The Race Is On: Creative Cloud vs. Affinity

The Race Is On: Creative Cloud vs. Affinity

Thoughts from the Set of

By Russell Viers

I could be cliché and say that the recent upgrades released from Adobe and Affinity are the “David and Goliath story of the year,” or something equally dramatic. I’m not sure we’re there –  yet – but I do think that what we saw in the two recent release events tells a lot about where things could be going. 

Both Adobe and Affinity recently released major upgrades, with Adobe giving us Creative Cloud 2023 and Affinity upgrading all of the apps to V2, as well as adding iPad versions of the apps. Quark, by the way, has a simple graphic on their website announcing QuarkXPress 2023 is coming soon, so we’ll save them for another day. 

The aforementioned Goliath is, obviously, Adobe, which offers so many applications, most of which we will never use for newspaper publishing. Affinity gives us three. So what software are we really talking about? 

Well, in this corner you have Adobe with: Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, Bridge, Lightroom/Lightroom Mobile, and Adobe Camera Raw.

And over here is Affinity with: Photo, Publish, and Design.

What did Adobe give us?

In short, not much.

After a week of deep diving into the features, my partner Julia and I were able to pull together a list of maybe 10 features, all told, that we thought were worth showing on LIVE’s What’s Hot, What’s Not 2023. If you compare that to last year’s show, that’s pretty sad. For What’s Hot, What’s Not 2022 we had a long show and couldn’t really fit everything in.

I comfort myself in the thought that I pay the $50+ per month for what I have and use now and that new features are just a bonus. And it’s true. The way that I use the tools for my work there are no replacements. I have no choice but to stick with Creative Cloud for my projects.

For now, anyway.

Enter Affinity V2

Soon after the disappointment of MAX, Julia received an email from Affinity with an announcement that something big was coming Nov. 9 and to stayed tuned.

Sure, I’ll bite. Let’s see what they’re up to.

For context, I’ve kicked the tires of Affinity products for years, hoping they would give us something that would really give Adobe a run for its money. Despite some good features, I never felt like Publish, Photo or Design were viable replacements for InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator as industrial-strength tools that a newspaper needs.

They worked, don’t get me wrong, but they were missing key features I needed for the type of work I do.

Looking past the bling of the new logos and interface redesign, we can see that Affinity is working hard to create tools that are usable for a wide range of graphic design, publishing and photography.

The list of new features is a long read. Do that for all three products, and it’s hefty. While you’re there, look at the tech specs for all of the apps and you’ll see they’ve been busy over the years building the suite.

There are some exciting new features, too, in all three of the applications. It’s obvious Affinity is in the game to win. And even if their plan isn’t to overtake Adobe, they want market share. This upgrade is sure to lure people away from the Creative Cloud.

Most of the new features, however, seem to be catching up to Adobe instead of innovating. If you take the lists of upgrades from the two companies, the Adobe list, although shorter, is offering new tools we’ve never seen before while Affinity’s list is mainly features we’ve had for years, just not in their software.

There are exceptions I’m excited about, features where Affinity really is doing something new. One of my favs, and this isn’t new to V2, is the ability to place RAW files directly onto your page in Publish, and even adjust them, eliminating some steps between camera and export. 

Another innovation is the way we can use all of the programs in a way that it feels like one application. Adobe has some integration, but Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator are clearly stand-alones. Affinity, on the other hand, has what are called Personas, where you can be working in one app, say Publish, but quickly use the tools of Designer or Photo without leaving the Publish interface. I think this is a huge user-experience benefit.

Innovate or replicate?

But does Affinity have to innovate? Do they have to be the drivers of new ideas and technology or is it okay if they create a decent replica of the Creative Cloud tools we use, at a fraction of the price? I guess I can pose that same question about Adobe. Do they HAVE to give us new features each year, or is it enough to give us software that gets the job done faster and better?

For many newspapers that look at the monthly cost of the Creative Cloud subscription, the answer is simple: less bling, more functionality that works, and at an affordable price.

Oh, and make it easy to learn!

What’s the cost-benefit?

If you’re considering switching from the Adobe world to the Affinity world strictly because of cost, there is more to factor in than just the cost of the software. That software cost is easy to calculate. Just do some simple math comparing the monthly subscription rate of the Adobe software, times the number of machines it’s installed on vs the one-time cost of the Affinity apps, or suite, times the number of machines. 

But there is more to put into the equation.

Hiring trained employees, and cost of training are definite factors. Finding people who already know Affinity is going to be harder than people who know Creative Cloud. I don’t have statistics to support that statement, but I’ll bet money that Adobe software is taught in a lot more schools than Affinity. And as for training mnew employees, I know my way around the Adobe software pretty well. But the first time I looked at the Affinity Suite tools, I just sat staring for a long time, not sure where to begin. So for now hiring is a factor in switching.

Working with legacy files, luckily, isn’t a huge factor in switching from Adobe to Affinity as the tools can open many native Adobe formats, including .psd, .ai, and .idml (which can be exported from InDesign, so the old files might be usable in Affinity Publish with little work). Keep in mind that having files change software, even if they can be opened, when the host software doesn’t support certain features, you’ll have some fixing to do.

As for fonts, Affinity still supports Type 1 whereas Adobe has announced they will no longer support them starting in January 2023, which might save a few dollars for some papers. But as long as we’re talking fonts, make sure to add in the library of free fonts Adobe provides as part of the subscription, and the ease of  installing them. Also factor in Adobe Stock’s free assets and other included tools that allow us to design better ads, pages, special sections and marketing tools.

For me, the biggest cost factor is how fast do the tools allow me to work. There are features still missing from Affinity that keep me from turning my back on Adobe. The list is too long to present here, but for most of the work I do, it would take at least twice as long in Affinity compared to Creative Cloud. Time is money.

Add to this that Affinity doesn’t have any parallel editorial workflow solutions and that’s a deal-killer for me. Using InCopy with InDesign, or linking Word and Excel files to create a collaborative document building workflow, is huge to how I work in publishing. I think newspapers who are using something like this will agree. If you’re NOT using any type of collaborative tools, I highly recommend it. The ability to write and edit stories already placed on a page, in parallel vs. the old linear workflow of waiting until the story is done to place, is a massive time saver.

Hybrid solution

For now, it seems the best solution might be a hybrid, blending the two worlds of Adobe and Affinity to save some money, not lose important functionality and help solve the training issue.

For example, if your team is using InDesign for ad building, and you’re paying the full Creative Cloud subscription for that computer, perhaps a switch to Affinity would make a good first step. PDFs from Affinity will place in InDesign on the editorial pages, photos from Photoshop will place on the ads in Affinity and you can still open old ads, even though they were created in InDesign, Illustrator or Photoshop for edits and reuse. You can even edit PDFs in Affinity software.

Another example might be if you want to change all of your pagination to Affinity, but don’t want to let go of the speed and ease of a Bridge/Camera Raw workflow for processing your digital photos or the use of Lightroom Mobile. No problem. You can get the Photoshop subscription for $9.99 per month. So you cancel a few Creative Cloud subscriptions for Affinity Publish, but still get the same photo workflow.

We could go on all day with the various scenarios. What I suggest you do is map out the software you have, the computers it’s loaded on, who sits at those machines, and the work they are REALLY doing.

Then let’s put the work into three buckets: photos, ads and pages. If we keep these three buckets separate, we can make software decisions based on what works within the buckets. 

For example, you wouldn’t want to have one pagination machine on Publish and another on InDesign. But you could have all of the machines that build ads using Affinity and the pagination machines using InDesign, or vice versa. Does this remind anyone of the days when we used MultiAd Creator in the ad department and something else for pagination? 

Dividing it up like this also helps you determine if a switch is really going to save you money, or not.

Test, test, test

There are free trials of almost all software these days, so make sure you can really do what the software says you will be able to. 

Testing is more than just throwing a photo and some text on a page, too. I suggest you try to recreate everything you do in the target software, just so you know it can be done. All might be smooth sailing until you try to export, or place a certain type of ad, or who knows what might throw a wrench in the works. NOT getting your paper out this week can be very expensive, so make sure the software is up to the task.

Is It Time For a Change?

I’ll close this column noting that this answer is different for everyone. I know InDesign users who still use it like they did PageMaker and QuarkXPress. Can they switch to Affinity without losing any functionality? Probably. Anyone still opening and adjusting one photo at a time in Photoshop can probably switch to Affinity Photo without feeling it. 

As our workflows get more complex, however, and more people get involved in the publishing process, the more demands we place on the software to help us reach the finish line. One missing feature can throw the whole thing off.

So take the time to evaluate and test. If it’s not the time for you to switch now, make a list of the reasons why and keep it handy. Which features are you missing that you need? My guess is, based on what we’ve just seen from Affinity, they are working hard to get that feature you are missing released as soon as possible. Then we have to see if Adobe ups the ante and gives us new tools we can’t live without.

Switching back and forth isn’t a viable option, so we need to add a bit of foresight into our decision making. Which company is going in the direction that gives us the most confidence in our ability to publish in the future? I am wondering if these recent upgrade releases aren’t a bit of a crystal ball.

 – Russell Viers is an international speaker and trainer who teaches production techniques for graphic designers. In addition to speaking live, he offers training online through is site