Adobe Creative Cloud 2014 review

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Price when reviewed

The latest round of upgrades included in Adobe Creative Cloud 2014 is the biggest yet, bringing upgrades to all the major desktop applications, plus several new mobile apps. Such is its significance that Adobe has partnered it with its first hardware release. Read on for our full Adobe Creative Cloud 2014 review

It’s also the first time in the CC era that Adobe has felt the need to update the splash screens and branding for its desktop applications – leading to slightly ugly names such as Photoshop CC 2014, Illustrator CC 2014 and so on. Clearly, this is a generational update: if the original CC release was effectively CS7, this release is CS8.

Before you get too excited, remember that most iterations of Adobe software bring incremental rather than revolutionary changes. And so it is here, with a wide-ranging collection of updates that focus mainly on making specific jobs easier, rather than shaking up anyone’s day-to-day workflow.

Adobe Creative Cloud 2014 review: Photoshop CC 2014

Adobe Creative Cloud 2014 review: Photoshop CC 2014

Like recent releases of Illustrator and InDesign, Photoshop has finally had Typekit plumbed into it. Open a PSD file that uses a missing font and you’ll be prompted to download it or replace it with a different one. The font selection dropdown becomes a proper search field, and you can now preview different fonts in situ by simply hovering over them.

Photoshop’s handling of Smart Objects has been sharpened up too: it’s possible to convert embedded Smart Objects into linked ones and package them into a single directory. For most art workers, these changes won’t make much difference, but for certain tasks, such as collaborative promotional design, it’s a huge improvement.

Elsewhere, Photoshop’s various content-aware tools have been upgraded with new colour blend options. A little fiddling can be required to find the right settings, but the results are impressively natural, even when moving elements between areas that are lit differently. Smart guides are smarter, too, indicating not only when a path or layer contents are lined up with other elements, but also showing spacing information, to help you create regular, balanced designs.

If you’re working with cut-outs, you might be optimistic about the new Focus Area selection tool, which promises to select or mask only the parts of an image that are in sharp focus. Sadly (if predictably), it works well only on images with stark separation; it struggles with portraits in which the subject’s hair softens artily into the background, for example. In other words, it isn’t much more useful than the Quick Selection tool.

Adobe Creative Cloud 2014 review: Photoshop CC 2014

Other notable enhancements include more versatile handling of individual layer properties within layer comps (including layer comps within Smart Objects); GPU-accelerated upsampling for faster image resizing; and new path and radial motion blur effects, accessed via a tidier Blur Gallery. The 3D printing capabilities introduced in the last major revision have also been upgraded to show where meshes have been repaired, to help you develop your models. And to complement the arrival of the iOS stylus and ruler hardware, Adobe has stepped up the sampling rate for Windows 8 stylus hardware.

Adobe Creative Cloud 2014 review: Illustrator CC 2014 and InDesign CC 2014

If you’ve ever battled with Bézier curves, you’ll be pleased to learn that Illustrator’s pen tool now displays a live curve preview before you click to place a point. This takes much of the guesswork out of creating smooth paths. Inevitably, obtaining the desired result still involves tweaking handles, but this too is simplified by the ability to drag handles asymmetrically while drawing (achieved by Ctrl+Clicking on the handle in question). It’s a much slicker workflow than in the past, and it complements nicely the smoother pencil tool – complete with high-DPI stylus support – that was introduced in January’s update.

Adobe Creative Cloud 2014 review: Adobe Illustrator CC 2014

Other changes are more subtle: snap-to-grid, for example, no longer affects anchor handles (although it continues to work on points), so you can easily create curves that begin and end exactly where you want them without sacrificing the convenience of making fine tweaks to the contour. This isn’t helpful in every case, however: it would be nice to have the option to hold down a modifier key to snap handles.

Elsewhere, new Alt+click functions let you create smooth curves from corner points without moving your mouse away from the artboard, and GPU acceleration via CUDA now promises to speed up the rendering of complex scenes. This is dubbed an experimental option, and we’d prefer to see a system that works with AMD and Intel graphics rather than Nvidia only, but it’s a step in the right direction.

In InDesign, the big news is support for fixed-layout EPUB 3 files, which are compatible with iBooks and Kobo readers, among others. Reflowable EPUBs have been supported since CS3, but, as Adobe points out, this isn’t an ideal format for works such as kids’ books or art books, where the designer might want to keep a specific relationship between images and text. Now, images and boxes stay in the right place when your document is opened on an electronic reader, while text remains selectable and searchable.

Some other upgrades will also benefit those working in print. Tables can now be reorganised by dragging and dropping rows and columns; it’s not something many of us do every day, but it’s an enhancement all the same. Also, the Swatches window now lets you sort your colours into groups, so you can more easily keep track of things across documents that use multiple palettes.

An interesting change is automatic scaling of effects: if you shrink down a shape with a 1cm feather applied, the feathering now shrinks, thus preserving the object’s appearance. It’s a good idea, but if you’ve applied a drop shadow to your object, this also scales, potentially resulting in an inconsistent appearance between elements. If you want to avoid this, your only option is to disable effects scaling.

Adobe Creative Cloud 2014 review: video and web editing

Creators in other media haven’t been forgotten. Premiere Pro and After Effects have been beefed up with support for Live Text templates, allowing you to create text animations and overlays that can be updated in Premiere Pro without you having to jump back into After Effects. New keying features can clean up a noisy green-screen background, even one suffering from compression artefacts, and can automatically reduce ghosting and halo effects around translucent elements such as hair.

Premiere Pro also gains a function called Master Clip, which can be used to apply the same settings and adjustments to all instances of a clip that’s in your project bin. Scenes containing masks can be exported from Premiere Pro to After Effects for precision adjustment and editing.

Adobe Creative Cloud 2014 review: Premiere Pro CC 2014

For those working on the web, Dreamweaver is still with us. It missed out on the last round of updates in January, but the veteran web design package has been upgraded with new tools to help you create and edit structured designs. This starts with the Element Quick View pane, which allows you to view your page as a DOM hierarchy, so you can see at a glance which image element lies within which div tag, for example, and easily select and move elements and sections via simple drag-and-drop operations.

The Live View – souped up last year with the Blink rendering engine, as found in Google Chrome – now lets you edit text, images and CSS selectors in situ. Thankfully, CSS Designer has been improved, too, gaining an Undo option among other things, although we still find it more fiddly than the old floating palette.

Flash Professional benefits from a few updates, although there’s a certain fin de siécle feel to them: it’s now possible to export animations in WebGL and EXE formats – for viewing on non-Flash platforms – and save single frames in SVG format. It’s not all doom and gloom, however: variable-width strokes are new in the 2014 release, as is an updated Motion Editor, for precise control over transformations and effects.

Last comes Muse, which has been overhauled with more familiar keyboard shortcuts, a more conventional panel-based layout and support for high-DPI displays. It feels far more mature than the old AIR-based application, but little has changed functionally, save for the introduction of one interesting new feature: an in-browser editing mode.

This allows authorised clients to update text and images on a live site without the designer’s involvement – potentially a godsend for harried designers with multiple clients. Wisely, Adobe doesn’t allow online editors to access CSS or structural elements, which should make it difficult for unschooled contributors to wreck their own sites accidentally.

Adobe Photography package

To coincide with the release of Creative Cloud 2014, Adobe announced that its Photography subscription – previously described as a limited offer – will remain available indefinitely.

For professional photographers, it’s a tempting deal, providing the latest releases of Photoshop and Lightroom, on both desktop and mobile platforms, for £105 a year. That’s half the price of a regular single-app CC subscription, although it doesn’t include access to Adobe’s supplementary online services.

For those who don’t need the full power of Photoshop, however, it’s a questionable deal. Uniquely among CC applications, Lightroom 5 is available as a standalone package, with a perpetual licence costing only £73. Buy this, plus a simple image editor such as Xara Photo & Graphic Designer 9, and you’ll be ahead of the game in not much more than a year – as long as you’re not worried about missing out on future upgrades.

Adobe Creative Cloud 2014 review: worth the subscription?

The promise of frequent updates is a big part of the CC proposition, and several of its major packages are now four versions along from the CS6 editions. The difference is starting to become significant, especially in applications such as Illustrator and Dreamweaver, which have seen improvements to key everyday tools. In particular, the new in-browser editing feature in Muse is the sort of innovation that keeps professionals coming back to Adobe. On top of all this come the new mobile apps, although whether these sweeten the deal will depend on your workflow.

All in all, it’s maddening that the only way to get these tools is via subscription. Although the annual CC stipend includes access to Typekit, the Behance portfolio site and 20GB of cloud storage, we’re certain many creatives would leap at the option of a perpetual, standalone licence for the creative applications themselves.

As it is, Adobe Creative Cloud 2014 remains a toss-up. If you have a regular, professional use for four or five of these applications, all this great creative potential might be worth £562 a year to you. If your work is centred on one or two core apps, with occasional dips into a third, there’s no doubt CC has something to offer – but the recurrent outlay may be hard to justify.

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Software subcategoryGraphics/design software

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