When Does It Make Sense To Rent Photoshop?

As we noted earlier this morning, Adobe is now offering the option to rent its applications rather than paying full price for them. When does that make sense?

While Lifehacker is always keen to identify free solutions, we’re pretty big fans of Adobe’s design products around here, as was evident in our recent series on learning Photoshop. There’s a bunch of features found in Photoshop (and Creative Suite) which haven’t yet been widely replicated in its rivals, and the products represent pretty much an essential skill set if you want to work professionally in design.

That said, there’s no denying that you pay for the privilege. A brand-new copy of Photoshop CS5 will set you back $1168. If you want the full design premium edition of Creative Suite 5.5 (which includes Photoshop, InDesign, Dreamweaver, Fireworks and a bunch of other stuff), you’re looking at $3,175.

That’s what makes the rental option — announced this week and broadly available later this month — potentially appealing. If you’re between jobs, for instance, and get a freelance assignment, paying for a month-by-month subscription is a lot easier on the wallet than stumping up the total price up-front. For Photoshop CS5, the total price is $61.25 a month for a month-to-month subscription. (If you sign up for a year-long subscription, the rate drops to $43.75.) You can drop in and out of using the plan as you need, and you’ll get updates automatically.

If you really do just need Photoshop for a brief period, that’s going to be hard to beat. Even over longer periods, it works out a lot cheaper than buyer the software — but you need remember that the rental software will deactivate as soon as you stop paying, while the older version will largely keep working even if you don’t decide to pay for subsequent upgrades. To make the point clearer, here’s the cost of ownership for Photoshop broken down over various periods up to two-years:

The other thing to remember here is that once you’ve invested in the software, upgrades are generally cheaper. For instance, upgrading from the previous release of Photoshop to CS5 costs $337. If you rent for two years (which is the typical upgrade cycle), you’ll pay at least $1050. Over four years, buying the original version and paying for one upgrade will work out much cheaper than renting continuously. So it isn’t a sensible choice for heavy users, but it might make sense for more casual access.

Are you tempted by renting Photoshop or another Adobe product? Tell us your thinking in the comments.

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