Advanced Editing

Photoshop Elements vs. Photoshop CS

Written by James Jordan

Is Photoshop CS worth the $500 or so more than it’s little brother Photoshop Elements? Here’s information to help you decide.

Photo editingFor more than a decade and a half, Adobe Photoshop has been the gold standard for digital photo editing. For the average consumer, however, the Photoshop CS price tag starting at about $700 is particularly steep, as is the learning curve for beginners.

The good news: for those of us who are both financially strapped and technically challenged, Adobe solves both issues with Photoshop Elements.

Photoshop Elements is Adobe’s photo-editing software for amateur photographers and photo enthusiasts. Elements has many of the features of CS without being too overwhelming to the novice. It has a helpful guided editing mode that walks users through basic photo adjustments. It also has automated features to simplify many tasks, such as posting to online photo galleries and stitching multiple photos to create panoramas.

The user interface is friendly to beginners, but not dumbed-down to the point of frustrating experienced users. Photoshop Elements also includes a photo organizer, drag & drop photo creation layouts and artwork, and many sharing options, including the ability to store and share photos online, making it an excellent choice as an all-in-one solution.

It includes two GB free online storage and an automated online backup service. With Photo Elements Plus, you get 20 GB of online storage and access to libraries of how-tos, artwork, and templates direct to your desktop.

Which program should you buy?

A majority of people will not miss the extra features found in Photoshop CS. They will not miss the extra $500 or more in price either. For the photo hobbyist, Photoshop Elements has all of the features you will likely ever need.

But for professional, semi-professional and serious amateur photographers as well as those contemplating a foray into professional design, they will want the full and robust program. A knowledge and use of Photoshop will most certainly be required in the fields of photography and graphics.

Additional features in Photoshop CS

In the features and tools that are shared, the Photoshop version usually offers more advanced options for fine tuning and control. Here are some of the features found in Photoshop that are not included in Elements:

  • More tools and features that work with high-bit images
  • Adjustments: Color Balance, Match Color
  • Layer Masks, Layer Comps, and Quick Mask mode
  • Some adjustment layers (curves, color balance, selective color, channel mixer)
  • Content-Aware Fill – remove any image detail or object and  the space left behind is magically filled.
  • Easier selection of complex areas and removal of background color around selected edges
  • CMYK and LAB color modes
  • Combine multiple exposures to create high dynamic range (HDR) images
  • Channels Palette
  • Recording custom Actions (for batch processing)
  • Smart Objects, Smart Guides
  • Lens Blur Filter
  • Vanishing Point Tool
  • Pen tool and paths palette
  • Editing History Log
  • Text on a path, advanced text formatting
  • Advanced Layer Style manipulation
  • Advanced Color Management
  • Advanced web features such as rollovers and slicing
  • Customizable tool presets, keyboard shortcuts, menus and workspace
  • Mobile integration

Hidden features in Photoshop Elements

Some of the missing features in Photoshop Elements, such as layer and quick masks, can be simulated through other tools in the program. Some of the tools are actually hidden and only accessible through actions created in the full version of Photoshop. A number of add-ons and tools have been created that will allow Elements to use some of these features. Some of these add-ons can be downloaded for free.

In addition, most Photoshop-compatible Plug-ins and Filters work with Photoshop Elements. Plugins are small programs that can be opened within the main program that provide additional effects and functions to enhance digital images.

Photoshop Elements users can also take advantage of the many Photoshop tutorials found on the web, just allow for the differences between the two programs.

Try before you buy

Fully functional trial versions of both Photoshop and Photoshop Elements for both Macs and PCs are available for download at the Adobe website.  Find all current special offers on Adobe products. If you’re a student or teacher, you can purchase these products at a significant discount at the Adobe Education Store.


  • I bought photoshop Elements 9,
    I have a question.  There are things i want this program
    to do, i would like to know if this program can do them.
    I have not recieved the program yet.
    1.  Does elements have the eraser tools?
    2. Can you change backgrounds
    3. can you take out an unwanted person or thing out of a picture
    4. Can you do any restoration of pictures?

  • sharrei, there is a vast price difference between the two programs, with Photoshop Elements costing under $100 U.S. Photoshop CS cost several hundreds of dollars. If you plan to be a pro photographer some day, Photoshop CS is the gold standard. However, if you’re not sure, PS Elements is a good choice. If you’re a student, you can get CS at a significant discount. Check out the Adobe Education Store

  • Good summary of the difference between the two programs. Helped me decide which one to purchase.