Last updated on January 5th, 2019. Posted in Photoshop & Graphics.
Is Photoshop hard to use? So long as you go about digging into it in the right way, you'll find Photoshop easy to learn. But dig too deeply too quickly, and you'll likely get confused and frustrated. This is why most people find Photoshop hard. In this post, we'll unpack all this -- let's do it!
So is Photoshop hard to use? No, learning the basics of Photoshop isn't that hard and won't take you much time. Where Photoshop can get frustrating is if you jump straight into it's more intermediate and advanced features. This can get confusing and make Photoshop seem complex, because you don't first have a solid grasp on the fundamentals. Nail down the basics first, and you'll find Photoshop easy to use.
For instance, early on it's important to get comfortable with Photoshop's interface, understand the difference between raster and vector graphics, learn about fundamentals like resizing, cropping, and basic colour adjustments, and know about the different graphic file formats.
So just how easy is Photoshop to use? Let's discuss...
It's difficult to answer the question, Is Photoshop easy to use? because it's such a huge, sometimes intimidating, piece of software that can be used in such a wide variety of ways. That said, learning the fundamentals of Photoshop is easy.
Because Photoshop's more intermediate and advanced functions can get pretty complex, I recommend really learning the essentials well first. It's pretty common for people to get too far ahead of themselves early on with Photoshop. And so they get frustrated because Photoshop seems too hard.
So, nail down things like Photoshop's interface, tools, general commands, and palettes (aka: panels). And, learning Photoshop's common keyboard shortcuts will help you work more efficiently before jumping into more advanced areas.
Once you get a solid grasp on Photoshop's essential tools, you'll naturally begin pushing further and further into the areas of Photoshop that most interest you. Where the real fun and power of Photoshop comes in is when you begin combining tools, commands, and features with one another. This is where Photoshop's real horsepower begins to show.
Once you get rolling, you'll really start loving Photoshop and you won't want to stop learning more about it!
And I really want to stress here that you don't have to master everything there is to know about Photoshop. I've been using and teaching Photoshop since the late 90's (that's a long time!), and although I had to learn nearly everything it can do because I was teaching it so often, in my day-to-day work, I use less than 15% of it's capabilities.
Yeah, less than 15%!
This is because Photoshop can do so many different things and be used in so many different ways. Anyone involved in graphics, photography, design and imaging of any kind is using Photoshop for something -- from comic book artists and web designers to fashion photographers and even forensic archaeologists -- anyone doing anything related to imagery is doing it with Photoshop.
But for your work, you'll likely only use a fraction of it's capabilities. Later on, we'll talk more specifically about some of the things Photoshop can be used for.
And, consider this: Because Photoshop's packing a lot of muscle, it might even be too powerful for what you need. So you might want to opt for a simpler graphics editor. A little later, we'll run through a handful of Photoshop alternatives.
But for lots of people, Photoshop's horsepower and flexibility make it a great choice. Even though it's often used by amateurs and hobbyists, Photoshop is a world-class, industry standard professional graphics application.
So if you think Photoshop'll be a good fit for you, get a solid foundation in the fundamentals first before going too deep, and you'll find Photoshop easy to use. One of the worst ways to learn Photoshop is to just start fiddling around with it, trying to figure it out. Photoshop is not intuitive to learn. You'll easily get lost in Photoshop's myriad of panels, dialog boxes, and menus. You'll quickly become overwhelmed and get frustrated, thinking Photoshop's too hard.
Later on, we'll talk about some of the best ways for you to learn Photoshop. But first, you might be wondering how long it will take to learn Photoshop. We'll cover that next...
So we know that Photoshop is a pretty massive beast that can get quite complicated pretty quickly. So how long is it going to take for you to learn Photoshop?
If you nail down Photoshop's fundamentals first before getting carried away into it's more advanced areas, as I've recommended a few times already, then you'll be able to learn the basics of Photoshop very quickly.
How long will it take you to learn Photoshop? You could easily get the fundamentals down in about a weekend -- maybe three or four days of consistent effort to start feeling comfortable and confident with it. So, it doesn't take too long to learn Photoshop.
But this assumes you're using a good learning guide (maybe a good book or an online course). As I said above, the slowest, most frustrating way to learn Photoshop is to try learning it on your own by clicking around and trying to figure it out. So make sure you find a good resource to learn from.
And once you have these fundamentals down, you can go in whatever direction you want with Photoshop. You probably already have a pretty good idea of what you want to do with Photoshop already -- maybe you want to get into photo editing and retouching, front-end web design, creating print layouts, image compositing, or some other specific area of Photoshop. Get the fundamentals down, and you'll be all set to move into the area of Photoshop that interests you most.
And for these more specific areas of Photoshop, you can begin feeling confident with each of them in about 30 to 40 hours -- about a full work week -- which isn't too bad, considering how powerful the tools are and what you can do with them.
For most people, that's about as long as it's going to take to learn Photoshop.
So here's what I suggest: Take a weekend or so to zero in on those basics. Then, choose the one or two specific areas of Photoshop that interest you most and focus all your time and effort on those. And honestly, you can completely ignore the other, more advanced areas of Photoshop for now. Maybe later on you can consider getting into them if they interest you enough. But remember, there are large parts of Photoshop that you'll very likely never use.
I hope that sounds like a good plan for you. Now next up, you might be wondering why Photoshop is so widely used. That's next...
As I'm sure you know already, Photoshop is hands down the most popular, widely used graphics editor on the planet. It very much is an industry standard. In fact, it's now so engrained in our culture that it's become a verb -- "That looks Photoshopped," or "Did you Photoshop that?"
But, Photoshop wasn't always so popular or widely known. Way, way back when I first started with Photoshop (version 4 my friend! Not CS4...4!) it was very rare to run into someone outside of design circles who'd heard of Photoshop.
Back then, there were other applications competing in the graphics market alongside Photoshop. Some were quite impressive and could even handle a few things better than Photoshop. So how did Photoshop pull ahead and become as ubiquitous as it is today?
Two things, actually: First, Adobe had other graphics software that complimented Photoshop, like Illustrator. And second, Adobe tightly integrated these complimentary applications. So Photoshop's (and Adobe's) popularity grew because of improved graphics workflows.
And ever-improved workflows are exactly what every graphics professional longs for most. A streamlined workflow mean that you could move between Photoshop, Illustrator, and other Adobe graphics apps easily and efficiently. Today, newer programs like InDesign, Premiere, and Lightroom sit along side Photoshop, Illustrator, and others in a tight creative ecosystem.
So that's how Photoshop became the de-facto image editor in the world of graphics. However, despite it's power, flexibility, and ability to handle a huge variety of tasks, there are still a few applications that specialize in areas that Photoshop can't quite handle.
Corel Painter, for example, is a long-standing go-to application for digital painting. Even though Photoshop has powerful painting tools, Painter has a much more natural feel to it, earning it widespread popularity with digital artists, concept designers, and other digital creatives.
So while some applications might beat out Photoshop on very specific, niche tasks, Photoshop still maintains widespread use because of it's diverse and flexible feature set. Although it's claim to fame is photo editing, Photoshop is also used by web designers, marketers, video professionals, 3D modellers, artists, and many other professionals.
So just what can Photoshop do? Let's discuss that next...
So what can you use Photoshop for? In short, a lot!
A lot of people think Photoshop is only used for photo editing -- maybe things like photo retouching, colour correction, and so on. At it's core, that's really what Photoshop is. But more specifically, Photoshop's what's called a raster image editor. Raster images are graphics that are made up of blocks of colour called pixels. Photos, web graphics, and scans are all great examples of raster graphics.
If you'd like to learn more about raster graphics, and how they differ from vector graphics, take a look at my video, Understanding Raster vs Vector Graphics.
And even though Photoshop's original intent is handling raster graphics and editing photos, many powerful features have been added to it over the years. Today, Photoshop can do much, much more than just edit photos. It's used in a variety of creative and graphics industries, from photography to web design, marketing...it's even used in forensics.
From their website, Adobe tells us, "Adobe Photoshop CC is the world’s most advanced digital imaging software, used by photographers, designers, web professionals, and video professionals. The app gives you the utmost power and creative control for 2D and 3D image manipulation and compositing, video editing, and image analysis."
So suffice it to say, lots of people are using Photoshop for lots of different things. Below, I'll outline some of the most common tasks Photoshop handles...
As discussed, Photoshop's roots are in photo editing and manipulation. And this is a huge area -- photo manipulation includes any kind of image correction or manipulation, from removing a few photo blemishes to putting your dog's head on your sister-in-law!
So more specifically, image correction means things like photo touch up and colour correction, removing imperfections and blemishes, or even changing the colour of objects, removing backgrounds, and so on.
With Photoshop's powerful set of correction and touch up tools, you can enhance images, adjusting their exposure contrast, and saturation to get them looking their best.
Or, you could delve into things like special effects and image compositing. When Photoshop was first gaining popularity, it would usually be advertised with some kind of surreal Magritte-esque composited image.
Pushing Photoshop's image manipulation capabilities even further, many movie and video game concept artists use Photoshop to photobash ideas and designs together -- that is, they take bits and components from various photos and other resources and combine them together to create a concept design or illustration.
Meanwhile, what's possible with photo adjustment and manipulation in Photoshop is incredible. Really, the only restrictions are your imagination!
Even though many digital artists prefer to use a dedicated painting application like the aforementioned Corel Painter, Photoshop comes packed with many digital paintbrush and art-related tools.
Paired with a Waccom drawing tablet, Photoshop can be used for all sorts of art-related projects, including comic books, concept design, interior design illustration, and even fine art. I've done a bit of this kinda work myself, and while I know Painter's better suited to the task, I already know and use Photoshop -- and that's the case for a lot of other digital artist and graphics professionals, too.
So if you're interested in creating digital art, Photoshop is more than capable of handling it.
Although programs like Illustrator or InDesign are much better suited to laying out designs like posters, business cards, and brochures, Photoshop can handle these sorts of tasks. However, it can sometimes be a little unwieldy at these kinds of tasks.
In the world of print design, a page layout application like InDesign is best suited to this sort of work. Here, Photoshop is normally used to handle raster images that might be used in a layout. So if an image needed to be adjusted, colour corrected, or cropped, it would be done over in Photoshop and then inserted into an InDesign layout.
But if you'll only do occasional print design work, you'll be able to get away with just using Photoshop. You'll just need to know how to use it in this specific way (knowing things like image resolution, trims and bleeds, and so on).
But if print design will make up a larger part of your daily tasks, taking the time to learn a more dedicated application like InDesign is well worth your time.
In it's static form, web design could be thought of as a low-resolution version of print design. There's of course a heck of a lot more to it than that, but suffice it to say, Photoshop can handle it!
With Photoshop you can not only design web elements like buttons, banners, and icons, but you can also mock up full web layouts and designs.
In the past, I've used Photoshop to create wireframe designs, establishing the structure of a web layout that I want to build. Then, you can apply a fully branded design on top of that structure. Once that's complete and everything's looking great, you can use Photoshop's built in commands to export the necessary background code to either further edit or to pass over to a web developer.
Most often though, Photoshop is used to optimize and convert images for use on the web. So, in the world of web design, Photoshop is widely used by designers, developers, and marketers.
Another common area that Photoshop is used in is video. You can either use Photoshop to create graphics that can then be imported into a video editor like Premiere, or you can even use Photoshop for basic video editing -- yeah, video editing directly inside Photoshop!
So while limited, it is possible to edit video footage with Photoshop. Adding transitions, titles, cut points, and more is all possible via Photoshop's Timeline panel.
So even though Photoshop is primarily a photo editor, as you can see, it can be used to handle a wide variety of tasks. And we haven't covered all the different things that Photoshop can do-- these are just the most common ways Photoshop is used.
Suffice it to say, Photoshop can handle pretty much anything you'd want to be able to do with graphics.
Personally, I use Photoshop for all kinds of different tasks -- from web design to video graphics to personal projects. And for me, even though there might be more specialized software available, I'd much rather use and know a single application that I can apply to all my graphics work than have to learn and maintain a handful of smaller applications.
So, what's the cost to Photoshop? Is it expensive? Let's get into a few cost-related topics...
You might be wondering if Photoshop is free. No, Photoshop is not free. It's a commercially available product that's available through various subscription options that Adobe offers.
However, Adobe does offer a free Photoshop trial. So, give it a spin and see if it's right for you.
As for a full version of Photoshop, Adobe offers a variety of subscription plans to choose from. You can check out all their subscription options right here. But for now, here's Photoshop's current pricing for individuals (all prices are in US dollars)...
At just $10 per month for Photoshop, that's pretty tough to beat. But if you're just a hobbyist or are turned off by Adobe's subscription model, then these options might not be right for you.
If that's the case, you could try tracking down a used version of Photoshop CS6, the last "traditional" version of Photoshop before Adobe switched to their subscription model. Try checking eBay or Craigslist -- but if you're going this route, be very careful! Make sure you're buying a legitimate, genuine copy of the software.
Otherwise, you could go with an alternative graphics editor. We'll explore some different Photoshop alternatives a little later.
You might be thinking that Photoshop seems expensive. Well, that all depends on how you look at it. For decades, the only way to get a genuine copy of Photoshop was to purchase it either as standalone software ($699 for the regular version or $999 for the extended version) or as a part of Adobe's Creative Suite (ranging in price from $1299 to $2599).
But now, as you saw above, you can get a full, legitimate installation of Photoshop for just $10 a month.
Whether that's expensive to you or not depends on if you're a professional or a hobbyist, and your interest level in Photoshop.
And you know, conversations about whether Photoshop's expensive or not always get messy. Not everyone's happy about Adobe's subscription service. In fact, when they first announced their move to a subscription approach, Adobe got a lot of backlash from their users. And this subscription model has not been error free -- like the time in 2014 when the service went down for an entire day and no one could use their software...or the problems Adobe's had with it's Cloud Storage service...or the time the subscription service got hacked and pirated.
And a lot of people argue that Photoshop's actually more expensive under a subscription model. The argument here is that over the span of several years, depending on the subscription you go with, it would actually be cheaper to buy Photoshop outright.
And here's where things get messy...
Largely this argument's a dead horse that's been beaten, resuscitated, and beaten to death again. And, it's largely a mute conversation anyway -- the math gets messy and a direct, apples-to-apples comparison of subscribing to Photoshop monthly versus buying it outright is impossible. Here's why...
With all these variables, doing a direct comparison between Adobe's previous licensing model and their current subscription model is impossible. Besides, arguing over whether Photoshop is too expensive or not is largely irrelevant, because no matter how you or I feel about Adobe's subscription approach, they're not switching back to their traditional software model.
In other words, this is how things are now. No matter how I feel about Adobe's subscription service, there's no point in me complaining about it or wishing things would go back to how they were before. This is just how it is now.
How do I feel about Adobe's subscription model? I'm on the fence. On the one hand, I like to own the tools I use, not rent them. On the other hand, $10 a month to gain access to a world-class piece of software like Photoshop that used to cost at least $699 is a freakin' steal! So what I do is, I still have my old copy of CS6 that I often use daily (it does everything I need to do anyway), and subscribe to CC to keep up with the latest changes and updates.
So ultimately it's up to you to decide if Photoshop's too expensive for you or not. And is it worth the expense? That's next...
So is Photoshop worth it? This is largely a personal question that you'll have to answer for yourself. How serious are you about learning Photoshop? Will you be using it to earn an income? Or will you be using Photoshop with a hobby you enjoy like photography?
Then you'll have to decide if Photoshop's worth $10 a month or not.
For me, a professional who's uses Photoshop every day, $10 a month to have access to the most modern version of my favourite graphics application -- one that I've been using for decades -- it's an easy decision.
And remember, the $10 a month subscription gives you access to Lightroom and a few other goodies, too. I should also mention that updates are also included in your subscription, so anytime a new version of Photoshop rolls out, you get it automatically at no extra cost.
But, if you're more of an occasional user or don't need the level of power that Photoshop brings, maybe $10 per month is hard to justify. If that's the case, going with an alternative is your best option. We'll cover some Photoshop alternatives shortly. But first...
After decades of using and teaching Photoshop on both Windows and Mac computers, I can honestly say that Photoshop functions identically on both platforms. What's different between Photoshop on a Mac versus a PC? Keyboard shortcuts -- that's about it!
In fact, this holds true for most cross-platform applications. Back in the 90s, there were some significant differences with software when it was run on a Windows computer versus a Mac. But it's rare to see big differences today.
So neither Windows or Mac computers are better for Photoshop. Which one's better really boils down to your personal preference. What are you more comfortable on, Windows or Mac? What do you currently have, a PC or a Mac? Go with that!
But there are a few minor caveats that I should add to give you some additional food for thought: First, do you have software or workflows that you need for your work, that are dependent on either Mac or PC?
For example, all the workflows I run here are Mac-based. And within these workflows are a few pieces of Mac-only software. So despite my love/hate relationship with Mac computers and Apple overall (it may be more that I love to hate them --jury's still out on that one!), until I figure out new workflows, I'm stuck on Island Apple. That makes my decision to not use Photoshop on Windows easy...for now at least.
Another thing to consider is hardware -- does Photoshop run faster on a Windows computer versus a Mac? Raw power certainly does make a difference in how fast Photoshop will run. But when comparing direct apples-to-apples between Macs and PCs, there's really no difference in terms of performance.
So performance-wise, there's no difference between Macs and PCs -- the only difference is the price tag!
If you'd like to check out Photoshop's system requirements, you can get 'em right here.
Now, I've mentioned a few times that going with an alternative to Photoshop might better suit your needs. Let's take a look at a few different options...
If you're not happy about Adobe's subscription model, or if you think Photoshop might be too overpowered for what you'd like to do, there are a variety of Photoshop alternatives that might better fit your needs.
For example, if you're getting into web design and maybe WordPress, at a minimum you'll need a graphics editor that can handle simple tasks like sizing, cropping, basic colour correction, and maybe a few other tasks.
And over the past several years, a few graphics editing contenders have emerged as alternatives to Photoshop. As we'll discuss below, some are free while others are modestly priced. However, despite more and more alternatives are becoming available, none match Photoshop's power, range of tools, integration with other Adobe applications, and flexibility. But again, maybe you don't need any of that. So a few of these could be worth a look...
And I gotta tell ya, I have my eye on Affinity Photo. At just $49.99, it can handle pretty much everything Photoshop can, including photo retouching, image manipulation, and digital painting. All this has me humming and hawing.
The only thing missing from Affinity Photo is maybe some advanced features that Photoshop has, and integration with other Adobe applications like Illustrator. That said, Affinity has an Illustrator alternative called Designer, and even an InDesign competitor called Publisher.
If you want to own your software rather than subscribe to it, or if you don't quite need all the power Photoshop has, Affinity Photo just might fit the bill.
But, if free fits your budget, then GIMP could be worth looking into.
Truth be told, I've known about GIMP for a long time, and I think at one point I downloaded it and opened it for 30 seconds or so, but I've never really given it an honest try. But I know that it is a viable alternative to Photoshop...so long as you have the patience to navigate it's complexities.
The biggest challenge with Pixelmator is that at first, it can seem unintuitive. So, you might need to spend a bit of time getting comfortable with it. But, once you're up and running you'll have a powerful set of tools at your disposal.
If you're a Mac user who's on the lookout for a Photoshop alternative, Pixelmator might be worth checking out.
So there's a look at a few graphics editor for you to consider instead of Photoshop. There are of course many others (a few honourable mentions include Paint.NET, Pixlr Editor, and the in-browser option Photo Pos Pro.
Ultimately, it's up to you to decide if any of these alternative graphics editors will be right for you. My challenge, as I mentioned earlier, is that in order to get the same power and flexibility that I have with Photoshop, I'd need a few of these programs on hand.
One other thing to consider is that if you think you'll want to go far with graphics and image editing, the industry-standard Photoshop is likely your best option. Imagine starting with one of these alternatives, only to realize halfway down your learning path that you'll need to switch to Photoshop in order to do the kind of work you want. That would be terrible!
Ultimately, of course, you'll have to decide. Just choose carefully!
If you're just getting started in the world of graphics, and you've decided to stick with Adobe, it can be tough to know where to start -- should you learn Adobe Illustrator first, or Photoshop?
In order to know where to begin, it's important to know and understand what each tool specializes in.
You already know that Photoshop's all about raster image editing and manipulation. We've covered a lot of what Photoshop can do already, so hopefully you're clear on all that.
But what about Illustrator? Illustrator is a vector graphics editor. What it does best is manipulate graphical objects to create things like logos, line art, and icons.
And don't forget, if you're unsure on the differences between raster and vector graphics, take a look at that video of mine, Understanding Raster vs Vector Graphics.
And as a quick aside, you might be wondering about Adobe InDesign and Lightroom. I mentioned earlier that InDesign is all about laying out print designs like business cards, book covers, brochures, and so on. As for Lightroom, it's essentially a photo management application that makes sorting and cataloging your images a breeze.
But back to the original question: Which should you learn first, Photoshop or Illustrator?
Of the two, I think you'll find that Illustrator is both harder to learn, and a graphics application that you'll use less frequently than Photoshop. At least, that's what I've seen and experienced over the years.
So if you want to learn both Illustrator and Photoshop, my suggestion would be to start with Photoshop. Once you've got it down, then head over to Illustrator. I say this because, as we've discussed, you can learn the basics of Photoshop fairly quickly. And while Illustrator's fundamentals can be learned fairly painlessly too, you'll certainly use Photoshop more than Illustrator, especially if you're interested in web design and photo manipulation.
So that begs the question, What's the best way to learn Photoshop?
So how can you learn Photoshop? As you might guess, there are a whole bunch of different ways to get yourself up to speed.
But whenever learning something big like WordPress, web design, Photoshop, or other skills, trawling through Google, YouTube, and forums is a very slow, painful way to learn. The problem isn't that the information isn't out there, the problem is that there's too much information! And it's all disorganized and sloppy.
My preferred method for learning new things is with online courses. I'm learning new things all the time, and online courses are a great way to learn a new skill quickly and on your own schedule.
The challenge with online courses is finding a good one that's taught by an industry expert who has tons of experience. These days, anyone with a laptop, an internet connection, and a pulse can make an online course -- and man have I seen some train wrecks!
Here on Ten Ton, I have an online video course called Getting Started With Photoshop CC. This course is designed to get you up and running quickly with Photoshop, giving you a solid foundation that you can build on.
If this sounds like a good fit, I'd love to see you there!