The release of Adobe's Creative Cloud Express shouldn't come as a surprise. In a digital economy, where social media is increasingly called upon to market products and target niche audiences, there's a burgeoning demand for cheap and quick creative solutions, which can be implemented by anyone, from small business owners to content creators.
In a recent transition, to be every thing to every person (see our Photoshop Elements review), Adobe just announced a new addition to its rostrum of apps – Creative Cloud Express – no doubt an attempt to compete with other affordable software, such as Canva and Picsart (and other apps in our best logo designer tools list). It’s something of a misnomer to call this a new app, as it can be more accurately regarded as an update for Adobe Spark, which has been quietly shown the door by Adobe.
Adobe Creative Cloud Express (or CC Express for short, if you like) is a cloud-based creative platform, available through browsers or via the App Store on your mobile device. It adopts basic image and video tools from across Adobe’s suite of apps and integrates them into an easy-to-use interface that benefits from Adobe Stock (Adobe’s asset library) and Adobe Fonts.
A library of drag-and-drop templates and Adobe’s AI tech, Sensei, make this a massively accessible experience for absolute beginners, allowing anybody to create impressive visual assets in no time at all. The attraction of software like this is that anyone can instantly create highly polished, professional looking media without any previous design experience (also see our best graphic design software roundup for more options).
You can start designing on CC Express for free with the basic package, giving you limited access to images, templates and storage. The premium account will cost you $9.99 / £10.10 a month or an annual subscription of $99.99 / £101.15, but there is currently a three-month free trial available.
Creative Cloud Express is included in many CC subscriptions, so you might have it already if you're an Adobe user – check your Adobe account to see if your plan includes it or find out more about your options with our how to download Creative Cloud Express page. If you don't already have an Adobe subscription, see our best Adobe Creative Cloud discount page to see if you can bag yourself a bargain.
Creative Cloud Express: templates, design layouts and styles
Adobe CC Express boasts thousands of high-quality templates, taking you from concept to finished graphic in minutes. You can search and filter the sidebar for specific templates or browse the library to get inspiration. All the standard sizes are catered for, whether you're after print documents or social posts – including Instagram, Facebook, Youtube, Pinterest, Snapchat and Twitter – as well as creating your own custom sizes. Adobe Creative Cloud Express also connects with previous projects from legacy Adobe Spark users, so you don’t lose anything in the transition.
Smart resizing means you can design a post for one platform and the software effortlessly resizes them to fit other formats. There are some teething issues with this and you may have to tweak the results, but overall it’s a quick and easy way to churn through different posts. It’s a shame you're limited to one page size per document and can’t have multiple pages in the same window.
The adaptability doesn’t stop there – Design Layouts modify the layout of the page to suit the content, giving you a speedy way to flick between different ideas at the touch of a button. On top of that, you can transform the appearance of your templated document by cycling through Style, which pairs complementary colour schemes with typefaces to give a great variety of looks.
Creative Cloud Express: interface
The overall CC Express interface is simple and intuitive, clearly designed to work across various platforms. Sometimes this can be frustrating on computer, where you would expect certain shortcuts and right-clicks to work. However with a little practice you barely notice the missing controls. Since this is a cloud-based service, there are sometimes some lag issues and I experienced the occasional graphical bug.
Creative Cloud Express: images and fonts
Depending on which package you have, Express has access to millions of license-free images and fonts, which are constantly being updated – in the premium this equates to 20,000 fonts and 175 million images, via Adobe Stock (one of the best stock art libraries available). If you’re using this as a professional then it’s comforting to know you can grab images at will, without having to worry about permissions and liability. The free version is limited, but will only hamper you if you’ll be using it extensively. While there is some stock audio options, there is currently no video.
Creative Cloud Express: editing
Express features some of the most essential features from across the CC family, in particular Photoshop and accomplishes this very well. The Photoshop effects include basic filters, enhancements and blur, which are sufficient for most jobs. It also gives you the ability to remove backgrounds from images using Adobe’s AI Sensei. This is an impressive feature and perfectly usable in most cases, although lacks the exact treatment of the Pen or Wand tools in full Photoshop, especially with busy backgrounds or fuzzy edges (see our Photoshop review to see more about what the latest version offers).
Creative Cloud Express: adding elements
In Adobe CC Express, you can drag all sorts of elements into your composition, from text, icons, shapes, photos, music and design assets. As well as a basic text editor, there are plenty of pre-made text assets that can be dragged on and customised to fit your own styling. Design assets are pre-made graphics that can embellish your design, such as textures, overlays, frames and brushes, often grouped to allow you to edit individual elements. This give you the freedom to create your own bespoke graphics as well as more formulated efforts if you’re in a hurry.
Creative Cloud Express: animation and video
Video editing is currently very basic – especially when compared with the best video editing software or the best video editing apps. Creative Cloud Express provides more of a glorified slide show than a video editor, with seven basic templates to choose from. There are several quick actions for cutting and splicing clips, as well as converting to GIF, but not a lot beyond that. When adding text you are restricted to placing it in the centre or corners, while font styles cannot be changed, but are based on the theme you have chosen. On the plus side, there is a voice over option, which links to the mic on your device, rather than having to record it separately.
Animation gives you some simple control over text and images, including effects like typewriter, fade, zoom and pan. This is enough to add a little dynamism to your social posts, but don’t expect any sort of complex motion graphics.
Creative Cloud Express: collaboration
The premium account lets you create, manage and share projects across CC libraries, bringing consistency across teams and allowing clients to manage their own work. Setting up your own brand makes your logo, brand colours and fonts available in your projects. There doesn’t seem to be a comment tool in the app, so you may end up with huge back-and-fourth email chains.
Adobe recently acquired ContentCal and have already announced Creative Cloud Express for Enterprise and Teams in 2022, so we can expect more social management and workflow updates in the future.
Creative Cloud Express: export
You can currently export as png, jpg, PDF and mp4, as well as publishing direct from the app, however there are no indications of file size or quality and some notable omissions, such as gifs. Importing is equally selective and it won’t let you import some of the less common file types, such as eps.
Creative Cloud Express: price
People are used to getting a lot of things for free these days and Creative Cloud Express is no exception – it’s immediately free to anyone wanting to try it out and continues to be free with the basic account, albeit with some limitations.
It’s included with Creative Cloud All Apps accounts, flagship single-app plans over $20 and free for K-12, while the Premium account is $9.99 / £10.10 a month or an annual subscription of $99.99 / £101.15. A free three-month trial is also available. Depending on your usage, both the free and premium options present a cheap and viable alternative to a full CC subscription (see our download Adobe Creative Cloud post if you still want to go for the full Cloud subscription).
Canva vs Creative Cloud Express
There is little doubt that Adobce Creative Cloud Express exists to compete with Canva, an attempt to convert their millions of users to Adobe products. It’s a little troubling to watch a company slowly form a monopoly over an entire industry, but you can’t say that Adobe doesn’t put its money where its mouth is and rarely puts out a dud app.
Let’s be honest here, these apps are incredibly similar and currently there is little to decide between the two. Both offer a simple, versatile interface that allows users to create social assets without any fuss and both come in around the same price.
Canva is probably the better choice for video and animation, while some of the Express assets feel more sophisticated and modern. In a strange way, the Canva interface reminds me more of an Adobe app than Creative Cloud Express does, with its taskbar running along the top and option for multiple pages. Ultimately, the choice comes down to which app you feel more comfortable with – a choice made easier by the option to try both out for free.
Adobe has promised regular updates and has the tools and backing to create a really super app, but would benefit from making the software more device-specific, taking advantage of the differences between mobile devices and a computer.
Is Creative Cloud Express worth getting?
Adobe CC Express could be a big shift for creatives everywhere. It leans heavily on creating a user-friendly experience and has the potential to remove a lot of the gruntwork from the digital design process, freeing up more time to be creative. While it doesn’t provide the tools needed by professional designers, it will certainly appeal to anybody looking to create their own assets without too much effort. There is plenty there to get most amateurs started and churning out high-quality social graphics in no time at all.
Read more: The best digital art software for creatives