name might suggest, Illustrator is most commonly used by artists, illustrators and graphic designers, to create everything from simple graphics, such as logos, icons and infographics, to complex illustrations, and everything in-between. Illustrator for the iPad has also recently been released. You can read our review of Illustrator CC here.

Adobe software list: After Effects screengrab

(Image credit: Adobe)

03. Adobe After Effects

Used for visual effects, motion graphics, and compositing

Specifications
Used for: VFX, motion graphics, compositing
Platforms: Mac, Windows
Reasons to buy
+Lots of features+Integration with Cinema 4D
Reasons to avoid
-Not sophisticated enough for full movie production

After Effects is a popular tool for visual effects, motion graphics, and compositing so a valuable entry in an Adobe software list. Although you wouldn’t use it to create an entire movie, it might be used by a creative studio to create the kind of simple animations you’d feature on a website, in an explainer video, or on a credit sequence, for example. 

After Effects is also used in the post-production process of film making and television, for tasks such as keying, tracking and compositing, and creating visual effects such as explosions and lightning strikes. As well as being smoothly integrated with other Adobe apps, it also plays nicely with Maxon’s 3D application Cinema 4D. See our After Effects tutorials for help on getting to grips with After Effects.

Adobe software list: XD screengrab

(Image credit: Adobe)

04. Adobe XD

Adobe's software for web and mobile prototyping

Specifications
Used for: Web and app prototyping
Platforms: MacWindows, with iOS and Android app for testing
Reasons to buy
+Starter plan free+Available on Windows (unlike Sketch)
Reasons to avoid
-Sketch still industry standard

Launched a few years back as Adobe's rival to Sketch, Adobe XD is a vector-based UX tool for prototyping web and mobile apps. In other words, you don’t create the whole app in XD, but use it for visualising the interface and defining how all the different parts function and relate to each other. This makes it easier to get everything working correctly, before you embark on the final coding. Note that XD's starter plan is free, and you don’t need a Creative Cloud subscription to use it. For more info on the free and paid-for versions, see our download Adobe XD post.

Adobe software list: Substance

(Image credit: Adobe)

05. Adobe Substance

Adobe's brand new 3D offering

Specifications
Used for: Creating 3D content, AR experiences and virtual photography
Platforms: Mac, Windows
Reasons to buy
+Excellent integration with Adobe suite+Established workflow for pro artists
Reasons to avoid
-Not included in All Apps plan-Big learning curve

Adobe Substance brings the industry standard texturing Substance suite for 3D artists (acquired by Adobe in 2019) to the Creative Cloud suite. The collection features four 3D design apps (Painter, Sampler, Designer and Stager) as well as a huge library of 3D assets. But beware: it isn't included in the Creative Cloud All Apps plan, so you'll have to fork out an extra subscription to get the most out of it.

Adobe software list: Indesign

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06. Adobe InDesign CC

The go-to software for desktop publishing

Specifications
Used for: Desktop publishing
Platforms: Mac, Windows
Reasons to buy
+Industry standard
Reasons to avoid
-Learning curve

InDesign is a page layout tool that’s used primarily for print, but also has digital publishing capabilities. The industry standard tool for the publishing industry, it’s typically used by graphic designers and production artists to create posters, flyers, brochures, magazines, newspapers, presentations, books and ebooks.

Check out our InDesign tutorials to have you using this app like a pro. 

Adobe software list: Picture of dog on mobile, desktop and tablet screens

(Image credit: Adobe)

07. Adobe Lightroom

Adobe's image organisation and editing software

Specifications
Used for: Image organisation and editing
Platforms: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android
Reasons to buy
+Great organisation features
Reasons to avoid
-Not as powerful as PS for image editing

Lightroom is a family of tools for image organisation and image manipulation. Its strength lies primarily in the former, and is a good tool for a photo studio or photographer that needs to handle large numbers of images. It doesn’t have all the image editing features offered by Photoshop, but that does make for a simpler interface that’s easier to use for standard tasks. 

Also note that Lightroom's edits are always non-destructive. This means both the original image and the edits you’ve applied to it are saved separately, so it’s easy to undo changes if things don’t turn out how you wanted.

Adobe software list: Premiere Pro screengrab

(Image credit: Adobe)

08. Adobe Premiere Pro

Comprehensive video editing tool

Specifications
Used for: Video editing
Platforms: Windows, Mac
Reasons to buy
+Powerful integration with other apps
Reasons to avoid
-Steep learning curve

Premiere Pro is a comprehensive video editing tool, based on a visual timeline, that’s used widely in the film and TV industry, as well as by YouTubers and marketing and design studios, to edit everything from commercials and music videos to TV series and feature-length movies. Recent new features include Auto Reframe, which applies intelligent reframing to your footage (keeping the action inside the frame for different aspect ratios) and the ability to snap graphic elements to guides, to each other, or to tracked items. 

Premiere Pro is often used in conjunction with other Creative Cloud apps in the Adobe software list including After Effects, Audition and Photoshop. It’s quite a complex tool to learn, and for this reason Adobe has recently released a more lightweight video editing app, Premier Rush, for beginners and more casual users.

Adobe software list: Spark running on desktop, phone and tablet screens

(Image credit: Adobe)

09. Adobe Spark

Easy-to-use tool for creating graphics, web pages and videos

Specifications
Used for: Creating graphics, web pages and short videos
Platforms: Mac, Windows, iOS, Android
Reasons to buy
+Simple to use
Reasons to avoid
-Basic tool 

Adobe Spark is a suite of apps for creating graphics, web pages, and short videos for social media, easily and quickly. It’s aimed at marketing and social media professionals, as well as amateurs and beginners who want to create cool content for Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, but don’t have the time to learn more complicated software such as Photoshop and Illustrator.

Adobe software list: Fresco

(Image credit: Adobe/Hsiao-Ron Cheng)

10. Adobe Fresco

Adobe's digital art app is now available on the iPhone

Specifications
Used for: Digital art
Platforms: iOS version 12.4 or later
Reasons to buy
+Simple, intuitive interface
Reasons to avoid
-Premium subscription expensive

Adobe Fresco is a digital art app, which mimics some of the best elements of other fine art programs for iPad. It combines the expression and power of Photoshop brushes, with the precision of vector brushes. The Live Brush function allows you to paint with watercolours and oils that blossom, blend, smear, and smudge just like in real life. Fresco has a simple and intuitive interface that's great for beginners and pros alike, so you'll want to try out this top pick from the Adobe software list soon.

See our full Adobe Fresco review.

Adobe software list: Rush

(Image credit: Adobe)

11. Adobe Rush

Easy and intuitive video editing

Specifications
Used for: Video editing
Platforms: Mac, Windows, iOS and Android
Reasons to buy
+Emphasis on ease and speed+Upload directly to social media accounts
Reasons to avoid
-Not a heavy duty video editor 

Adobe Premiere Rush is an all-in-one, cross-platform video editing software that processes and uploads video clips quickly, ideal for social media content creators. The app supports video cropping, resizing, rotating and colour correction, plus a host of sound and sequence editing features. All content is saved in the cloud, ideal for editing across multiple devices, and there's an auto-sync option, which makes it even easier. Rush is designed to make it super-simple to edit and upload content directly to social media platforms, so it isn't heavy-duty – but its full integration with Premiere Pro means it doesn't need to be.

Adobe software list: Dimension

(Image credit: Adobe)

12. Adobe Dimension

Create photorealistic scenes and images

Specifications
Used for: Mocking up, compositing and rendering photorealistic 3D images
Platforms: Mac, Windows
Reasons to buy
+Unique+Easy to use
Reasons to avoid
-Results can look fake it not done well

Adobe Dimension is a tool for mocking up, compositing and rendering photorealistic 3D images based on 2D and 3D models, photos and textures you have imported from elsewhere, including Adobe Stock. It’s used by graphic designers to, for example, create product mockups, brand visualisations and packaging designs. The main advantage is being able to create scenes that look like photographs, without having to organise a photoshoot. Learn how to use it by following our article, Get started with Adobe Dimension CC.

Adobe software list: Dreamweaver screengrab

(Image credit: Adobe)

13. Adobe Dreamweaver

Veteran software for code-free website building

Specifications
Used for: Creating websites
Platforms: Mac, Windows
Reasons to buy
+No coding needed
Reasons to avoid
-Other web builders easier to use

Last up in our Adobe software list is one of the original apps. First created in 1997, Dreamweaver is Adobe’s tool for people who want to build websites without learning how to code. It was cutting-edge at the time, but nowadays there are many alternative tools that offer similar capabilities, not least Adobe’s own Muse CC. The main reason to use Dreamweaver in 2019, then, is that you’ve used it before, but for those who are unfamiliar with it, there’s not really a compelling reason. Certainly check out our list of the best website builders first to see if there’s a platform that suits you better.

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Tom May

Tom May is a freelance writer and editor specialising in design, photography and tech. He is author of Great TED Talks: Creativity, published by Pavilion Books. He has previously been editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq, and deputy editor at net magazine.